Tim Berne's Bloodcount: Seconds

John Kelman By

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Tim Berne's Bloodcount
Screwgun Records

While documentation of saxophonist/composer Tim Berne's remarkable Bloodcount has been most widely available on Lowlife, Poisoned Minds and Memory Select—all culled from four nights in Paris in 1994, released that year on JMT and ultimately reissued in remastered form by Winter & Winter—the intrepid Berne did regroup the band subsequently, releasing live recordings from 1996 and 1997 tours of Europe and the United States on his own Screwgun label.

Seconds, a three-disc set also from Screwgun, consists of two CDs taken from 1997 performances that find the original 1994 group—Berne, tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Chris Speed, guitarist Marc Ducret, contrabassist Michael Formanek and drummer Jim Black—reduced to a guitar-less quartet. It also includes a DVD with the hour-long cinema verityé documentary Eyenoises...The Paris Movie 1994, directed by Susanna Schonberg, that uses the 51-minute "Eyecount," from Memory Select, as the sonic backdrop to follow the quintet from sound check through performance.

Tim Berne

While the absence of Ducret on the 1997 performances is undeniably felt, the quartet still manages to retain the uncanny combination of complex structure and interactive free play that made Bloodcount's earlier releases so compelling. Without Ducret's sustaining chordal swells, jagged single-note attacks and occasional rock edge, the 1997 version of Bloodcount is undeniably less dense, although when all four push the extremes, as they do on the almost rocking "Sense And Sinsemilla," it's still a powerful ride. Even Berne and Speed alone, towards the end of "Scrap Metal," make one joyous noise, as they feed off each others' intensity, with Berne ultimately cuing Formanek and Black back in with the piece's quirkily funky head that, were this a more electric unit, might even approach a progressive Rock-in-Opposition stance.

There's interplay aplenty throughout this diverse set. The spare, chamber-like opening of the nearly twenty-minute "Yes, Dear," from the Children of the Corn Festival show, remains spacious through the first part of Berne's lengthy alto solo, but as Formanek and Black magically coalesce into a complex-metered but visceral, backbeat-driven groove that's bolstered by Speed's tenor, it turns into a fiery free-for-all exchange between Black and Speed that's one of the highlights of the set.

While the overall construction is similar on an equally extended version on the "Live In The Middle Of Somewhere" set, it's proof of just how different two versions of the same piece can be. Speed and Berne reach for the stratosphere, supported and augmented by Formanek's abstruse arco in a section that references microtonal classical composer Gyorgy Ligeti, before Berne heads into his solo section, this time more texturally expanded by Formanek and Black's more active engagement.

The opening ostinato of "Screwgun" gives Black an early solo opportunity before settling into another idiosyncratic funk groove that leads into the tune's equally knotty head. But it's all just a setup for a sudden halt, leading to an ethereal free section where it's all about communal improvisation rather than a delineated soloist. How Bloodcount ultimately regroups for the propulsive conclusion is what makes this such a remarkable group.

Tim Berne / Marc Ducret

The DVD, combining sound check footage showing how the group tackles one of Berne's complex pieces by, amongst other things, deconstructing it into specific sections, is a revelation. So, too, is the opportunity to see Berne providing instructions that deal with the music in ways that encourage individual interpretation while, at the same time, guiding it on the subtlest of levels.

Like watching how much fun Anthony Braxton's 12(+1)tet had performing one of his rigorous compositions at the 2007 Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville, watching Bloodcount's levity—on and off the stage—belies the apparent and, perhaps, deceptive seriousness of the music. When you're on the road living in each others' pockets for a couple of weeks, you'd better enjoy each others' company, and Bloodcount may have been dead serious about the music, but was anything but when it came to the way they interacted. Schonberg manages to capture everything with an unforced style that makes Eyenoises...The Paris Movie 1994 a documentary that provides plenty of insight into the touring experience.

With two CDs of largely unheard Bloodcount material and a DVD that's as engaging as it is enlightening, Seconds is a valuable addition to the Bloodcount discography, further proof of just how important that group was for everyone involved.

Tracks: CD1 (Live in the Middle of Somewhere, 1997): Scrap Metal; Yes, Dear; Mr. Johnson. CD2 (Live at The Children of the Corn Festival, 1997): Sense And Sinsemilla; Screwgun; Byram's World; Yes, Dear; Howmuch Longer. DVD: Eyenoises...The Paris Movie 1994: Eyecontact.

Personnel: Tim Berne: alto and baritone saxophones; Chris Speed: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Michael Formanek: contrabass; Jim Black: drums; Marc Ducret: guitar (DVD); Susanna Schonberg: director (DVD).

Photo Credit
Captured from Eyenoises...The Paris Movie 1994, courtesy of Screwgun Records

Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Screwgun Records | Style: Modern Jazz


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