A true avant-improv power trio, David Torn, Tim Berne, and Ches Smith, also known as Sun of Goldfinger, come together for their debut album, out March 1 on ECM Records. These individuals are no strangers to one another, working together in Berne’s Snakeoil outfit (with Torn producing the recent album and guesting on certain tracks). But as a sort-of pared-down version of that group, Sun of Goldfinger takes a different direction.
To that point, Torn, Berne, and Smith “jam” across the first (Eye Meddle) and third (Soften the Blow) of the three 22-minute tracks. Nonetheless, I use the quoted term colloquially. Unlike Berne’s tight systems and structures on the Snakeoil recordings, these pieces are more loosely organized. Torn provides his signature guitar effects and soundscapes along with long-held notes, loops, other and electronics. Berne sticks to sax, injecting quick runs and themes as well as solos and wails. Smith is restrained at times, holding up a groove for his bandmates. In fact, I would not be surprised if these efforts were mostly live-in-the-studio with a handful of overdubs.
Spartan, Before It Hit sits in the middle with ambiance and as well as fiery performances from guest guitarists Mike Baggetta and Ryan Ferreira, keyboardist Craig Taborn, and the Scorchio String Quartet. This piece is a Torn composition, and it would fit reasonably well on an earlier Torn release (or a Snakeoil release for that matter). The larger lineup allows for more dynamics and diversity – tension and release, danger and foreboding, and a few ripping group workouts. In a sense, this is atmospheric modern classical music played by a creative jazz orchestra, and is in contrast to the trippier elements of the other two tracks.