Tim Berne

Open, Coma

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New York saxophonist/composer Tim Berne has recorded some of his best music in European cities: Paris, Berlin, and Milan, to name three. Now add Copenhagen and Malmö, Sweden, to the list. Creative music fans should thank the Danish and Swedish cities on opposite ends of the Øresund Bridge for having the kind of artistic climate that makes possible a recording like Open, Coma by Berne and the Copenhagen Art Ensemble. Andrew D'Angelo's impressive big-band arrangement of "Bloodcount" on 1999's Hold the Elevator by Orange Then Blue points the way, yet only hints at the many-hued impressionistic possibilities realized here. Across Open, Coma's two CDs sprawl four lengthy Berne compositions, the new title track and three of the best from the saxophonist's Caos Totale and Bloodcount days, given inspired treatment by the 13-piece "jazz sinfionetta" (including Berne and two of his most valued sidemen, trumpeter Herb Robertson and guitarist Marc Ducret). "Open, Coma," a studio recording from Malmö, is a dense, multi-layered work beginning with the drama of gathering storm clouds; it settles into a typically skewed rhythm, propelled forward at a medium tempo as lengthy reed and horn lines create moody atmospheres beneath the cries and wails of a soulful tenor sax. Later in the piece, Thomas Clausen's Fender Rhodes emerges in its first of several appearances across Open, Coma, bringing a Miles fusion vibe to a tortuously complex full-ensemble passage and an interlude of electrified free funk. It's a beautiful, wild, cinematic journey that reveals Berne's arranging as well as composing skills. As for the Caos Totale and Bloodcount tracks, recorded live at the Copenhagen Jazzhouse, their arrangements (by Berne and CAE conductor Ture Larsen) flesh out the original versions with new colors, textures, and timbres -- Berne's music seen though the prism of Gil Evans or perhaps George Russell (who also found compatible souls in Scandinavia to help realize his vision). And there are many examples of the Danes' first-rate improvising abilities, including Lotte Anker's evocative soprano saxophone over lovely, ruminative backing from the ensemble on "Eye Contact" and her fiery tenor on "Impacted Wisdom," Peter Fuglsang's explorative clarinet on "Open, Coma," and Mads Hyhne's spirited trombone in a rollicking quartet setting on "The Legend of P-1." And it's pure pleasure to hear Berne reunited with his old bandmate Robertson, whose riveting trumpet usually steals the show (he gets a run for his money here from cornetist Kasper Tranberg). Ducret pushes boundaries as usual, whether stretching the electric guitar's sonic possibilities on "Eye Contact" or blasting the blues on "P-1." As for Berne, his unmistakable alto can easily be picked out in the scored sections, and no one has the flair for unexpected juxtapositions while soloing -- his fluid lines slam into a solid wall of squealing, overblown multiphonics before abruptly shifting into quiet, chamber-esque dynamics on "Impacted Wisdom." With its episodes of artful skronk lurking about, Open, Coma remains an uncompromising recording best suited for adventurous ears. But with its kaleidoscopic palette of colors and electric charge and groove conjuring up thoughts of Gil and Miles, this may be one of the best places for the uninitiated to begin investigating the world of Tim Berne. And conductor Larsen's nuanced arrangement of "Impacted Wisdom," like D'Angelo's earlier reworking of "Bloodcount" for OTB, proves that Berne has created a repertoire ripe for interpretation by others. Often stretching out well past the half-hour mark, Berne's compositions have seemed designed to discourage such interpretation, but who knows -- maybe they'll enter the wider jazz canon yet. One could only hope.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 27:47
2 45:57

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 32:48
2 41:31
blue highlight denotes track pick