In a configuration pared down from his Science Friction band, saxophonist Tim Berne reconvenes with guitarist Marc Ducret and drummer Tom Rainey as Big Satan, the trio that recorded '97's outstanding I Think They Liked It Honey
(Winter & Winter). While it seemed that the core of Science Friction, when they played recently in Victoriaville, Canada
, was Berne, Rainey and keyboardist Craig Taborn, it becomes clear that Ducret's role is more central than immediately apparent. The expressionist yang to Paul Motian's similarly configured trio's impressionist yin, Big Satan's modus operandi
, like much of Berne's work in recent years, revolves around convoluted rhythmic and harmonic structures that provide essential and compelling vehicles for a looser improvisational context. Souls Saved Hear
is a bold work that asserts not only Berne's distinct compositional voice, but the imagination and unique musical vernacular of all involved.
That Berne has chosen to work almost exclusively with Rainey in the past few years is no surprise. Rainey's musical knowledge is encyclopaedic, yet he never wears his broad range of influences on his sleeve; he is arguably the most consistently inventive drummer on the scene today, able to turn on a dime from extreme free-based improvisation to challenging rhythmic structures. While he has recorded more straightforward music with the likes of pianist Fred Hersch, it is in this more directly challenging environment that his true creative spirit is unleashed.
There is, quite simply, no guitarist quite like Ducret. His oblique and angular lines contain a harmonic specificity that identifies him from the first few notes, whether he is playing acoustic guitar, as he does on the opening of "Ce Sont les Noms des Mots," or more extroverted electric on "Hostility Suite."
Berne completes the picture, combining a cerebral approach with a more rooted and visceral underpinning.
Producer David Torn, so overbearing with the Extended Science Friction Band, shows himself to be in considerably better form when he doesn't have a guitar strapped on. Subtle electronic modifications give the music a spread, dynamism and, in the case of "Emportez-moi," ethereal tinge. Torn's contribution to Souls Saved Hear is almost equal to that of the performers.
The music of Big Satan, much like that of Science Friction and other Berne projects, is not for the faint-at-heart. There is little convention to hang onto, and listeners have to be prepared to be taken on a journey that is more than a little strange, but somehow boldly compelling. While there are plenty of edges to this music, it is rarely jarring; somehow it manages to attract even while challenging all sense of convention. Big Satan is a billed as a collaborative band, but it fits most comfortably within Berne's oeuvre, showing how the instrumental composition of a group does little to detract from his clear and obvious vision. Souls Saved Hear is another in a growing body of work that demonstrates Berne's total commitment to intellect combined with passion, head combined with heart.
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