Sunday, February 10, 2008

Bloodcount = O-positive

Tim Berne's Bloodcount @ An Die Musik, Baltimore, MD
Saturday, February 9, 2008

Tim Berne: alto saxophone
Chris Speed: tenor saxophone, clarinet
Michael Formanek: bass
Jim Black: drums

Bloodcount has two significant qualities that give their sound such a gravitational pull: Tim Berne's excellent compositions and the astonishing musicianship of this quartet. After a hiatus of nearly a decade, Bloodcount has reassembled to apply new material to a proven lineup.

Jim Black is one of the more visually intense drummers to experience live. On recording one is left to puzzle out which extended techniques he uses as part of his expansive percussion timbre pallet. Dragging chains along the side of the drum body, generous helpings of bowed cymbals, strummed hand-held tines amplified against the membrane of a tom tom and a junked-out cymbal that looks like it's been run over by a truck make up a small part of Black's bag of tricks. With Bloodcount, these sounds are pulled toward a driving, often funky groove with equal parts sonic variety and tight pulse.

Michael Formanek is the other half of this enviable rhythm section. When he wasn't anchoring a groove with Jim Black - often working a tension between steady pulse and a propulsive energy to obscure that pulse through aggressive counter rhythms - Formanek would leap into the horn range with bowed tones that would match and drift apart from sustained notes with a beautiful cascade of harmonic beating and chorusing effect. His ability to apply a range of plucked, bowed and col legno techniques made for a natural compliment to the extended percussion sounds in the air.

Out in front were the two horns of Speed and Berne. Each building upon the sonic terrain provided by the rhythm section and unknotting the complicated forms and lines of Berne's compositions. Speed has a wonderful tone on clarinet and there wasn't nearly enough of it in the second set. When locked together, the alto-tenor combination pulled a strong focus to the linear materials of this music - linear logic being one of Berne's great strengths as both composer and improviser.

No comments: