Hardcell: Feign (2005)
Like a double helix of alto saxophone and piano, no matter how far Tim Berne and Craig Taborn twist and diverge their improvisations, they are always connected, intersecting with composed passages and enveloped in the swimming rhythms of drummer Tom Rainey. Feign further explores the acoustic sensibility tested on half of last year's Hard Cell Live, with Taborn exclusively playing piano. The acoustic instrument's clarity highlights the synchronization between pianist and saxophonist, sometimes lost in the maelstrom of electric keyboard effects.
Like the CD, a recent show at Tonic opened with the brisk "I Do It, with its slightly out-of-phase piano-sax theme that eventually constricts, whipped along by Rainey's fractured groove before devolving into a linear melodic unison. Unlike the recording, the three musicians played freely with the quieter theme, in time abandoning it completely, furiously spinning around each other until resolving to another workout of "Van Gundy's Retreat, fast becoming a Berne standard. Masked at first, this segue illustrated that underlying the far-flung passages, there is always purpose in Berne's music. The improvisations are inextricably linked with and informed by the compositions and in turn propel them unexpectedly.
On "Time Laugh Taborn plays with phenomenal independence: one hand plays a clipped ostinato, the other a longer unison figure with Berne, who eventually drops out. As the drums and piano explore sparser terrain, the sax bleats dissonantly before a spiraling solo. Taborn rebuilds with an ominous bass line that returns to the original figure, pulling Berne back for a tight finish. During the spacious introduction of "Brokelyn, Rainey scrapes sound from his drums, Taborn plays inside the piano, and a sense of momentum pervades, sweeping towards the climatic melody, which is disjointed yet catchy. The staggering piano that opens "My First Phone returns later, taut with Berne hanging on some notes, fashioning a focused unison phrase, even as Taborn continues to extrapolate around it.
In performance, these tricky passages were executed with precision, including the kinetic "I Thought You Had It, which brought the show to a rousing conclusion. Taborn's independence allowed one hand to hammer away with Rainey's accents, while the other played a repeating three-note phrase with Berne, eventually converging to reveal the broader pattern.
Track Listing: I Do It (For Brookti); Time Laugh; Brokelyn; Mechanicals Failure; My First Phone; BG...uh...OH; I Thought You Had It; Pan/Ex.
Personnel: Tim Berne: alto saxophone; Craig Taborn: piano; Tom Rainey: drums.