Click here to [close]

Monday, April 15, 2019

David Torn, Tim Berne & Ches Smith - Sun Of Goldfinger (ECM, 2019) *****

By Stef

It is one of the characteristics of great artists to develop a recognisable sound and voice, and then to challenge it again, and re-invent it. From his earliest albums guitarist David Torn has worked on developing sonic landscapes, complex, compelling and somewhat mysterious, yet even from his first ECM record "Best Laid Plans" in 1984, going through all the changes and renewals he created, his project has not changed. His music is not real fusion, and even if his guitars can wail in the best of rock traditions, they remain always focused on the music, not the instrument.

"Sun Of Goldfinger" is without a doubt his best. The trio with Tim Berne on sax and Ches Smith on drums works to perfection. The music is grand, expansive, dramatic, epic and violent even, dark, compelling and beyond what you've heard before. In terms of sound and mood it is possibly close to "Prezens" (2007) or going even further back to his work on "Lonely Universe" (1990).

The first track, "Eye Meddle", starts hesitatingly until Berne's sax enters, with determination and a strong presence, over a background that does not seem to be improvised at all - even if it is - but reworked in the studio, which increases the eeriness and the density of the sound, further emphasised by the industrial sounding rhythm, that is going full blast somewhere halfway the twenty-minute track. Things turn into a wall of sound, with layers upon layers being added to the mix, increasing the power and the inherent violence of the piece. While Berne gets repetitive and frantic, repeating the same phrase over and over again, Torn's howling guitar increases the sense of agony and despair, using lots of feedback, not shying away from lacing his sound with harsh wayward outbursts, again more focusing on the overall effect itself than on instrumental pyrotechnics. It's a complete volcano erupting. Moods shift with the density and intensity, sounds diminish and return in force then fade again into strangely altered shimmering industrial clanging.

The second piece, "Spartan, Before It Hit", is composed, and the trio is expanded with Craig Taborn on electronics and piano, Mike Baggetta and Ryan Ferreira on guitars, and with the Scorchio String Quartet consisting of Martha Mooke on viola, Amy Kimball and Rachel Golub on violin and Leah Coloff on cello. The texture of the intro is lighter, sensitive, with even some playful elements included in the pizzi parts, yet darkness soon arises from some deep undertones. The composition itself moves constantly and integrates almost any musical genre conceivable, with classical elements, eastern harmonics, jazz and rock, all glued together in a weird psychedelic atmosphere where every new bar holds changes and surprises. Unlike most compositions, this one never repeats itself, there are no patterns, just developments, again full of dramatic effect, thundering crashes, and eery screeches and soft improvisations in empty space. The brilliance of the composition is equalled by Berne's performance here, soft-spoken, vulnerable, fragile, barely audible, like a lost voice in total emptiness and in utter desolation. The sentiment of the 'lonely universe' somehow returns here, accentuated by the hovering strings and the occasional scraping electronics. There is a feeling of rest and serenity, but then one that is tight with tension.

The last piece, "Soften The Blow", is built around a high-pitched moaning phrase on the alto, sounding mad because of its relentless repetitions, with electronic guitar textures weaving weird worlds of quiet sound, amplifying space in a way, expanding the cosmos in which Berne's sax mourns and muses and laments. Again the track lasts more than twenty minutes and this kind of quiet cannot be maintained and it gradually picks up speed and density and violence, with Torn's guitar entering a raw power duel with the sax, underpinned by massive blows by Smith on his drums. This is doom, this is apocalyptic. Torn's guitar uses a multiplicity of pedals to generate effects - delays, pitch changes, reverb, sustain and what have you - overdubbing some more guitars into the mix for good measure, but slowly, slowly, in a measured, well-paced way. When Berne returns, his sax turns violent and even madder than before, Smith goes berserk and Torn adds even more layers of dense guitar work, yet somehow they manage to avoid too much of a cliché ending, chosing to end in almost silence with Berne's lonely sax weeping ...

This is not free jazz. This is not jazz even. It is too organised, too manipulated, it is too much crafted, too worked, it is not enough the immediate expression of authentic feelings. Yet that does not matter. It is Torn's vision on music, and the result is brilliant. It is massive, dark and compelling. It is mysterious and overwhelming. It's possibly one of the most amazing listening experiences you will hear this year, and possibly for years to come.

The album gets this equally dark and ominous quote:

"Long road wants me to abandon short-sight
But what kind of place is this
Where I'd once believed we might rest?"

Indeed, there is no rest to be found here. But take the road. You will love it.

Listen to a promo video:


Anonymous said...

It's like a cross between BB&C's "The Veil" and the percussive loops of Muslimgauze. Fantastic album!!

markellos said...

This is not free jazz. This is not jazz even. It is too organised, too manipulated, it is too much crafted, too worked, it is not enough the immediate expression of authentic feelings. Yet that does not matter.