Tim Berne: The Sublime And (2003)
Tim Berne's Science Friction Band fuses a quartet of radical sound sculptors who leave fields of scorched earth in their wake. The one-time prot'g' of Julius Hemphill continues to forge daring jagged music that blurs borders and leaps genres. With repeated listenings patterns and structures reveal themselves between periods of intensely imaginative improvisations. Ironically, for such forward looking futuristic sound, the band occasionally recalls '70s Soft Machine.
Frequent collaborator Marc Ducret joins Berne on guitar. Keyboard conjurer Craig Taborn contributes a world of sound and the right sonic sensibility. Longtime associate Tom Rainey (drums) also played with the Chromatic Persuaders, Simon Nabatov, Jane Ira Bloom, and Mark Helias, and here he manages to keep time in a minefield. The concert begins with "Van Grundy's Retreat," a polyrhythmic launching pad. After the initial blast, Berne moves around the middle and lower ranges with Ducret exploring alternative melodies. Taborn sends atmospheric sound around, while Rainey dusts with the brushes. Berne takes the alto into a stratosphere not included in its original design, and Rainey uses sticks to increase the heat. After some spacious experiments, they retrieve the groove and go out.
"The Shell Game" starts slow and simple, allowing Berne plenty of room to go through his paces, building an angular theme with echoes and elaborations by Ducret. After nearly ten minutes of development, the band shifts gears and Berne lays out to let Ducret sear through with skronk and fuzz. Berne returns to play a Zappaesque interlude in unison with Ducret. "Mrs. Subliminal/Clownfinger" opens with a warm solo run by Berne built around a short phrase. The confinement of the repetition opens with the appearance of the other musicians, and Berne discovers broader variations on the original theme.
Taborn's attractive electronics on "Small Fry" initiate the second disc. "Jalapeño Diplomacy/Traction" shatters the reverie. The angular odd timed arrangement breaks into tightly choreographed latin tinged segments that provide treacherous landscapes for the skillful improvisers. Berne flexes his steroid chops, then Taborn dances with a thick toned electric piano. Ducret goes solo with extended techniques and flat-picked marvels. Berne and company sneak back in during a fret board flurry. Berne and Rainey duet through some interdimensional funk.
Berne correctly introduces the final track, "Stuck on You," as 'probably not the Elvis version.' Ducret and Berne play a unison intro, their oblique line forming the structure around which the others build. Ducret claims it as his leap of imagination, soloing. Veteran sound pioneer David Torn takes mixing/mastering credit, and Berne's horn is so perfectly amplified you can clearly hear the unblown keys opening and closing within sounds generated by the electronic instruments.
Track Listing: Disc one: Van Gundy?s Retreat, The Shell Game, Mrs; Subliminal/Clownfinger. Disc two: Smallfry, Jalape?o Diplomacy/Traction.
Personnel: Tom Rainey, drums; Craig Taborn, Rhodes laptop, Virtual Organ, Virtually everything else; Marc Ducret, electric guitar; Tim Berne, alto saxophone.