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David Torn: Prezens

Mark F. Turner By

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"Take a little trip, take a little trip. Take a little trip and see...

—Excerpt from the 1970s popular hit, "Low Rider, by WAR from Why Can't We Be Friends (Rhino, 1975).

The popular lyrics from the above song could describe guitarist David Torn's Prezens, his first band recording in twenty years for the ECM record label. It is a musical journey unlike any other. Torn has been a fixture in the industry for many years, but you've probably heard his music behind the scenes, in film (The Departed), television (Friday Night Lights), and in experimental groups (Splattercell).

With an eclectic approach to his guitar playing and electronics, he uses heavy technologies at his disposal (sampling, mixing, real-time manipulation) to color and infuse texture into well-conceived compositions. A variety of sounds, noises, and other musical devices all serve a purpose in the process. By also enlisting some notable jazz/progressive musicians whom he has produced and recorded with—keyboardist Craig Taborn, saxophonist Tim Berne, and drummer Tom Rainey—he solidifies and gives flesh to his ideas with an energy that only real musicians can bring to the table. But even though this is an all-star group, and each musician contributes wonderfully, it is more about the collective that result in an experience that is unique, cinematic, and atmospheric.

Picture if you will (a little Twilight Zone reference) "Ak, the first piece on Prezens. It begins with electronic synth-sounds as Torn introduces a Western blues guitar motif accompanied by some B3 organ from Taborn. The groove is accentuated by Berne's mellifluous saxophone and Rainey's drum, but just as things settle into flow, they change into a hard rock vamp from Torn's crunching guitar, backed by a heavy beat---colored with other strange sounds—the cinematic equivalent of stepping into a blues bar on some alien planet.

The musical shifts from quiet to explosive are what make this such an interesting and challenging recording. On "Structural Functions of Prezens a peaceful, trance-like state morphs into an incredible barrage of drums as flute-like and other sounds converge. Much of the music feels like a real-time film score that is in constant flux; heightening anticipation after repeated listens.

Torn's guitar playing is immense, covering an array of textures (clean, distorted, processed, and many others), as evidenced on "Bulbs and "Them Buried Standing. From a slight hip-hop reference on "Sink, the East Indian-themed "Miss Place, the Mist..., to the prehistoric/electronica rhythm of "Ever More Other, Prezens is unexpected, unusual, and equally absorbing. Hopefully it won't be another twenty years before we witness the machinations of Torn's ideas again.


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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