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

Mark Sullivan By

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Storied experimental guitarist David Torn is also so much more: looper, songwriter, improviser, session guitarist, film composer, record producer, and mixer. In his long association with ECM Records he has done most of those things, going back to Cloud About Mercury (1987, recently reissued)—arguably still his best known album as a leader—the group project Prezens (2007), which featured Tim Berne and others, and his more recent solo looping album Only Sky (2015). Production credits include Tim Berne's You've Been Watching Me (2015) and Incidentals (2017, which also included some playing), plus mixing on bassist/composer Michael Formanek's The Distance (2016).

Sun of Goldfinger is the studio premier of the improvisational trio with Torn, saxophonist Tim Berne and drummer Ches Smith. It also features them in a composed piece that combines Torn's film composing style with improvisation (originally planned as two individual albums, as discussed in an earlier All About Jazz interview). Blending the two projects displays both Torn as composer and the trio in a fuller light.

"Eye Meddle" begins the set with an electronic soundscape from Torn that quickly develops into a thick texture with drums and more identifiable guitar sounds. Berne's characteristic alto saxophone somehow finds a melodic path. About halfway into the 24-minute performance Berne's solo climaxes exultantly as Smith brings in a regular drum rhythm. Torn's pitch-bending wailing finally erupts into a solo—a bass pattern has also appeared, courtesy of Smith's live electronics, created in real time—and a saxophone/guitar conversation leads into another textural shift. A repeating pattern that had also been reinforced by the drums fades, slowing down as it goes, with a few closing electronic embellishments.

The other group creation "Soften The Blow" opens with keening horn, accompanied by gentle guitar swells: sounding for all the world like a conventional duet, at least briefly. This one takes its time: there is a long stretch of drone (courtesy of Torn, looped Berne saxophone, and later Smith's synthesizer) with gentle saxophone lines (which take on a Middle Eastern flavor) and only occasional percussive accents. By the end Smith has introduced a rockish beat, and the band sounds like a rock power trio—although with another looped electronic fade out (this time with saxophone decoration).

Torn's composition "Spartan, Before It Hit" announces itself with a gradual string crescendo and a lovely saxophone melody, which is then echoed by the strings. The ensemble is heavily weighted with strings: the Scorchio Quartet is joined by guitarists Mike Baggetta and Ryan Ferreira, as well as Torn himself. After Craig Taborn's piano enters the piece goes into a looser, more conversational mode with drums and Torn's guitar as lead instrument. This section also includes Smith playing the tanbou, a Haitian barrel drum. The core belongs to Sun of Goldfinger, with guitar and saxophone soloing simultaneously. About nine minutes in an apocalyptic explosion signals the beginning of the true group improvisation. The piece concludes with a gentle string texture (loosely conducted by Torn), joined by his guitar.

In addition to presenting some of the most freely improvised music by any of the three trio members, Sun of Goldfinger collectively have created a distinctive sound, blending acoustic and electronic instruments and often sounding much larger than three pieces. The album is enriched by the addition of David Torn's large ensemble composition, which offers a unique view into his creative process, as well as a kaleidoscopic performance that is the centerpiece of a collection which is a standout even among the many remarkable recent ECM releases.

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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