Whatever Tim Berne does in the studio always seems to end up magnified when it appears live on record. The central features of Berne's musicshort, irregularly timed unison melodies, obliquely intertwined improvisational lines, and an edgy recklessnessall blow up in magnitude on The Sublime And.
So does the size of the recording, which in this case stretches out to nearly two hours. In many ways it reminds me of the first thing he released on his own Screwgun label, Bloodcount's Unwound
(1996), a three-disc collection of long quartet jams. Never did a box set satisfy so well. (Honestly. But not all the time, that's for sure.)
Science Friction appeared on Screwgun last year under an eponymous title, "produced, manipulated, processed, and complimented" by David Torn. Torn takes care of mixing and mastering here, which is altogether appropriate. In this configuration the front line consists of keyboards (Craig Taborn), alto saxophone (Berne), and guitar (Marc Ducret). The bass-less unit rests on an ever-shifting foundation provided by drummer Tom Rainey. All are regular Berne collaborators. All understand his logic.
By the very nature of Tim Berne's personality (it seems), there's no point in agreeing too much with him. But when you make your own statement and set up a dialogue, he'll be happy to discuss it personally, which is the source of the tension and the release in this music. That's an exaggeration, of course, but it has more than a grain of truth. Everyone has something to say.
The sprawling piece "The Shell Game" goes whole hog from quiet understatement to direct locution to hard-blowing energy and pure headbanger's bliss (Ducret at his best wailing away on distorted guitar). Each player takes solo time but there's always enough group interaction for anything to become linear. A couple coordinated changes in tone balance out the spontaneous variety, reinforcing Berne's ever-shifting balance between composition and improvisation. "Jalapeño Diplomacy" (from the studio record) retains its radiance but gets well into that almost-out-of- control Berne group thing. Tom Rainey came on the heels of Jim Black (of the aforementioned Bloodcount unit) and his multilayered drumming shares many of the same features, including a spontaneous combination of free, funk, swing, and pure polyrhythm.
Berne himself sounds broader here than ever. His alto playing has a surprising emotive range, despite its tendency toward forward expression. He gets inside the horn to pull out sweet melody when it's called for, or a sharp bite when the dogs come too near. All in a night's work, really.
(That would be April 12, 2003 in Winterthur, Switzerland, in case you missed it.)
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Disc one: Van Gundy's Retreat; The Shell Game; Mrs. Subliminal/Clownfinger. Disc two: Smallfry;
Tim Berne: alto saxophone; Marc Ducret: guitar; Craig Taborn: keyboards; Tom Rainey: drums.