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Tim Berne - The Sublime And

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Artist: Tim Berne

Album: The Sublime And

Label: Thirsty Ear

Review date: Nov. 2, 2003

Tim Berne takes his time. His compositions unfold slowly, sometimes at a leviathan pace, over the course of 20 or 30 minutes. He works somewhat insularly, cultivating his fairly tight circle of players over many recordings, really workshopping tunes and band sounds. The Sublime And, a sprawling two-disc live set, captures his latest combo Science Friction (in which Berne’s saxophones are complemented by Craig Taborn’s electric keyboards, Tom Rainey’s drums, and, on this sophomore release, longtime Berne accomplice guitarist Marc Ducret) in bitingly hot form. The band has a previous release – eponymous, on Berne’s Screwgun label – and, without Ducret’s guitar, the remaining trio has recorded for Thirsty Ear previously (The Shell Game). As on so many Berne documents, especially live ones, tunes generally begin one of two ways – from open space, wending their way slowly into the twisting vineyard of Berne’s post-bop angular lyricism, or just the reverse. Though the tunes surely meander, it’s never less than engaging: follow the constantly shifting patterns Rainey threads together, dig Taborn’s ’70s Miles-influenced space keyboards, or listen to Ducret’s jaggedly industrial crazeology (he seems to have tweaked his tone a bit of late, giving his customary bite a tad more twang and reverb) as he spars with the leader’s ragged rootsy sax playing.

They shamble along as one weird beast, though occasionally an appendage snakes out wildly (the crazed shuffle of the splendidly titled “Van Gundy’s Retreat” – what, Houston?) or something stanky oozes out. Even when they seep into some dreamless ether, as on the laconic intro to the 24-minute epic “The Shell Game”, it’s got a fractious edge. Mind you, 10 minutes in and the band is raging to pop, with Ducret like a cyborg McLaughlin from the future who’s landed on planet Agharta to romp with Julius Hemphill. But they return to even trippier texture on “Smallfry”, which opens disc two.

It’s nice to hear Ducret – so often relegated to texture duties in Berne’s groups – climb atop Taborn’s shoulders and trade licks with Berne on so much of this music. He’s one of the few improvising guitarists who can effectively incorporate rock music into his approach. Not that Taborn is hamstrung – he’s got plenty of room to stretch, and it’s hard to believe that this keyboard ace is the same guy who plays such excellent po-mo acoustic jazz with Marty Ehrlich and others. Berne himself is featured most on his long echo-drenched solo to introduce “Mrs. Subliminal/Clownfinger”. By the closing track “Stuckon U”, there is a sense of wondrous disorientation as harmonic threads slowly pull apart Berne’s repeating phrases (this is a feature on many of the tunes on The Sublime And: riffs set against harmonic or rhythmic shifts). Though my reviewer’s impulse compels me to note that this is probably too much music, and most likely could’ve been pared down to a single killer disc, this stuff is just too fun and too brainy to cut one bit off. Get some.

By Jason Bivins

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