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David Torn/Tim Berne/Ches Smith: Sun Of Goldfinger

Dan McClenaghan By

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Sometimes a recording comes with a "play it loud" recommendation. Let's give one of those to Sun Of Goldfinger, from guitarist David Torn, alto saxophonist Tim Berne and percussionist Ches Smith.

Torn, a self-described "texturalist/guitarist," has been associated with ECM Records since the '80s, with Cloud About Mercury (1987)—a disc the label is reissuing in 2019—and Without Warning and Best Laid Plans, both from 1984. Berne and Smith are relative newcomers to ECM, with four CD releases, beginning with Snakeoil in 2012, along with a Berne/Torn collaboration on Michael Formanek's The Rub And Spare Change (2010) along the way, and Berne's participation on Torn's Prezens (2007).

Sun Of Goldfinger consists of three extended pieces—all in the twenty-minute-plus range—beginning with the searing spontaneous improvisation, "Eye Meddle." For those familiar with Berne's discography, the sound isn't much different from his Paraphrase group recordings—Pre-emptive Denial (Screwgun, 2005) or Please Advice (Screwgun, 1999)—or his work with his Big Satan group featuring guitarist Marc Ducret. "Eye Meddle" has the same torrid, careening intensity, that sense of music on a planet (Mercury, perhaps) orbiting too close to its sun, a sound of a "broiled rock bombarded by relentless radiation," with some ebbs and flows and the establishment of grooves, as if that planet is moving on an elliptical orbit that takes it on swings out of the danger zone, just barely and briefly.

If "Eye Of Meddle" can be compared to the planet Mercury, "Spartan, Before It Hit" sounds more like a far-from-the-sun gas giant, cool and mysterious, and majestically slow from the perspective of the inner planets. The core trio is augmented here by the Scorchio String Quartet and Craig Taborn's piano and electronics joining the Ches Smith/David Torn electronic/loops contributions, along with an addition of two extra guitars. The sound gathers an urgency—a formation of a Jovian red spot-like disturbance on planet's non-solid surface that dissipates and tapers the sound back down to an eerie, movement-of-the-heavens grandeur.

"Soften The Blow," the last of the three extended tracks, takes things back to the core trio, with Torn and Smith's electronics layered into the mix again. It is starker than the first two tunes; there is little sense of soloing, here and throughout; rather, the experience is more of manic group cohesion. There is less of a sense of an anchoring, of the gravitational pull of the opener, "Eye Meddle." And it is sparer, with Berne's alto sax spending more time in the forefront, the music's majesty veering into madness at times.

This is music that defies categorization. A hybridization of jazz, rock and ambient? Maybe. Play it loud.

Track Listing: Eye Meddle; Spartan, Before It Hit; Soften the Blow.

Personnel: David Torn: electric guitar, live-looping, electronics; Tim Berne: alto saxophone; Ches Smith: drums, electronics, tanbou; Craig Taborn: electronics, piano (2); Scorchio String Quartet (2): Martha Mooke: viola/director; Amy Kimball: vioin; Rachel Golub: violin: Leah Coloff: cello; Mike Baggetta, guitar (2); Ryan Ferreira, guitar (2).

Title: Sun Of Goldfinger | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: ECM Records

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