When a musician doesn’t make a studio recording for many years, it’s unusual to consider that period to be one of his most productive. But as a leader or co-leader, saxophonist Tim Berne has released over a dozen live records since the last time he set up in a studio. For The Shell Game Berne takes a new project into the studio, but not one that is much different from his last working bands: Paraphrase, Big Satan and Bloodcount. Joined by Craig Taborn on keyboards and electronics and Paraphrase drummer Tom Rainey, Berne sticks to the modus operandi of his recent bands: long, meandering pieces with structured melodies making recurring, intermittent appearances. More so than in Berne’s other bands, his sidemen are here mostly for texture and support rather than complete integration. In return, Taborn and Rainey create a lot of space for Berne to solo in as much as he likes-and he does at marathon lengths during the four drawn-out pieces. Only on the closing track, the 29-minute-and-worth-every-second “Thin Ice,” does the trio really feel like a band. Taborn’s electronics and Rainey’s splattering drums create a surreal texture that is as important to the piece as Berne’s uninhibited blowing.
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