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Friday, April 21, 2023

Tim Berne/Hank Roberts/Aurora Nealand - Oceans And (Intakt, 2023)

By Gary Chapin

Every time Tim Berne brings his work to a new timbre or ensemble, it makes you stop and examine. “Something is going on here. Something new.” This is literally true, of course, but really what’s going on is that the new timbral elements or ensemble configuration allows you to see a new angle of Berne’s work. Berne’s work contains Whitmanesque “multitudes,” and it’s a joy to still be discovering these.

Oceans And brings Aurora Nealand into Berne’s orbit, not for the first time, but this one feels like a big deal. Nealand plays accordion and bass clarinet, and vocalizes. And she, of course, is not at all new at this. She’s done amazing work. And I am unusually fascinated by the accordion, and its idiomatic deployment (bellows swells, preternatural legato, mechanistic fluidity) genuinely feels like SOMETHING NEW in this context.

And, with something new, something old—Berne’s nearly 40 year (yikes!) partnership with Hank Roberts. Always a reason to celebrate when these two play together. The voices of Berne’s alto, Roberts’ cello, and Nealand’s accordion blend almost alchemically. In the absence of rhythm instruments you have volumes and areas, not just points and lines. Nealand’s contributions on bass clarinet and voice are equally evocative.

Overlapping, shifting longtones feel like abstract Venn diagrams laid out in close harmony. These are doleful landscapes, disquieting and lacking urgency. It’s unlike any other EBV (extended Berne ‘verse) music I’ve heard, though if I were to reach back to an analog, it would be 2008’s (duck) by Buffalo Collision (Berne and Roberts, along with Dave King and Ethan Iverson). That one, also, is a fantastic, abstract, wonderfully bittersweet set of music.

What’s so striking about Oceans And is, I think, the humanness of it all. Roberts has long been a master at shaping the envelope of his sound to tell organic stories, as has Berne. There are sections where they “speak” to each other with tenderness. I don’t hear any wryness or irony here. Nealand’s contribution to the conversation is uncanny and beautiful.

Something new is happening here.