Without a compositional safety net, freely improvising musicians must listen deeply and react quickly to avoid excess repetition or meandering. Executed with precision, the visceral immediacy of free improv can be exhilarating, as is the case on Pre-Emptive Denial, the third release by Paraphrase, saxophonist Tim Berne's improvising trio with drummer Tom Rainey and bassist Drew Gress.
Like their previous CDs, this was serendipitously recorded live by an enterprising audience member; the band had not intended to record. Primed from performing Gress' complex compositions over a short run preceding this gig at The Stone, the musicians were eager for liberation. Lacking a probing preamble, "Trading on All Fours opens at a gallop, Berne's ideas rapidly pealing to match Gress and Rainey's aggressive rhythms. The swirling bluster continues until about the fourteen-minute mark, when Rainey drops out after a brief decrescendo, with Gress and Berne tempering their tones in response, a transition so elegant it sounds premeditated.
Providing immediate contrast, "We Bow to Royalties opens atmospherically, Rainey using mallets for resonance while Gress' slow arco and Berne's whispered phrases add mystery. The intensity builds from a short drum solo and Berne's re-entrance, reaching a peak at about twelve minutes, when Rainey drops a snare crack and Gress instantly shifts into a funkier groove that the two churn for Berne's next flight.
Accomplished composers as well as improvisers, the members of the trio imbue the music with the contrast and tension that have become hallmarks of Berne and Gress' compositions. The dynamic ebbs and flows provide a narrative arc and sense of drama. Throughout the two improvisations, the saxophonist proffers infectious melodic snippets that could easily be expanded into larger statements. But given this trio's nature, those phrases existed only for that moment.