BB&C (Berne, Black & Cline)

Shaun Brady reviews new album from saxophonist Tim Berne, drummer Jim Black and guitarist Nels Cline

Tim Berne’s prodigious discography is mostly stocked with collections of his monumentally scaled compositions, sprawling musical roadmaps for laborious treks through ever-changing landscapes. These two new releases, however, are both wholly improvised sessions, revealing that the scope of Berne’s thinking is hardly diminished by the absence of sheet music.

The first, recorded in the summer of 2009 in the hothouse environs of John Zorn’s tiny New York spot The Stone, reunites Berne with two longtime collaborators. His relationship with Nels Cline goes back more than 30 years, decades before the guitarist found his star-making day job with Wilco, and Jim Black was the drummer for Berne’s seminal 1990s ensemble Bloodcount. The combination of the three, which for a time went under the name Sons of Champignon, makes for an alchemical fusing of explosive out-jazz and apocalyptic rock punctuated by moments of delicate beauty.

Though divided into nine index points, The Veil actually consists of two extended pieces: the first, longer effort comprising seven tracks; the second divided into the two parts of “Tiny Moment.” The latter is the more fluid, sinuously weaving from moments of grinding, gnashing momentum to some of the album’s most transcendent lyricism. But it’s the first piece that is truly remarkable in its breadth and cohesiveness. Forgoing the niceties, the disc begins suddenly with Black’s clacking sticks and Cline’s wiry somersaults; almost immediately, the trio launches into a headlong rush through a scrapyard labyrinth, gelling into a chugging heavy metal riff until the whole thing avalanches into a whirling squall. The fangs-bared momentum is maintained for the first 10 minutes, until it evaporates into the borealis-like shimmering luminosity of “Momento.” Cline’s electronic effects and Black’s laptop manipulations meld into a constantly morphing atmosphere, which Berne gilds with a metal-on-metal squeal. Evanescent haze alternates with shrieking din throughout, but this aptly named Veil rewards peering through its gauze-like surfaces to the mysteries within.