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David Torn: Prezens

Budd Kopman By

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With Prezens, guitarist and electronics magician David Torn returns to ECM with his first album since Cloud About Mercury (ECM, 1987). In the intervening twenty-year absence, Torn has made a number of albums for other labels, and has also composed movie soundtracks.

The music was created by a working band that spent years playing together, and then got together in the studio to record about a dozen hours of purely improvised material. Torn then took the results and reworked them into something new. The results are what Torn describes as what might have been, or what he heard the music could be at the time but was not. Different techniques are applied to different tracks: loops are made, overdubs added, different filters applied and instruments removed from the mix.

What we hear, then, could not have been made without both the musicians playing in real time and the studio post-processing. The album has a distinctive feeling of floating between the artificial and constructed world and the live, in-the-moment world of musicians playing instruments, regardless of how electronic, rather than acoustic, those instruments are.

With his band members—Tim Berne (alto sax), Craig Taborn (keyboards) and Tom Rainey (drums)—Torn has found musicians who share his idealism of playing in the moment. He says, "... we're coming up with music in front of people or in front of microphones that sounds composed—even though it wasn't at all, with no tunes beforehand, just sort of a moving vocabulary between ourselves. Not only do we play without a net; everybody there listening realizes we're playing without a net."

Torn plays an instrument that looks like an electric guitar but sounds like much more; an extension, perhaps, of where Jimi Hendrix might be were he alive today. Torn is much more concerned with the sounds he can produce rather than guitar technique: getting out the sounds he hears mentally is the goal rather than merely playing notes.This does not suggest that Torn demeans actually playing the instrument, but rather that the physicality of playing is but the first step.

"Heavy" might be an overused adjective from a bygone era, but it most accurately describes the overall mood created. One must allow oneself to become immersed within it, and passive listening is almost impossible.

"Neck-Deep In The Harrow...," the longest track on the album at over twelve minutes, is a good example of how densities vary, different instruments come to fore, rhythms change from driving funk to free and back. The mix is exhilarating due to the obvious joy that freedom can bring. However, what is also evident is that the players are listening to each other to produce a group sound.

Through it all, Torn leads the band with many different sounds that range from screeching to plinks to distorted slides, shaping and pushing the music.

Fascinating stuff that reveals more with each listen, Prezens is a triumph of mind over matter.

Track Listing: Ak; Rest & Unrest; Structural Functions of Prezens; Bulbs; Them Buried Standing; Sink; Neck- deep in the Harrow...; Ever More Other; Ring for Endless Travel; Miss Place, the Mist...; Transmit Regardless.

Personnel: David Torn: guitars, live sampling and manipulation; alto saxophone; Craig Taborn: Fender Rhodes piano, Hammond organ, mellotron, bent circuits; Tom Rainey: drums; Matt Chamberlain: additional drums (10).

Title: Prezens | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: ECM Records

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