Saturday, 22 December 2007

David Torn...

In naming my CD of the year, a few preliminaries need to be considered. Firstly, I don't listen to very many new CDs, so it often takes serendipity for new music to reach me. The next thing to consider is that most of the new music I do listen to are CDs I'm sent to review. As I only get sent about three a month, that leaves some pretty huge gaps.

So, perhaps I should try harder and seek out a wider cross-section of new releases? At one time I did just that, but came to realise that very little of today's output can cut it against the rightly acclaimed landmarks of the past. A conservative position? Hardly, as the majority of what I listen to would be branded either avant-garde or obscure.

If I had to name the best new CD I've heard this year then that honour would go to William Parker's Corn Meal Dance. Not much point in doing that in the context of this blog, however. I haven't reviewed Corn Meal Dance, and nor do I intend to.

So, of the CDs that I have actually reviewed this year, the very worthy winner of the title 'best of 2007' is David Torn's Presenz. This is an album that is actually outstanding enough to push Wm Parker very close. I'd actually bought a copy before I was sent one to review (just my luck!), and it was always going to be one of that small percentage of new releases that I'd make the effort to hear. Truly music for today, and also music that shows just how far the boundaries of jazz can stretch...

ECM (80008650-02)

AK; Rest & Unrest; Structural Functions Of Prezens; Bulbs; Them Buried Standing; Sink; Neck-deep In The Harrow…; Ever More Other; Ring For Endless Travel; Miss Place, The Mist…; Transmit Regardless.

Tim Berne (as); David Torn (g, elec); Craig Taborn (ky); Tom Rainey (d).
Recorded March 2005.

Torn doesn’t just play guitar, he is a master of the recording studio and modern production techniques. As much known these days for his work as a film scorer, it is almost 20 years since the cousin of Rip Torn regularly appeared as an ECM artist. In those days he was closely aligned to the Bill Frisell sound, but has since deviated, some would say, off-course. His most recent forays into jazz have included producing some of Tim Berne’s best work (for the Thirsty Ear label), and it is to this coterie of players that he looks on his triumphant return as a group leader.

Although you’ll find a mind-boggling array of studio techniques, including live sampling, you don’t need to know what is happening to enjoy this vividly atmospheric recording. In placing the technology at the disposal of the music, Torn actively shapes a very specific sound-world of his own. Imagine John Zorn meeting Steve Tibbetts and you should get an inkling of how this record sounds.

A cinematic odyssey, the images that would accompany Prezens would almost certainly involve an unsettling look at the underbelly of rural Americana. Apart from a few bravura flashes, including a high octane solo over a rock vamp on the otherwise swamp-blues inflected opener “AK”, there is little in the way of grandstanding from Torn or his group. A spoken word intro to “Rest & Unrest” heightens the dramatic tension, and the listener is kept alert throughout by sudden and often violent changes of direction.

You won’t really find Berne cutting loose in an orthodox jazz sense because this is very much a group music, one where the sonic ambiences demanded by the producer are paramount. Taborn brings an arsenal of keyboards, and whether it’s earthy Hammond (“AK”) or spacey Sun Ra-esque shards (“Bulbs”), his presence is always felt. Close mic-ing of Rainey allows even the smallest gesture to register and change the patina of the music, and he consummately handles everything from precision rock vamps, locked hip-hop grooves (“Sink”) and light but mesmerising trance passages (“Them Buried Standing” and the Indian tinged “Miss Place, The Mist…”).

Those who lost faith in Torn after too many disappointing forays into experimental rock music are due a rethink – this is challenging and ambitious music, confirming that he is back to his best, right at the cutting edge, and surpassing earlier high-watermarks with ease.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, 2007)

1 comment:

Gary said...

I agree, a fantastic album. I love David Torn.