Posts tagged ‘tim berne’
It’s a trio of Torn, Berne, and drummer Ches Smith. That’s 50% of Torn’s band, Prezens, plus 50% of Berne’s band, Snakeoil.
As Torn explains in Westword Music, it’s like Prezens without the keyboard, with the guitar as the lone chordal instrument (to the extent that you can discern chords in the sound).
The result is a lot like Prezens. Torn blasts his new-age-gone-evil guitar sounds: aluminum soundwalls and squeals, sci-fi sonic blasts. Berne careens and screeches in a way that blends into the mix — although he does take a jazzy turn occasionally; see around the 15:00 mark in the video below, after which they even get into a near-Calypso groove. Smith’s drumming is the element that keeps the whole assembly tied to earth, grounding it in aggressive fills and improvising.
Not-quite-related: I’ve been remiss in not mentioning the massive Tim Berne Q&A published by The Village Voice. It’s part of a series of Q&As that’s been fantastic; I especially liked the Ches Smith edition.
My wife gives me a hard time about this: In 1999, we traveled to Europe, and I got to see Tim Berne twice on the trip.
What’s important is that I didn’t create our itinerary. By pure coincidence, our three-week trip crossed Berne’s path two times. It helped that this was my wife’s first time in Europe, so we were sticking to the big cities — but that’s never been enough explanation for her. She still calls shenanigans on it.
She’s not a fan of avant-jazz but she knew Berne’s name well by then. She knew I couldn’t pass this up. She came with me to see the Bloodcount quartet in Munich, and a week or so later, I ventured out alone to see Berne play duo with guitarist Marc Ducret outside Paris, at Les Instants Chavirés.
This was part of an unusual streak. My first six Tim Berne shows were in six different cities, only one of them in the Bay Area. Even more random than the European trip was the time I had to travel to Denver — the only time I’ve ever been to the city, as opposed to the airport — and Tim Berne was doing a one-off gig in Colorado Springs, on a night when I could make the drive in my company-subsidized rental car. That’s the kind of luck I’ve had. Drives my wife nuts.
“Luck” is the right word, because while my first Berne concert did happen to be in San Francisco, we don’t often get chances to see downtown NYC musicians. For obvious reasons. It’s one thing for them to hit Philly, New York, and Boston even for sparsely attended gigs. Flying to San Diego in hopes of playing to 20 people, then driving yourself eight hours to Oakland for the next night’s show — that’s a whole other proposition.
Still, it’s not impossible. Berne had already arranged some dates before signing his record deal with ECM for Snakeoil (reviewed here). So, he’d done the legwork, but having ECM’s backing certainly helped in terms of audience size, he says.
So it was that I got to see Berne and Snakeoil play Yoshi’s in Oakland last month. I keyed on in Oscar Noriega‘s clarinet more that I did on my first CD listens.This might have been at the sacrifice of Matt Mitchell‘s piano, which I tended to notice less. Ches Smith, who played in so many Bay Area ensembles before leaving for New York, got huge whoops and applause when he was introduced on stage, and he didn’t disappoint. I don’t think he brought the tympani that he uses on the CD, but he did have a wide array of tricks and traps, including a vibraphone.
I had a great time, of course. It feels like I just saw Berne at Yoshi’s, performing with Michael Formanek. That’s two shows in a span of less than a year, with a longshot possibility of catching the trio of Berne, Jim Black, and Nels Cline in May. Apparently, I’m on another hot streak. Don’t tell my wife.
Yoshi’s doesn’t allow videotaping, so I’m not aware of video of this show. Below are videos of a couple of other recent Snakeoil appearances. The first is of better sound and video quality, despite some moments of shaky camera work. The second (“Scanners”) is shorter and more “home-video,” but you get to hear Berne make a crack about cracks about Oregon.
Tim Berne — Snakeoil (ECM, 2012)
It’s not as though being on the ECM record label was going to change Tim Berne’s music, but I had to wonder. ECM has a sound, a particular aura that’s built Manfred Eicher a worldwide fan base, even though ECM’s range is wider than some realize. (Would you have submitted Prezens to the label that did a CD of Bach viola da gamba songs?)
