Sunday, January 30, 2011
I've spent the last 19 months or so working on a book about Ween. The result, focusing on and named after the Chocolate and Cheese album, comes out March 17, 2011 via the 33 1/3 series. You can read an excerpt—on the infamous "HIV Song"—at the 33 1/3 blog and you can preorder a copy at Amazon.
I loved working on this project and I can't wait for other people to check it out. Ween is a beloved, baffling and hugely influential band—not just on music, but on comedy too, and on any form of entertainment that wantonly ignores boundaries of good taste in the name of, yes, humor but also truthfulness and emotional intensity. I tried to do justice to all those qualities in the book—pleading Ween's case, as it were—while at the same time providing a ton of juicy documentary-style behind-the-scenes info. I interviewed many people for the book, including Gene and Dean Ween, Spike Jonze (who directed the "Freedom of ’76" video), Andrew Weiss (Ween's longtime producer), Josh Homme (whose old band, Kyuss, toured with Ween) and just about everyone who had a hand in making Chocolate and Cheese. If you're a Ween fan, I sincerely think you'll love this book. If you're a casual Ween appreciator, I think this book will reveal that there's a lot more going on underneath the surface than you may have thought. If you flat-out hate Ween… I'm not sure I can help you there.
Anyway, I can't wait to hear what people think of my take on Chocolate and Cheese, so please do drop a line via the comments or the e-mail address at the top of this blog if you get a chance to check out the book. Or say hello at one of the following release parties [full details forthcoming]:
Sunday, March 20, 2011 at WORD in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
Saturday, March 26, 2011 at Farley's Bookshop in New Hope, Pennsylvania [Ween's hometown!].
Thursday, April 7, 2011 at Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. This one is a joint appearance with fellow 33 1/3 authors Daphne Carr (whose book deals with Nine Inch Nails' Pretty Hate Machine) and Christopher "1000TimesYes" Weingarten (who focused on Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back).
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Pazz and Jop 2010 is live. Here is my ballot: The album list is the same as the one I filed for Time Out, but the singles list is new.
Phil Freeman has written an interesting response to/critique of the whole enterprise. I attempted to post a comment, but Blogger rejected it on account of its length. I decided I'd go ahead and post it here. Check out Phil's post via the link above and read my response below.
Thanks for the thought-provoking post, Phil. A few observations:
Re: "Pick a niche and grind it out," I think the point you're trying to make is that nobody can be an expert on everything, no matter how hard they try, so in a sense the niche picks you: Whatever you spend the most time listening to and researching is your beat by default.
I attempted to grapple with some of these issues in a recent blog post, I Am Not a Jazz Journalist. In a way, my core argument was the opposite of yours—i.e., "Let's not build walls around ourselves"—but one of my conclusions was similar: Each person can only really specialize in at most two or three areas.
I guess for me—today, at least!—I'm okay with being thought of as a writer who favors jazz and various types of heavy/weird rock. But I don't see any need to set myself up in opposition to the critical mainstream. I'm not a pop expert, but I find myself keeping up with that world more and more (largely through listening to the radio while driving), and the fact of the matter is—just like when I was a kid listening to Kasey Kasem—I derive huge amounts of pleasure from the Hits, per se. This year, I loved Drake, Nicki Minaj and yes, a good deal of the Kanye album.
What I'm saying is that while each of us does in fact have to pick a niche simply due to time (and as you point out, money) constraints, I don't see why we have to build up walls to keep anything out, or draw attention to those walls if they happen to exist. If I'm predominantly a jazz and rock writer who occasionally ventures into the pop, hip-hop and indie worlds and likes what he hears, so be it. My year-end top ten is nothing more or less than a distillation of what *I* checked in a given year—no apologies, explanations, concessions or disclaimers needed.
If we're committed to this profession, we listen to as much music as we can, simply because we love to do so. I admire your critiques of the music-critic establishment, and I often feel a similar alienation, but I don't want to miss out on a great record simply because everyone else happens to be listening to or talking about it. Megapopularity or buzz is never a guarantee of quality, but it's also never a guarantee of a lack thereof.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Watching Dan Weiss play drums from about four feet away at Cornelia St. Café last night, I kept thinking about a book. As a drummer, I'm mostly self-taught, but I have undertaken some formal study here and there, most notably a year of old-school, rudimentary percussion during college. The focus of that study was a 1935 book called Stick Control, which consists of a number of simple patterns designed for intensive drilling and repetition. It's one of those Mr. Miyagi–ish instruction books, the kind that seem utterly menial and tedious, removed from real-world application, until all of a sudden, you jump into the ring and you're blazing beyond any reason.
I have no idea whether Dan Weiss has studied Stick Control. (I do know he's studied tabla drumming, which I'm sure demands an otherworldly attention to detail.) What I do know is that I've rarely witnessed a drummer who has internalized the core message of that book—easily reducible to, yes, "stick control"—to a greater degree. The sticks animate in his hands, bouncing twice, thrice, four times or more, as needed—gliding and smacking and criss-crossing with a magical kind of precision.
