Even by the customarily prolific standard he's set over the course of his career, 2020 is shaping up to be an especially accomplished year for saxophonist Tim Berne
. His Fantastic Mrs. 10
(Intakt) offered another scintillating formulation of his well-established Snakeoil outfit, and his first solo album, Sacred Vowels
(Screwgun), was also released. Sandwiched in between, but hopefully not overlooked for that reason, is The Coandă Effect
, a live recording with drummer Nasheet Waits
, which illuminates yet another facet of Berne's multihued creativity.
In some ways it's an unexpected pairing. Berne often likes frenetic drummers who can match his energy and internalize the serpentine logic of his compositions. Frequent partners Jim Black
, Tom Rainey
and Ches Smith
, the last of whom is featured on Fantastic Mrs. 10
, are good examples. Waits is a less demonstrative drummer, with a sound less driven by overt mannerisms than a rhythmic ebb and flow guided by a subtle musicality. It allows him to provide a steady undercurrent of support for Berne's unpredictable detours, with a malleable pulse that emerges organically in the course of the duo's mutual journey.
Recorded direct to two-track audio at the Sultan Room in Brooklyn, the album captures the intimacy of the performance while still having a spontaneous live feel. It's not exactly free improvisation, as it's clear throughout that Berne is drawing from themes and phrases from which he extrapolates longer, winding digressions; but Waits is so skillful in traversing Berne's unique pathways while leaving plenty of room for new developments that the music seems inherently fresh and undetermined. There's a sense that anything can happen. Of the album's two tracks, the forty-minute "Tensile" is the most impressive, with Berne moving through a handful of set pieces that serve as launching pads for his and Waits' musings. Ranging from lilting to torrid to deeply soulful, it displays the full scope of Berne's facility on alto, and Waits' similar ability to shift registers is noteworthy. He relies especially on his toms, which have a compelling tunefulness that renders his instrument a perfect complement for Berne, whether in his languorous or his more extroverted moments.
"5see," the album's second track, is less immediately engaging but still potent, as Waits' brushes dance gently alongside Berne's obliquely lyrical phrases. Perhaps as much a chance for the two to wind down after the vigorous explorations at the heart of "Tensile," the first few minutes may also provide a chance for the audience to get its breath. But halfway into the ten-minute piece, Berne can't help himself from spinning out another rapid series of dervish-like lines, and Waits is unable to resist the centrifugal pull of Berne's acerbic alto, with one last gasp of impassioned fervor before finally ending the night's memorable, riveting performance.