AMN Reviews: Two Archival Recordings from Bloodcount

Bloodcount was the quartet of Tim Berne on alto and baritone sax, Jim Black on drums, Michael Formanek on bass, and Chris Speed on tenor sax and clarinet. Guitarist Marc Ducret expanded this quartet to a quintet when he was available. The group existed from 1993 to 1997 or so and reformed for sporadic shows in the late 2000s. Bloodcount only put out live recordings.

One of the beneficial side-effects of an ongoing pandemic is that Berne has had a chance to go through his archives and dig up unreleased recordings (like so). Thus, almost a quarter-century after being recorded, we now have two more Bloodcount double-length releases. Each is from 1997, location and exact date unknown. One is with Ducret and the other without, and both are of rather high fidelity once the dust was blown off.

And with that, the world gets four more hours of Bloodcount, and is that much better for it. Both of these releases come highly recommended for anyone who has enjoyed previous Bloodcount works or those of Berne.

Bloodcount – 5 (1997)

For those familiar with Snakeoil, Berne’s most recent ensemble, Bloodcount exhibits both similarities and differences. As demonstrated by this recording, which includes Ducret, Berne provides a set of complex charts that must be followed in some passages and are more open to interpretation in others. For example, Byram’s World, a 16-minute track, begins with a contrapuntal theme from Berne and Speed. Ducret pokes around the edges until the piece opens up into a duet between sax and guitar. And what is remarkable about the latter is how this ostensibly unstructured moment constitutes two disjointed lines that avoid both rigidity and a pure blowout. Black, as he often does, propels the full group into action, with Formanek joining in with rolling bass lines. Rather than traditional soloing, Bloodcount focuses on this picking of two members for extended interplay. Also of note is the group’s ability to transition from said complex chamber jazz and free improv to themes that employ a twisted groove. Not exactly a traditional groove in any sense, but more of a suggestion of one within the context of Berne’s writing.

Bloodcount – Attention Spam (1997)

Attention Spam begins with a heightened energy level and some rich textures from Berne. Recorded without Ducret, the remaining quartet stretches out to cover for his absence. Black, in particular, adds a number of unconventional percussive patterns and solos. Indeed, there is more soloing throughout, with Formanek contributing more clearly in the mix for these and the recording in general. But the Bloodcount “formula” is still present – convoluted polyphonic melodies that involve the whole group or varying subsets of members, and that drift between predetermined structure and improvisation. Case in point, Mr. Johnson’s Blues begins with a hyper-aggressive theme with rapid playing by Berne, Speed, and Black. When Formanek joins with more moderately-paced bass, the character slowly changes until the entire group matches Formanek’s cadence. The recording here seems to have a wider dynamic range as well as slightly more punch than that of 5.