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David Torn/Tim Berne/Ches Smith: Sun of Goldfinger (ECM)

A review of the album featuring the guitarist, saxophonist, and drummer

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Sun of Goldfinger by David Torn, Tim Berne, and Ches Smith
The cover of Sun of Goldfinger by David Torn, Tim Berne, and Ches Smith

That David Torn is the most electric of jazz guitarists is made clear in the opening minutes of “Eye Meddle,” the first of three 20-minute-plus performances here. Before even the first note is plucked, there’s a pulsing thrum of feedback from Torn’s Marshall amp, while in the background, a sampler oscillates between two notes like a demented klaxon. As Ches Smith’s drums kick in, treated so they sound like the clanking of a factory in a 1930s cartoon, Torn continues to coax shrieks and wails from his axe, while Berne, playing the highest of high harmonics, whistles in the background like an impatient tea kettle. It’s a nervy, imposing swirl of sound, and yet there’s something oddly welcoming about its eddying melodies and raucous clangor. There may be noise, but there’s also passion, a patiently arching narrative, and even (about 12 minutes in) what could pass for a dance groove.

Given the way it melds elements of ambient electronics, saxophone skronk, and industrial noise, it’s tempting to see Sun of Goldfinger as the son of Prezens, Torn’s 2007 collaboration with Berne, Craig Taborn, and Tom Rainey. (Taborn appears on one track here, “Spartan, Before It Hit.”) But as much as I admire Prezens, the music on Goldfinger is more varied and ambitious, bringing an almost symphonic sense of scale to its hi-tech caterwauling. “Spartan, Before It Hit” conjures an astonishing electro-acoustic soundscape, offering moments of startling delicacy as well as bursts of paint-peeling guitar distortion. Nor is there anything ironic about the title “Soften the Blow,” which whisks Berne’s keening altissimo wail into a soothing soup of electronics to create the sonic equivalent of a razor blade swaddled in cotton.

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