Tim Berne's September, 1994 Paris performances with Bloodcount clearly represent a career high point. Not one, not two, but three recordings from these shows were originally released in 1995 on the JMT label, and they have finally been reissued in remastered form on Winter & Winter this year. Memory Select - The Paris Concert III
also bears the distinction of being the final release in the JMT reissue series, demonstrating the kind of fearlessly uncompromising aesthetic that has made JMT's entire catalogue so worth revisiting.
Bloodcountfeaturing saxophonist/clarinetist Chris Speed, guitarist Marc Ducret, bassist Michael Formanek, and drummer Jim Blackis also strong evidence of just how far Berne has evolved compositionally in ensuing years. While there are hints of the mathematically precise and elliptically complex compositional structures that Berne would explore more fully in later bands like Science Friction and Hardcell, Bloodcount was a generally freer entity. While all manner and shape of clearly preconceived formations appear out of the ether, often only to disappear, never to be heard again, the album's two tracksthe 18-minute "Jazz Off and the 51-minute "Eye Contact provide plenty of opportunity for extended free play from the full quintet and assorted sub-groups.
Bloodcount afforded Berne greater textural potential than either Science Friction or Hard Cell, despite the latter two's use of electronics at times. With two reed instruments at his disposal, as well as Formanek's rich arco playing, he found greater opportunity to explore lengthy thematic passages, with long tones snaking in and out of dissonance and into wider harmonies. Ducret's sustained volume pedal swells further extend the possibility for languid phrasing. The influence of the late Julius Hemphillespecially his ability to blend classical roots with an improvisational aestheticis in stronger evidence here, with parts of "Jazz Off feeling more like a Ligeti chamber ensemble than a jazz performance.
Still, all kinds of room exist for individual solo explorations and interactive interplay, and with a stronger rhythmic pulse to boot. "Eye Contact shifts through a multitude of landscapes, with Speed taking a particularly powerful solo around the twenty-minute mark over a complex rhythmic backdrop fuelled by Black's style-defying drumming and a strong bass line doubled by Berne on baritone. While little here meets the conventional definition of lyrical, there are marked contrasts between this curious beauty; abstract ethereality, found around the six-minute mark; and the more aggressive stance it evolves into four minutes later.
A common denominator in much of Berne's writing is the ability to blur the line between form and freedom. Just when things seem to be at their most unbound, a theme appears that either gradually or suddenly pulls the group back into sharp focus.
With Berne exploring smaller ensembles these days, Memory Select - The Paris Concert III is a firm reminder that Berne is capable of more detailed orchestrationand that the concert stage may well be the place to experience this distinctive writer/performer's best work.
Jazz Off; Eye Contact.
Tim Berne: alto and baritone saxophones; Chris Speed: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Michael Formanek: contrabass; Jim Black: drums; Marc Ducret: electric guitars.