Tim Berne's Hard Cell

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Feign Review

by Dave Lynch

Given the unique and highly personal qualities of his music, alto saxophonist Tim Berne has been fortunate to find collaborators with the talent required to translate his vision into reality on album after album. In the case of Feign, the 2005 release by the acoustic version of Berne's Hard Cell trio, it seems appropriate to focus a bit of attention on pianist Craig Taborn. With Taborn on piano rather than the array of electronic keyboards he has played on previous Hard Cell and Science Friction discs, Feign is merely the latest evidence that the former Midwesterner -- who is originally from the Twin Cities area and honed his musical chops around Motor City environs before settling in Brooklyn -- matches drummer Tom Rainey's ability to understand Berne's conception and bring it to listeners' ears with the skill, energy, and dynamic range the music requires. Perhaps it might even be more accurate to describe acoustic Hard Cell as a quartet rather than a trio, given the connected disconnectedness between Taborn's right and left hands. As Berne listeners would expect and anticipate, on Feign the reedman trots out all the elements of his signature style, or perhaps by now it should be regarded as a genre unto itself. Key among them are those skewed lines poised midway between insistent ostinato riffs and ever-evolving melodies with unexpected interval leaps, driving the music forward in a way that is both predictable and pleasingly off center. Surprising repetitiveness may seem like an oxymoron, but Berne is able to accomplish just that, and it's a minor miracle that Taborn can double the altoist's motifs -- or play against them in echoing counterpoint -- with one hand while moving in a different but related universe with the other. Meanwhile, Rainey rolls through and assertively punctuates his own maelstrom, asserting the drummer's own singular identity while knitting all the threads of the threesome's performance into a unified whole. Check out the closing moments of "BG....uh....OH" for a fine example. And of course, the integration of improvisation into Berne's compositional framework is another joy of the reedman's music -- "Brokelyn," for instance, builds into an incendiary free funk-informed workout between Taborn and Rainey with Berne momentarily sitting out, and the fun comes from knowing that Berne's unmistakable alto will be back, a theme will somehow reassert itself, and a slam-bang, stop-on-a-dime finish is right around the corner. Feign is a blast of energized modern creative music, free improvisation corralled into appealing structures, and even moments of unexpected lyricism and beauty. It is 100 percent Tim Berne at his best, brought to full realization along with long-term collaborator Rainey and that relatively new kid on the Brooklyn block, Craig Taborn, who demonstrates without a doubt that he has become a full-fledged resident of Berne's musical neighborhood.

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