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Leeway

Tim Berne Residency

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Spent Thursday, Friday and Saturday in New York City to take in part of Tim Berne’s Residency at The Stone, in celebration of his 60th birthday (October 16). There’s an old joke of the stuffy academic variety that circulates among English majors. It’s the story of one such student who took a speed-reading course and decided to read Milton’s “Paradise Lost” after completing the course. Asked by his professor what he remembered of this epic poem, the student responded, “A blinding flash of light.” In similar vein, my three nights and six sets of music seem to have resolved themselves into an enormous “THWACK” from Tyshawn Sorey’s drumstick.

No wireless available on this trip so could not provide daily updates (aawww), so I’ll give you what I can recall beyond THWACK.

Thursday night, 10/9, was scheduled as Snakoil (1st set) and Electric Snakeoil (2nd set), but in the event, both sets were given over to Electric Snakeoil, which consists of Berne, Oscar Noriega (saxes), Matt Mitchell (piano), Ches Smith (d), and Ryan Ferreira (electric guitar). IIRC, Mitchell was using an M-Audio AxiomPro (maybe alternately with the house piano). Matt said the AxiomPro is a controller (attached to a laptop) and not an actual keyboard. You can check it out here if interested in gear.

http://www.amazon.com/M-Audio-Axiom-Pro-61-HyperControl/dp/B001TE68OS

The device gave a 70’s type vibe. I kept thinking of one of Sun Ra’s electric pianos/synths. Ryan Ferreira was new to me, but his role is rather critical in Electric Snakeoil. At least during this Residency, Ferreira played mostly as a colorist, filling the interstices of the band, like an inky background to a boldly figurative portrait. It worked quite well, and I’m looking forward to this group recording. The 1st set seemed a bit sluggish. In the 2nd set, Ches kicked into high gear, and the band muscled through the set—exciting and full of interesting music.

I was anticipating Friday night the way some people anticipate Kahoutek’s Comet, because Ice Station Zebra was on the bill. ISZ consists of Berne, David Torn (electric guitar), Matt Mitchell (electric piano/controller), and Ches Smith and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. It was a rare opportunity to hear Torn live, and he would normally be the center of attention, but within the first minute Tyshawn took the controls in his hands, and for the next twenty or thirty minutes he and Ches flew this set like F-16 pilots ripping off multi-G-force climbs. Totally exhilarating! People in the band were smiling and shaking their heads; everyone in the room seemed to be having a good time. Things slowed in the middle, which gave an opportunity for Torn to display the engrossing soundscapes from his electric guitar. Tyshawn stuck to his drum kit, while Ches played drums as well as vibes and congas. The band sounded good. The music was interesting. Getting within site of the end of the set, Tyshawn applied the throttle again and the band was off on another Mach 1 run. Ever drive a Lamborghini Countach down the autostrada at full tilt? Me neither, but I now suspect what it must feel like.

Could the 2nd set be as good? That would be asking the impossible, but we got as close to that as humanly possible. This time it started “moderato” which again allowed Torn and the rest of the band to serve up various, interesting textures and soundscapes. Good stuff. I guess Tyshawn decided it was time to fly again, and the band responded with alacrity. I’ll say here that Tim was playing his guts out in every set, total all-in on the music. The music from Thursday and Saturday nights was mostly composed; Friday night’s music was fully and inspiredly improvised. I liked the fact that Ches and Tyshawn did not get locked into some dreary drum battles; they played within the band and in tandem with each other. But the hammer belonged to Tyshawn. An amazing two plus hours of powerful, driving, inspired music-making.

Saturday was a quieter affair. The first set was Decay, with Berne, Michael Formanek on bass, Ryan Ferreira on guitar, and Ches Smith on drums, vibes, congas. I have to say I really dug this group. You could hear Ferreira spinning out musical colors and textures, beautiful and intriguing. The compositions were relatively short; I think there were 4 or 5 in the set. I would love to hear this group get recorded.

Immediately at the close of the set, Tim’s wife presented Tim with a birthday cake that seemed to consist of about 100 blazing mini-cupcakes, and the audience sang “Happy Birthday.” I think Tim was pretty well surprised! The cupcakes were delicious; dug the red velvet and chocolate.

The 2nd set was Cornered with the same personnel as Decay but with the addition of Matt Mitchell and Oscar Noriega. Perhaps it was a cupcake hangover, but this 2nd set seemed to drag a bit. It was one piece and lasted about 70 minutes. Some good moments but not enough to make it work as a single piece.

One thing the Berne residency showed was how he continues to try new approaches, new combinations. One also can observe his commitment to his music. There is no letting down, or softening. BTW, before every set, and even every piece, Tim was dishing out witticisms, self-deprecating jokes, topical humor, sardonic comments, and a lot of the jokes became running jokes through the 3 nights—funny stuff.

