Here are some jazz musicians who get it and get it all. That is meant in both senses: as in being hip to all the freshest angles in the current state of the music, and as in not messing around. Track one of Hardcell Live establishes this immediately. The complex, edgy theme is attacked with gusto and precision. The chart is then abandoned and a strong free interlude follows. Already, the musicians have nearly convinced you that they are right on top of everything important you need to know about the possibilities in jazz now. When they segue gracefully into the outro, they seal the deal.
Berne is a deft composer of melody, but here he doesn't venture far from his signature style. Thus, the compositions all have a similar manic, zig-zagging quality. As the band's name suggests, it's potent stuff from start to stop. The variety is provided by the improvisational sections, which flow seamlessly in and out of the composed parts and encompass a wide range of dymanics, textures and sounds. Craig Taborn switches from acoustic piano to electric keyboards, employing a raft of effects. His doubling with Berne's crisp alto sax on the melodies makes for a richly layered melodic attack. Rainey is at his best here, shifting from sharply executed scored rhythms to subtle improvised textural effects to wild abandon with no audible effort.
The compositions have much in common with Henry Threadgill's labyrinthine constructions, but Berne's got a keener knack for simplicity and the trio format reveals the music's essence with sharp clarity. The decision to release this as a live recording may have been as much for aesthetic as economic reasons. This is music that is best experienced live. I recommend the recording, but it's not relaxing listening. It's pulse-quickening, which is what most jazz lovers want when we step out to the clubs.