Tim Berne: The Sublimine And

Tim Berne
The Sublimine And
Thirsty Ear

With compositions well-schooled in Ornette Coleman's harmolodicism, played with the restrained, prickly rigor of Julius Hemphill but with a warped, often humorous sensibility of his own, altoist Tim Berne is entering his prime with style. Never burdened with the role of jazz's torchbearer, Berne has always used the dimmer spotlight to highlight his creativity throughout his 25-year recording career. Over the last decade, he's recorded lung-busting marathons with Bloodcount, tweaked standard jazz quartet configurations with vibrant collaborators that include keyboardist Craig Taborn and guitarist Marc Ducret, and started the Screwgun label to house most of his sonic endeavors. That doesn't preclude him from recording for others, though, and the Thirsty Ear label has done well by him with the release of The Sublime And, a massive two-hour live set in Switzerland that features the Science Friction quartet (drummer Tom Rainey joins the trio of Berne, Ducret, and Taborn).

You're not going to hear long, flowing sensuous saxophone lines issue forth from Berne's horn, nor are you going to get a cathartic eruption of pure, soulful noise on this album. Berne prefers a tense, almost pugilistic stance. Paradoxically, he's also a simpatico collaborator, not leading the quartet so much as enabling them. He winds around Ducret's flares of feedback and squibs of static (he's at home with exploratory guitar players, having collaborated with Bill Frisell and Nels Cline in the past), builds a frame for Taborn to hang long, floating, shimmery notes upon, and locks into tough rhythmic exchanges with the painterly, powerful Rainey. Illustrative of this technique is the opener "Van Gundy's Retreat," which starts with a bouncy groove, abruptly hovers in space for a while, and then gradually works its way back to terra firma, with Berne acting like a slightly addled tour guide for a clutch of rambunctious adventurers. They amble through the forest of chord changes toward the end, and you're not quite sure how they do it. If that doesn't bode well for the next 25 years, then I don't know what does.

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