Is my appreciation just arcane drum geekery? Maybe a little, but there were moments during last night's set—a suite-like run-through of many (all?) the pieces on Timshel, my top jazz album of 2010, with regular bandmates Jacob Sacks on piano and Thomas Morgan on bass— that anyone could've appreciated. For one long stretch near the beginning of the set, Weiss meditated on a single cymbal. He touched no other portion of the drum kit and zoned out on the stick rebounds, the breathing metal sounds they yielded, dampening, reveling in the economy of gesture and the impossible riches of just that one implement, making it seem almost profane to hit anything else along with it. At another point, he caressed the snare with one wire brush, gently twisting the prickles into the drum's surface, swishing them around, while tapping the underside of the hi-hat with his other hand, making it murmur. And when loudness arrived, it really meant something: a funk backbeat, say, crammed impossibly full of ultra-exact ornamental snare notes.
And the best part about all this was that it was only a tiny fraction of the complete story. This was not a set of drumming; it was a set of music. Timshel is a stunningly graceful record, full of flowing, reflective and sometimes spooky themes. Last night these themes functioned like milemarkers, always there to guide the proceedings. Weiss, Sacks and Morgan maintained constant eye contact, a head nod from the leader signaling a grand flourish, a point of transition, a textural shift. Each musician played unaccompanied or feature-type passages, but this wasn't a set of solos, where the thematic material is trotted out and then shoved in the cupboard so the improvising can begin. As on the record (and this is what grabbed me so much about Timshel in the first place) the themes hang heavy in the air, the band attending to them almost worshipfully, whether balladic ("Stephanie"), sleek and groovy ("Teental Song"), conceptual ("Always Be Closing," based around a passage of dialogue from Glengarry Glen Ross, which played over the PA), darting and playful ("Florentino and Fermina"). Sacks and Morgan seemed as invested as Weiss in the core mission: stewarding this sacred cargo, infusing it with loving passion.
A little while back, I praised the Bad Plus on this blog for their resolute BAND-dom, and Weiss's trio gets at something similar, even if the mood is entirely different. This band (Weiss/Sacks/Morgan) has been together for a good while now—at least since 2006's Now Yes When, which I heard a while ago but really want to revisit—and you can hear the focus, the mission, the hive-minded-ness in their playing. There's flair and virtuosity, especially from Weiss—all the splendid trimmings—but above all there's control: the safe-and-sound conveyance of the material. As a listener and spectator, you know you're in good hands; you can zero in on the microdetails, as I did, and know that the eggshell will never crack. This is all I ask of music.
Monday, January 10, 2011
Pictured (left to right): Loren Stillman, Nate Radley, Gary Versace and Ted Poor of Bad Touch.
Via The Volume, a list of the five best sets I caught at Winter Jazzfest 2011.
Saturday, January 08, 2011
[UPDATE: This post has elicited a number of insightful responses, some of which you'll find in the comments below. Howard Mandel has shared his thoughts on his own blog.]
I'm just returning from a Jazz Journalists Association town hall meeting—"What is the state of jazz journalism now and what are its future prospects?"—held to coincide with APAP and NEA goings-on about town, as well as with Winter Jazzfest, which I attended last night and which I'm enthusiastically headed back to in a few hours. For a number of reason, mainly my own over-politeness, I failed to get a word in at the gathering, and I left feeling frustrated by that fact. I had a few things to say, and so I'll say them here.
The question at hand in this meeting was, as I gathered it, "How do we survive as jazz journalists?" The laments being aired were familiar ones: Print outlets are drying up, and even as online outlets are proliferating, online outlets that pay well are scarce. In one sense, I felt a bit distant from this conversation due to the fact that I have a staff job writing about music at Time Out New York. For this, I am infinitely thankful—it affords me a highly visible platform, as well as a good deal of freedom to express myself elsewhere as I see fit.
But I also felt distant from this conversation in another, more important sense. When I interviewed Anthony Braxton a few years back, he said to me emphatically: "I am not a jazz musician, and please put that in your article." Though I have a great deal of respect for my colleagues in the JJA—such as Howard Mandel, David Adler, and Laurence Donohue-Greene and Andrey Henkin of All About Jazz—and I'm proud to be a card-carrying member, I feel like I need to make a similar stipulation in terms of my own work as a writer, and more broadly, as a lover of music: I am not a jazz journalist.