So, while a track like “Not Sure” kicks off with those driving, bouncing composed lines that Berne is famous for, you’ve also got “Simple City,” which opens the album with Matt Mitchell on careful piano, letting the notes absorb into the resonant air. It’s like slowly crackling ice, with tiny dissonances here and there for color. Ches Smith starts adding some percussion (timpani, whoa) and Berne finally enters on sax — and the feeling has changed from that icy ECM specialty to the warm-and-comforting (but somehow still icy) ECM specialty.
Eicher is particularly good at recording drums. I can really savor Smith’s work all over this album, especially the cymbals, whether it’s him splashing about or that clean tapping of wood-on-metal. The resonant room plays well with Oscar Noriega‘s clarinet, too, especially early in “Yield.” He’s going crazy while the band plays a gentle, pulsing rhythm, and the little resonances of the room crop up when Noriega takes a breath or delivers a long, keening note — nice studio-provided touches.
The composing is Berne all over; the first instants of “Scanners” will tell you that, with its quick-paced theme stacking interlocked parts on top of each other. Snakeoil is full of those rock-out moments juxtaposed with loose improvisation or slow, contemplative stretches. The ending of “Simple City” is slow and drawn-out, reminding me of the cooldown endings to some of Berne’s half-hour Bloodcount suites.
None of the tracks is blazingly fast, but “Scanners” moves at a good clip. We’ll call that the hit single (at 7:21, it’s also the shortest song). And “Spectacle” builds to a big, stormy finish. On the prettier side, “Spare Parts” includes a gentle stretch while Berne solos warmly over a calm piano-and-clarinet line. It’s Berne-like and ECM-like, and it’s got a cozy feeling that plays well with the album’s rainy-day cover.
“Scanners” and part of “Spectacle” can be heard via the Screwgun Records page, where you can also order Snakeoil. And if you’re wondering whatever happened to that Los Totopos album Berne recorded — this is it; they just changed the band name.
One problem with having a wide-open evening in New York is the number of choices available, even when you limit yourself to more adventurous music. The particular Friday night that I had free on my recent trip was particularly stacked.
Out of the blue, a Brooklyn friend (who had no idea I was agonizing over the schedule) suggested I hop the subway to the new Roulette building to check out Barbez, a band with a very modern take on Klezmer and an interest in history. In fact, their next album, on John Zorn’s Tzadik label, will include melodies taken from the Roman Jews — there was such a people, apparently, and of course they date all the way back to Roman times.
That’s not to say Barbez (unrelated to the Brooklyn venue Barbès AFAIK) plays antiquated themes. It’s vibrant sextet music with energetic Klezmer-jazz attitude, some thick electric guitar from bandleader Dan Kaufman, and some new-classical turns on violin and clarinet.
They put together a varied show that took advantage of Roulette’s theater stage. For two quieter pieces, two dancers came out and performed slow-motion routines excerpted from a program called “The Making of Americans.” One of these pieces was also accompanied by vocalist Shelley Hirsch reciting some prose (Gertrude Stein?) and a silent film of Indiana scenes.
Hirsch, decked out in elegant black, took the stage for a couple of these readings and for an over-the-top Brechtian cabaret finale.
In addition to Kaufman’s bright guitar, the music included sparkling vibraphone lines and some aggressive electric bass from Peter Lettre (also of the indie band Shearwater). I wish I’d been able to hear more of Peter Hess on clarinet and especially bass clarinet; he was kind of buried by the amplified instruments. I liked what I heard from him, though, a blend of klezmer, jazz, and classical.
The next day, I did find myself really regretting that I hadn’t caught Berne’s band (formerly Los Totopos, now snakeoil) later that night. With the grace of the subway-transfer gods, I could have made it. But I can console myself by waiting for Feb. 28, when they’ll be playing at Yoshi’s in Oakland.
