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Thursday, May 2, 2024

Tim Berne Oceans And Listening Party (Screwgun, 2024)

By Gary Chapin

On April 27, Tim Berne held a listening party on Bandcamp for the Oceans And album, LUCID/STILL (Screwgun 2024). Aurora Nealand was also present. It was great to listen to this disc with the requisite intentionality, and the chat was informative, interesting, and amusing. Oceans And is Tim Berne on alto, Aurora Nealand on accordion and voice, and Hank Roberts on cello.The album is one single track, 43-ish minutes long, and is from a live performance in January. It’s ⅘ of the first set, according to Tim.

Let’s begin.

In the first two minutes. Damn this is a dense group. And things sound like other things. Tim starts off with a gentle bit of slowness, but then does an exploratory launch while Aurora takes his middle ground and the sonorities of the sax and accordion are such siblings that the one blends into the other. Hank, on the cello, doing something that’s rumbly and actually reminds me of drum rolls with mallets.

4:37 I don’t know if it’s because of the accordion, but there’s a lot of swelling, like the ocean or bruises. Rises in dynamics and density, taking in breath, and then exhaling. I can already hear Tim in that middle space he uses for this group. Very strong repeated notes at medium tempo. A maypole for everyone to swing from, until he’s not! No one has a tone like his.

6:28 Cello solo. Arco, pitch-based with a lot of slides. I love this sound. Robert’s approach to the cello is a treasure to be cherished.

7:42 Duet, with the medium range of the cello and the low range of the accordion intertwining together like strings in a drawer. Nothing sounds like a low accordion reed. Unique timbre.

10:53 After rising to an avalanche, now I feel like I’m hearing Aaron Copeland in Aurora’s chords. Oh, just for a second, but still. I heard it!

12:44 Hank is dancing with the cello. I can’t see him, of course, but I can imagine him wrapping himself around the cello, with his super-lanky, arachnid-like limbs, the way he does,. An irregular walk, like a hipster with a limp. Tim and Aurora doing some whimsical stuff, with Aurora throwing in some of her vocalizations.

14:47 Super strong, elegiac bowing in concert with Aurora’s long-ish tones. This is my favorite Hank Roberts sound. He and Aurora are both kind of mystics in their way. Now Aurora’s voice, wordless incantation. Tim’s alto. He doesn’t stand in the doorway. He walks in the room. Whipping us into a frenzy, I think. Is this the soundtrack of a movie or a requiem for a mystical space.

18:40 The most intense moment so far. The gates are opening. The ecstatic experience. Tim writes in the chat, “Tranquilo.”

19:53 And it has calmed to “tranquilo,” like it was a performance indication on a score. Hank is playing some skittery descant harmonics. Drones and repetition in the middle and low end, and now Hank’s very percussive pizzicato with Tim doing the broken notes above. These occasional rhythmic, funky sections are an excellent respite where you can catch up with the story.

21:01 And there it slowly deconstructs, falls out of regularity, Deep funk becomes high cries and long tones. Aurora’s voice. Raggedy high sax. Still playful.

In the chat, Aurora praises Tim’s ability to “chamber shred.” Perfect.

Another listener refers to the intense section as an “M. Night Shamylan reveal.”

25:39 Tim chats, “This is degenerating beautifully.” Aurora is shaping the accordion’s envelope like a bricklayer. Hank is doing something that sounds like free drumming, but it’s not. Then he plays a line that I think first is Aurora singing. This happens a lot. The ranges and timbres of Oceans And are fungible. Keep your harmonies close, your disharmonies closer.

28:15 Tim laying down fire with a solo that destroys.

31:10 A listener comments, “This is the ‘prettiest’ Tim playing I’ve ever heard.” It is pretty. We’re in a pretty section. Also kind of heartbreaking. Everyone is stopped in their tracks by this solo.

33:51 Low-mid resting point. Tim laying ground. Geez, that is a good sounding accordion! Aurora is creating beats in her long chords. Waves in the bellows. Deep deep humming feeling. Like standing near an electric fence. You can feel/hear it.

This has all been one piece, so far. Tim says in chat that the “between times [between tracks]” can make one feel self-conscious, which I get. Just keep playing. Why not? The music has a cumulative power when not interrupted by moments of banter and crowdwork.

41:17 Tim just chatted that the pan of the recording is the same as their stage set up, with Tim in the center. Could be why he always seems to “come right up the middle to me.” But it could be more than just placement. He does seem to inhabit the center, musically, as a core. But if you want to accuse me of reading too much into that, I won’t object.

42:54 Aurora playing the nosebleeds, sounds like an extreme organ. Hank is living in the cello’s low-mid sweet spot. Tim has pulled away to silence. Some last scrabblings of the bow. The sound dwindles. They diminish. And the music ends.


Buy the album.