Tim Berne’s Snakeoil and the Art of the Musical Journey

Tim Berne

Source: Dark Forces Swing Blind Punches.

I keep coming back to Tim Berne. One of the first jazz shows I saw upon arriving in New York 20 years ago was Berne’s band Paraphrase with Drew Gress and Tom Rainey at Tonic — I think Tony Malaby was sitting in that night. I was particularly mesmerized by what Rainey was doing — I’d never heard anyone play drums that abstractly yet with that much conviction — but I became an instant fan of all the musicians onstage.

Once I was on board with Tim Berne’s music, I kept up with his many projects as much as I could. I particularly loved, and still do, the various Berne/Rainey bands: Hard Cell with Craig Taborn (their 2001 album The Shell Game is simply one of my favorite jazz records ever, with epic compositions and a huge sound courtesy of frequent Berne collaborator David Torn); Big Satan with Marc Ducret (check out the marvelous Souls Saved Hear, from 2003); and Science Friction, a hybrid of the two aforementioned bands (their 2003 live double album The Sublime And, now available digitally in two separate parts, is an absolute feast of gritty yet exacting contemporary jazz).

There are so many other great projects and records — I highly recommend browsing Berne’s extensive Bandcamp site, where he’s offering not just many albums originally released on his own Screwgun label, but otherwise out-of-print gems that span his nearly 40-year discography. (The mid-to-late ’80s small-group records, such as the mighty Fulton Street Maul, are another crucial subset.) I haven’t heard ’em all, but I’ve heard a hell of a lot, and I consider every single one I own to be an essential item in my collection.

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