It’s too bad the name Ten Years After was already taken by guitarist Alvin Lee and his Woodstock-era rock trio, because it would’ve fit Sun of Goldfinger (guitarist David Torn, saxophonist Tim Berne, drummer Ches Smith) to a tee. That trio’s self-released, digital-only new live effort was primarily recorded at its first gigs in 2010, and follows its similarly titled ECM studio debut from last year. Like that explorative album, the live Sun of Goldfinger (Congratulations to You) features only three extended tracks.
Berne’s echo-laden squeaks and squawks introduce the opening “Bat Tears,” with Torn’s washes, loops, and volume swells sounding more like a keyboard than a guitar. That changes roughly three minutes in, as Torn unleashes torrents of distortion amid Berne’s baritone burps and alto blips and Smith’s cacophony of drums, percussion, and electronics. Steady rhythms establish themselves only occasionally; for the most part, each musician sounds like he’s either leading the other two in a certain direction or following whomever is leading. It’s not music for the squeamish, even after the piece settles down into neo-classical mode midway.
Torn is an unparalleled innovator. His full-band releases include gems from Cloud About Mercury (1987) to Prezens (2007, with Berne); his signature solo guitar efforts range from Tripping Over God (1995) to Only Sky (2015). Smith, who worked with Berne on the latter’s 2012 release Snakeoil, is a relative youngster, yet there’s no generation gap in the three musicians’ dialogue. At nearly 30 minutes long, “Coco Tangle” is a tangled trio tone poem in which Berne alternately solos or loops, and Smith percolates or pulsates, alongside Torn’s wall of sound. And the closing “Congratulations to You” is a raucous romp in which the three musicians provide masterful improvisational strokes by either grabbing or passing the baton.