Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Tim Berne's Caos Totale: Pace Yourself

This was another early foray into the adventurous side of jazz and an early CD purchase as a brand-new release, way back in 1991, from the German label JMT (Jazz Music Today.)  Berne's Caos Totale, a sextet, has a wide-ranging array of instrumentation, from the leader's alto sax and the highly expressive Mark Dresser's bass to Bobby Previte's energetic drumming and Marc Ducret's excellent electric guitar playing to the trombone of Steve Swell and multi-instrumentalist Herb Robertson's trumpet, cornet, flute, fluegelhorn, whistles and other sounds.

If anything can be expected from Berne, it is that he has richly arranged pieces that can often go on at great length, although Pace Yourself is somewhat restrained, with four of its six tunes clocking in at under ten minutes, "Sam's Dilemma," which is this listeners' highlight, at over thirteen, and the expansive "The Legend of P-1" extending over 26 minutes.  Sometimes, though, the length has to be viewed in the context of changes in tempo, new melodies and what might be thought of as movements.

The opener, "Bass Voodoo," is perhaps most notable for its pairings of guitar and bass and trumpet and trombone duets, which reveal the great sensitivity the members of the band have for each other, an essential quality between "total chaos" and an "aware freedom." The second piece, "The Noose," contains an excellent drum solo from Previte, whose playing throughout the record in tandem with the always-compelling Dresser is stellar.  "The Usual" is a more ambient, down-tempo, and softer tune and provides a bit of a respite from the frenetic and complex sounds that embody much of Berne's work.

As noted above, "Sam's Dilemma" is the favorite track on this album.  Ducret's searing and searching electric guitar intro lays the groundwork and Previte's percussion is exceptional.  There is also a probing and inventive bass solo from Dresser, which is no surprise to anyone who's heard his work with Anthony Braxton (or read Graham Lock's Forces in Motion about the British tour headed by Braxton and including Dresser.)  Dresser then plays the melody that leads into the finale with the full band and it's a fantastic way to end a great tune.

"The Legend of P-1" has an atmospheric and soft opening that continues for several minutes gradually building to a fuller sound.  This work is a showcase for how Berne utilizes shifting tempos and changing melodic and rhythmic ideas and with a band as sensitized to the way the leader writes, arranges and plays, this lengthy piece doesn't drag or wander.  It's a testament to how solid a composer and arranger Berne is that the tune never fails to hold interest, even at 26 plus minutes.

The closer, "Luna," is another slower, softer, almost ambient piece and here Berne gives a nice expression, almost mournful or somber, to his alto sax work.  It's a nice way to end an album that shows all of the dynamic interplay of an excellent band working with some inspired material.  Those who have heard Julius Hemphill, whose big band record was highlighted here recently, will recognize his influence on his student, but Berne also has his own style or way of expressing himself and "Pace Yourself" is an apt title for a record that runs the gamut of the various tempos, melodic concepts, harmonic interplay and rhythmic variety that is a Berne hallmark.

Tim Berne's Caos Totale:  Pace Yourself (JMT, 1991)

1.  Bass Voodoo  9:57
2.  The Noose  7:34
3.  The Usual  8:15
4.  Sam's Dilemma  13:33
5.  The Legend of P-1  26:21
6.  Luna  4:32

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