By the way, that Roulette theater is really nice. It’s unfinished — we sat on folding chairs instead of theater seats, for instance — but it’s a theater, with decent acoustics, a clean look, real stage lights, and balcony seating. I had trouble finding the front door, as did several other people I met outside, so apparently some of New York is still discovering it (or maybe Barbez attracts a very non-Roulette kind of crowd). I hope Roulette succeeds. This is the kind of venue that could hold a few decades’ worth of good music memories.
Tim Berne, Bobby Previte, Mark Feldman, et. al. — Bang! (Ictus, 2011; orig. released 1991)
(UPDATE: Roberto Zorzi is going to be in San Jose on Oct. 12 and Santa Cruz on Oct. 15, as part of the International Live Looping festival. Andrea Centazzo will be in town as well. See Zorzi’s comment, below.)
It happens early in “Dartman,” Bang!‘s opening track. Bobby Previte‘s brisk drumming kicks in, and we’re transported back to 1990, back to the days when the Knitting Factory meant something, with carefree horn/violin unison lines shaping that downtown style of jazz writing. That airy violin sound, adding space to the melody — that’s Mark Feldman! There — there’s the tight curl of Herb Robertson‘s trumpet! That fast, crunchy electric bass that just has to belong to Percy Jones!
It’s like being the jazz equivalent of a Star Trek convention newbie. So much to point at! And that’s without even mentioning Tim Berne!
They’ve all convened at the behest of Roberto Zorzi, a guitarist who today is less well known and less well recorded than his sidemen. This is his septet, apparently called The Bang, which played at the Rocella Jonica Jazz Festival (Italy, I’m guessing?) in 1990 and released an album the following year. It’s now getting a new life on Ictus, and we’re the richer for it.
Yes, there are plenty of other CDs featuring these players from that period, but if you haven’t listened to any of them for a while, as was my case, this album sends the nostalgia flooding back. A smattering of band photos inside shows the players 20 years ago — could it be that distant? — Previte, Berne, and especially Feldman looking so young. What a time it was, and what a band.
You can hear elements of each player’s style in the mix, but the one who stood out the most for me was Feldman. He seems to get the biggest share of front-and-center time, often on electrified violin. Jones’ bass stands out, too. It’s always there, fidgeting restlessly under the currents.
And Zorzi? He’s not trying to be an enigma, but he’ll have to understand if American listeners like me haven’t chanced upon his music before. Plenty of information is on his web site, and sound samples, too. And you have to look for them, but his recordings are around, here and there.
You can quibble about the recording itself — the applause cuts in or out abruptly, and there are some big volume swings in Robertson’s trumpet (probably a function of him wiggling around next to the mic while playing.) But the five tracks here display some terrific playing, compelling compositional suites, and a group-mindedness that allows for intimate solo or duo segments. It all ends with “Calma e Gesso,” a sparse track rich in those soloing spaces.
Best of all? I got my copy at Amoeba SF, finding it through good old-fashioned browsing. Bang! is one of those unearthed treasures that make music shopping fun. And for Ictus owner Andrea Centazzo, I’ll bet it makes owning a label fun, too.
Monday night’s crowd at Yoshi’s Oakland was lively and responsive and actually a bit over-the-top, but when some big-name guys make the trek here from New York — hey, why not? I was happy to see them, too, and glad they drew a bustling, receptive crowd.
And it was good to hear Michael Formanek‘s band outside the spacious ECM shell of their record, The Rub and Spare Change. (Reviewed here.) I actually love that ECM sound, which I don’t find as antiseptic as some critics say, and which does leave room for a brilliantly burning energy. But live music, for many performers, benefits from being more visceral. That’s what we got: a more visceral, gut-reaction version of the quartet, with songs nourished by repeated live performances.