I was able to squeeze in one more show while I was there, a duo performance by Michael Attias and John Hebert, in an outdoor park on the Lower East Side, just off Houston Street, on a chilly, damp, misty, late Saturday afternoon. With ambulance sirens and taxi horns blaring much of the time, they played a really rather lovely set. Is it too romantic to say that rather than the noise spoiling their set, the music they made somehow made sense of the noise? Well, even if so, it was how I felt listening to them.

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I almost went Friday, but I was so exhausted from work and it turned out I had to work on Saturday too. I would have regretted it if I went too.

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Thanks for the comments. I'm *still* irritated I couldn't get to the Friday night set.

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Sounds like a blast. As fate would have it I listened to An Average Daze, from Bloodcount's Unwound last night and it just plastered the hugest smile on my face. Such awesome, inspired music. I live for the next recording and hope one is forthcoming! (Especially from these new bands which prrrrobably won't show up on ECM ...)

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Wish I had been able to go to one of these. As Colin said, hopefully this stuff makes it onto record - and if it DOES end up on ECM, that it sounds like SHADOW MAN rather than the first SNAKEOIL album (though I liked that one too).

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Great read Leeway, thanks. Good to see Berne spreading his wings across a residency like this.

Edited by mjazzg

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Sounds like a blast. As fate would have it I listened to An Average Daze, from Bloodcount's Unwound last night and it just plastered the hugest smile on my face. Such awesome, inspired music. I live for the next recording and hope one is forthcoming! (Especially from these new bands which prrrrobably won't show up on ECM ...)

Enough already on ECM aesthetic ;)

How about a 5 CD live box from ECM ;) ;)

(Including quips, witticisms and Happy Birthday. With a free cupcake.)

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I meant nothing by that. I have defended Berne's ECM music on the board all along. I have zero issues with either record. I just meant it's unlikely that a group like Ice Station Zebra would be recorded for the label, and most likely because they have a full and ever-growing roster and I doubt Berne has carte blanche to record any group he wants, which I also think is fine.

It's OK.....

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Thanks all for your responses to my report. I had a blast, even if it takes me 3 days to recover. One thing you know going in on a Berne concert is you will get some intense music. Getting 6 sets is quite a nice opportunity, couldn't be passed up.

My best guess is that Electric Snakeoil will be the next ECM recording. All indications are that will be a very cool recording. Adding the electric component really extends the band's range and depth. I would love to hear that the Decay band was getting recorded too; something special about that group. The in-concert Ice Station Zebra was a total blast, one of the most exciting 2 hours of music I've heard yet this year, but how that would translate to a recording is hard to ascertain. Maybe it wouldn't. That was pure improv, high-energy, state-of-the -moment music, as evanescent as it was intense.

BTW, I had a chance to briefly meet Steve Byram, the artist-illustrator for the Screwgun albums, who was attending the Saturday night show. Always wanted to know who was behind those marvelous illustrations.

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Well, I must say if anyone can translate that type of intensity to disc, it's Berne.

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In some ways I'd like something different than even an augmented Snakeoil for the next ECM. The ideas there are already in place. Still, the appearance of the second Snakeoil showed there is an audience so that's all good.

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My best guess is that Electric Snakeoil will be the next ECM recording. All indications are that will be a very cool recording. Adding the electric component really extends the band's range and depth.

I've heard this is in fact true. Looking forward to hearing it.

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Good to know, thanks. Yeah, me too. I think Acoustic Snakeoil is dead. And I'm still pushing for a recording of Decay, maybe on a revived Screwgun (?)

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Well...just to dispell some misguided observations.

Acoustic version of snakeoil is hopefully not dead as we have about 40 gigs between february and may.

Electric snake is next ecm album...and in case you were wondering i chose the material and takes on both ecm records with zero interference.

If you don't like the music it was my fault just like on the other 40 or so records i've done.

I like ecm because i know that the music will remain in print forever something i can't say about most of my recordings for other labels.

They also use my photos on the covers although i do miss working with Byram needless to say.

And by the way screwgun is up and running again....you can get out of print jmt's now as mp3's for example.

If i could manage to run a label and still compose and perform i would but it's pretty tough financially and time wise so I'm happy to have someone willing to document the music.

Thanks and good night/tim

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Thanks for checking in again. Very much looking forward to the new one. Do you have an idea of a release date?

Also glad to hear the website is up and running again. I'll place the order I've been meaning to for quite some time.

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Not sure about release date but hopefully before states tour april/may.

T

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Acoustic Snakeoil's not dead...but does it smell funny?

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Any news of UK dates, Tim?

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Couldn't get any uk dates infortunately...bummer

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Not sure about release date but hopefully before states tour april/may.

T

Tim, this is very exciting!

Are you going to be recording any more sideman dates for ECM? The Rub and Spare Change and Prezens were fantastic!

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Well, Tim Berne is my favorite Jazz musician. I have everything from his five-disc Empire set through his ECM material. I have a love/hate relationship with ECM, and find their aesthetic a little dull - but obviously they record well. Mind you, just anything the guy appears on is worth your time.

Biog Satan are probably my favorites - but I hate to pick.

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