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Thursday, March 9, 2023

Marc Ducret - Palm Sweat: Marc Ducret Plays the Music of Tim Berne (Out of Your Head Records, 2023)

By Gary Chapin

The wave of artists releasing “Plays the Music of Tim Berne” records is growing and I am completely there for it. This one, by guitarist Marc Ducret, is the third by a guitarist in the past few years — Gregg Belisle-Chi and Gordon Grdina were the other two — and this one has a special weight to it given Ducret and Berne’s 35 year musical relationship. Ducret, it seems to me, is in a position to understand Berne’s compositions in a way others might not. From Caos Totale (1990) to Snakeoil (yesterday), Ducret has been a powerful omnipresent friend, utterly individualistic in style. Palm Sweat is extraordinary.

“Palm Sweat is not a solo record” the liner notes tell us, and, indeed, an ensemble is woven through the tracks to expert effect. But the guitar — and Ducret’s way with it — is so utterly central to what’s going on that this still, in my mind, qualifies as a guitar record. The ensemble becomes one thing. (Just like in baroque ensembles where the harpsichord and cello are distilled into basso continuo.)

The opening track, “Curls/Palm Sweat/Mirth of the Cool,” opens with overdubbed fuzz guitars and then takes us through a series of landscapes, acting as a kind of overture to the whole set. Very quickly you understand that Ducret isn’t just “playing Tim Berne,” but taking brand new Berne compositions and re-visioning them, layer upon layer. He is “taking liberties,” and God bless him for it.

(The curious side of my personality starts to wonder what it is about this piece that makes it this piece? What’s on the scraps of paper Berne handed Ducret in 2020 that led to this recording?)

“Rolled Oats 2,” enters Ducret’s acoustic territory, a place of detuned, tortured syntax, and yet so charming. “Shiteless 1” has Ducret using repetition and electronics — things I don’t associate with Bernesong — to create hypnotic textures. The brass choir shows up for the first time and has a surreal bandshell vibe. The other voices voices — Fabrice Martinez (trumpet, piccolo trumpet, flugelhorn, tuba), Sylvaine Hélary (alto flute), Chrstiane Bopp (trombone), and Bruno Ducret (cello, voice, handclaps) — beautifully execute and are beautifully mixed and produced. Somehow, Ducret is using timbre, density, and shifting ensemble as a power source. Machine sounds and chanting create even more textural intrigue.

The pieces here tend to be episodic — broken into distinct sections that add to an overall story — and the collection is curated like a great poem, with sections that rhyme, assonate, and consonate. References and themes that are alluded to, but not explicated. Even the short cryptic ending piece, the acoustic “About This Recording,” adds to the satisfaction one feels with Palm Sweat.


Anonymous said...

Really, really excited for this one! First heard MD in TB’s Caos Totale & early jmt Bloodcount albums, and have been avidly tracking him since.

One more extremely rich ‘Plays the Music of Tim Berne’ album to mention: Matt Mitchell’s FØRAGE from 2017