Tim Berne, Jim Black, Nels Cline - The Veil (2011)


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Three of the larger figures in the downtown New York avant jazz scene, Jim Black, Nels Cline and Tim Berne, joined forces a couple of years ago to form a trio that find the intersection where the three thrive in. That area of overlap falls in the hinterland where jazz dares not tread because it's too brutal, and rock won't go there either because it's too unpredictable and tortuous. This is one of those aberrant trios where the odd combination of sax (Berne), electric guitar (Cline) and drums/laptop effects (Black) make not only a cacophony, but a cacophony of a different sort. Captured in a single hot July evening at John Zorn's The Stone in New York's East Village, The Veil, by B.B.C. (alternately dubbed The Sons of Champignon), is a souvenir of these three's massive jamming capabilities.

The meeting of the minds and sounds of the three in retrospect, seemed inevitable. Cline and Black (Dave Douglas' Tiny Bell Trio, Ellery Eskelin Trio, Laurie Anderson) both had played in Berne bands, the latter having been in Berne's Bloodcount lineup in the mid 90's before causing a stir with his experimental rock-prog-jazz ensemble AlasNoAxis band at the turn of the millennium. In other words, the short look we took at Black in the context of an Eskelin-led trio track doesn't begin to describe what a diversely skilled drummer Black is, or the significant projects he's been involved with. He's the perfect peer to the better-known Berne and Cline.

Over two extended jams later broken up in the album sequencing into nine discreet tracks and titles, The Veil explores sheer power, spirituality, mystery and beauty, sometimes in discreet intervals and other times all at once. “Railroaded" is an amazing abstraction: Black, Berne and Cline simultaneously belching out thick sonic forms, but not autonomously; they fellow each quickly down dark narrow dangerous alleys and manage to make it out the other side intact. Berne explores his tortured high register on “Impairment Posse" as Black adds a dense bass line from his laptop and Cline is off on the deep end, especially when the three make a dizzying speed run near this section's end. Spooky effects dominate the sparse “Momento," as even Berne becomes part of the high-tech noise by ably blending in his weeping alto sax with the non-acoustic washes. The relative silence gives way to “The Barbarella Syndrome," a thrashing groove constructed by Black as Cline and Berne concurrently come up with different notes as a reaction to the same stimulant of Black's skewed pounding. That's followed by another eerie, spacey interlude, this one called “The Dawn Of The Lawn."

“Rescue Her" is a freakish mesh of Berne's sax and Cline's effects-laden guitar over Black's unwavering but relentless rock beat. “The Veil" showcases the caginess of Black's playing, especially since Cline and Berne are toned down so it's easier to hone in on what the drummer is doing beyond timekeeping. The ending “Tiny Moment," itself broken up into two parts, beginning as a death metal dirge culminating in Cline's urgent, processed wailing, and moves into the longer second part as a sort of ambient piece, with Black's portable computer and Cline's effects forming a sheer curtain of paradoxically soothing and uncertainty. Berne noodles on that quietly, until the trio briefly takes the tempo back to that dirge and then ends the whole show as meekly as it started so aggressively.

The serene but edgy moments such as those gives the album a flow, a certain rhythm to the performance that breaks up any potential monotony and make the explosive junctures even more impacted. Composed entirely on the spot by all three protagonists, The Veil, upon closer examination, has a certain method to it that's the product of three impressive careers in the difficult field of improvised music, instead of premeditation. In that way, this is the jazz of Armstrong, Parker and Davis. But one that's informed with the harshness and directness of metal, grunge and ambient. Many others have used this formula, but for Berne, Black and Cline, it's no experiment; it's part of their core being. That's about the only way to explain how this can be pulled off so well in a live setting where likely very little was planned beyond the next note.

The Veil gets unveiled tomorrow, by Cryptogramophone Records.

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