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Hard Cell: Feign

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Alto saxophonist Tim Berne’s Hard Cell trio, with Craig Taborn on piano and Tom Rainey on drums, plays austere, intellectually disciplined, impulsively improvised art music. Earlier albums, like The Shell Game (Thirsty Ear, 2001), derived much of their bandwidth and density from Taborn’s arsenal of electronics and keyboards. Feign feels different because it is Taborn’s first all-acoustic recording with Berne since 2000. As a bass-free acoustic trio, Hard Cell is even more severe, more starkly contrapuntal.

Which is not to say that Feign is no fun. In fact, it is exactly the right sonic companion for certain moods–say, evenings when one recoils from emotional subjectivity and craves unadorned mineral (as opposed to animal or vegetable) truth. Berne configures intricate aural designs with the integrity of constant creative pressure and (despite the high output) few wasted notes. Taborn and Rainey are like minds, comfortable starting with lines like scattered pieces (“Mechanicals Failure”) or provisional gestures (“Brokelyn”) and evolving something unexpected, and more challenging than solos: layers of constantly shifting collective creation. One minor issue with the otherwise excellent sound is the odd decision to slightly recede Berne’s alto in the mix and make Taborn’s piano dominant.