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The Sublime And (Live)

Science Friction & Tim Berne

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Album Review

Tim Berne's latest band Science Friction is heard here for the first time in front of a live audience in Switzerland in April 2003. A complete concert spread out over two CDs, Sublime And offers a different view of Berne's ever-expansive compositional ideas and how those notions meld into a unit of top-notch improvisers: guitarist Marc Ducret, Craig Taborn on Fender Rhodes and laptop, and drummer Tom Rainey. For starters, five of the six compositions featured here are over ten minutes. Two are over 20, and one is over 30, leaving fantastic amounts of room for group interplay and improvisation. Musically, two of these six selections and half of one are taken from the group's self-titled studio debut and turned into entirely different animals by the time they reach culmination. Berne's composing for this unit is inspired in part by Ornette Coleman's dictum of using repetitive melodies refracted against harmonic and rhythmic extrapolation that linguistically and dynamically commingles to create towering structures of tension, partial release, and a field map of tonal possibilities realized by the various unions achieved by the interplay of various instruments. In this band, Ducret's guitar is used as the foil and complement in Berne's melodic universe, which is architecturally rendered as almost triangular in scope, ever widening at the rhythmic bottom and tonal center of any given work; the interval is used as a near modal device. Ducret solos like the virtuoso he is, finding the outer reaches of Berne's furiously complex harmonic universe — as do Berne and Taborn — but that isn't necessarily the point. Ducret's tonal plane is the one on which rhythmic and melodic concerns are extrapolated in many directions (sometimes simultaneously) such as on "Van Gundy's Retreat" and "Jalapeno Diplomacy/Traction." Also, Taborn, playing a Rhodes and a laptop, forgoes the usual notions of jazz pianism — even free jazz pianism — and roots his technique in the fulfillment and expression of rhythm and dynamics as devices for mode and meter to present, rather than resolve, contradictions. The knotty, syncopated manner in which "Mrs. Subliminal/Clownfinger" begins is Berne soloing along a tight melodic pattern, gradually minimalized and extended tonally as drums, then Taborn's laptop, and finally gorgeous chords by Ducret come in to wash the entire middle before any idea of the "solo" even occurs. A deep, blues-like melody contrasts itself against ammodal concern, unfolding bar by bar until the tune is somewhere in the stratosphere. Disc two's "Smallfry," a glorious ambient piece, features Taborn using both instruments, exploring large washes of electronic sound rooted in compact melodic statements that leave, like Erik Satie's Rosicrucian songs, untethered and unresolved triads to float and engage the sonics wafting into the atmosphere. These give way to the swing, sway, and almost rock & roll angularity of "Jalapeno Diplomacy/Traction," which after over 20 minutes is exhausted and gives rise to the most complex piece on the set, "Stuckon U," where interwoven contrapuntal melodic frames become rhythmic planks which then become centers of tonal dissolution and creation. What a brilliant finish to an exhilarating, moving, and very accessible concert, which will leave the listener much as it must have left the concertgoer: awestruck.

The Sublime And (Live), Science Friction
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