A review of the band’s recent L.A. gig noted that “Tonal Suite” was the opener — the five-segment, 17-minute “Tonal Suite.” I wasn’t sure how the audience would take to that, but they went ape over it. People didn’t applaud after solos — it’s hard with creative music, since a “solo” overlaps so heavily with the rest of the piece — but they seemed to be well into the groove with Tim Berne‘s spirited sax solo, and they appreciated Craig Taborn‘s bright piano splashes. It helped that “Tonal Suite” ends with an active, upbeat theme that gets repeated here and there, complete with a nifty false ending, like an inside joke.
Formanek’s writing, like Berne’s, uses complex melodies often jutting with odd-time-signature shards. The set mostly consisted of new pieces, mostly on the peppy side — that might be one reason the crowd stayed so engaged, although folks around me were also dead silent (a rarity at Yoshi’s) during Formanek’s one unaccompanied bass solo. One piece I remember in particular, “Rising Tensions,” was light on its feet and included a lovely yet electric Taborn solo. “Pong,” the set ender, came in a lovely chiming 6/8, likeable and relatively easy listening. (At the table next to me, after the show, a couple of people mentioned it being their favorite.)
Throughout, Gerald Cleaver was a monster on drums — lots of strength and sound — and Taborn’s piano was not only lightning-quick but fiendishly inventive. The band was loose and smiling
The encore was “Twenty-Three Neo,” the opening track to The Rub and Spare Change, which is based on a delicate and hypnotic piano line. They played it even more slowly, more delicately, than on the CD — a different kind of “visceral” breakthrough. Cleaver was a model of restraint, using silence as the glue to hold the piece, rather than breaking the careful mood.
Formanek has some roots in the Bay Area and mentioned the December passing of “Bishop” Norman Williams, crediting him as a major influence that steered him towards the edgier side of jazz. Good work, Bishop. Hopefully, you’d agree that you did good work here.
In Cryptogramophone‘s characteristic attention to packaging, The Veil comes in a stiff cardboard gatefold colored in the grays and blacks of utter doom.
What makes me say “doom?” The beginning of the CD, actually, as the quick plunge into “Railroaded” tells you these guys are out for blood. They’re making a horror movie here: Tim Berne‘s sax squealing at helium density, Nels Cline shredding mercilessly, and Jim Black splattering the crowd with snare fills.
BB&C — previously called “The BBC” and “Sons of Champignon” — aims for the epic, performing long improvisations with a big sound. The Veil presents us with a 45-minute piece, split into seven uninterrupted tracks, followed by a 13-minute encore.
After that enjoyable jolt of an opening, the music does calm down and spread out. The second phase, “Impairment Posse,” gets Berne and Black into a more friendly, funky groove with Cline spewing electric sparks like an I-beam going through a supernatural woodchipper. “The Barbarella Syndrome” comes across like more of a Berne-led piece, albeit with heavier guitar. It’s got a quick-footed pace and taut, bouncy sax improvising, and Cline keeps the volume pedals and distortion down a bit for a cleaner, closer-to-jazz sound. It’s still quite aggressive; you can sense the beads of sweat on their foreheads.
A trademark Jim Black solo is always a treat, and we’re granted one on “The Dawn of the Lawn.” Cline adds some shimmering, slow guitar chords to create a proggy sheen — I feel like I’ve been comparing everything to prog lately, but Cline’s music makes the comparison apt, and there are moments on here that remind me of the electric/electronic landscapes Berne helped weave with David Torn’s Prezens.
The encore piece, titled “Tiny Moment,” is the cooldown, with moments of creeping calm that twice build up to an icy intensity.
I think all three members would like to think of The Veil as a departure for them, individually. Maybe less so for Cline. But the familiar elements do poke through: Cline’s skywriting-sized electronic tapestries (and that merciless shredding, as on the closing minutes of “Rescue Her”); Black’s unbounded energy, driven beats, and subtle sleight of hand; and Berne’s talent for telling long, captivating tales, latching onto the occasional riff as a tool to build the atmosphere for the next improvisational chapter. You know the elements. You just haven’t heard them mixed like this.
The Veil gets officially released June 7, but an order placed to Berne’s Screwgun Records might bring one to your mailbox earlier than that.