It's absolutely true that I love jazz and—as any reader of this blog, or for that matter my fiancée, will tell you—and spend an inordinate amount of time listening to it, analyzing it, hearing it live and just generally obsessing about it. BUT all this activity does not occur in a vacuum. As I took great pains to stress in this 2006 post, one of the very first things I ever wrote on this blog, I experience music in a countless ways: listening to the radio while driving, singing karaoke, dancing at the weddings of friends and families, writing and performing with my band STATS, listening to promo downloads at the office or to my iPod on the train. By the same token, my tastes are wide open. In other words, I love jazz, but I am in no way wedded to it as a listener or as a writer, and though I realize that my position is unique and privileged, I'd state with caution that anyone who is wedded to Jazz Journalism—i.e., rather than, say, Music Journalism (or even Cultural Criticism or even something way broader)—per se as a profession may have a difficult road ahead.
David Adler acknowledged this in the meeting by indicating that he was probably less familiar with mainstream pop than he ought to be. The mention of Justin Bieber elicited quite a few snide smiles. But the plain fact of the matter is, a fact that ought to be acknowledged by anyone who's being paid to think about music, there's a lot of REALLY GREAT STUFF going on in mainstream pop these days. I don't need to bore anyone with some paean to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but I think it needs to be stated that we writers-about-music who love jazz shouldn't make it our beeswax to learn about pop because it might make us more marketable, we should do so because if we don't, we're cutting ourselves off from some really wonderful and fascinating music.
This is a lesson I've learned gradually. I've been a music snob my whole life, prattling on and on about esoterica, and when it comes down to it, some of my favorite music ever made is music that very few people have ever heard of. But over time, I began to realize that obscurity was not in any way a sign of quality. I came at music backwards, learning about DIY rock and metal first and then catching up re: all the classics. It was only a few years ago that I finally realized what every drive-time commuter has understood for decades: that Led Zeppelin is considered one of the greatest bands of all time because they FUCKING RULE, not because they play to some bullshit lowest common denominator. I'm not saying that all pop is great, but I am saying that to willfully insulate yourself from popular music, or from ANY music is to cut off a crucial air supply, not just regarding your career but regarding your enrichment as a lover of art.
When I first got to Time Out New York, I came carting a portfolio of pieces on jazz artists, pieces on experimental artists, all kinds of super esoteric stuff. I held these up as a badge of honor: "Look at how exclusive and rarefied my knowledge is," etc. And I'm still very proud of those pieces, as well as all the pieces I've written for Time Out on little-known artists ranging from avant-jazz pianist Burton Greene to death-metal visionary Steeve Hurdle. But you know what? I'm just as proud of my pieces on Francis and the Lights, and Chris Brown and Nicki Minaj. Having the opportunity to sit down with the latter for an interview was one of the most enjoyable and stimulating things I did in all of 2010. Taking on that assignment wasn't some sort of concession or compromise: What it was, was straight-up enlightening.
And our best writers-about-music show us this on a weekly basis. Think of Ben Ratliff, who can inspire you take a second look at either the doom-metal band Salome or soul-jazz great Dr. Lonnie Smith; or Nate Chinen, who can do the same for Josh Groban, Marnie Stern or the Tristano-ite Ted Brown. Or my TONY colleague Steve Smith, who could school you on Nas, King Crimson, Henry Threadgill, Edgard Varèse or a million others as the situation demands. Or Phil Freeman, who can—and frequently does—start provocative discussions on anything from Borbetomagus to Iron Maiden to Miles.
And that latter name (Miles) is an important one. Now it's fashionable to turn up our noses at the out-of-it critics who dissed Miles's electric experiments. With the benefit of hindsight we can see that he had just outgrown the tidy genre tag of "jazz" and needed to grow, right? But by emphasizing our jazz-journalists-ness over our lover-of-music-ness, maybe we're just echoing those critics' narrow-minded approach. If we expect broad-mindedness, resolute outside-the-boxness from our greatest and most widely influential artists (our Miles-es and our Beefhearts and our Kanyes), we need to expect the same of ourselves as thinkers-about-music.
BUT let me say, that I'm not advocating for some nebulous nonspecialization, some completely level playing field wherein we insist of ourselves that we GIVE EVERYTHING A CHANCE, do or die. No, that would lead to a world of spread-way-too-thin dilettantes. What I'm saying is that we need to foster a non-monogamous approach to the idea of specialty. Every writer-about-music worth anything has certain areas of affinity, a handful (finite yes, but always expandable) of styles or areas that make their heart flutter with excitement. And by the same token, every one of those writers, has massive blind spots—stuff that they don't know a damn thing about. What I'm saying is, let's celebrate the multiplicity of the former, let them play off of and inform one another. (In my personal pantheon, jazz mingles with metal, with classic rock, with punk, with pop, with hip-hop and more.) And let's also say, in certain cases, "You know what? I really don't know anything about MUSICAL STYLE X, and at least for today, I'm okay with that." Let's follow our innate tastes and distastes, in other words, without walling ourselves off.
Again, I'm not saying, "Don't specialize." I'm just saying, "Let a little air in." Our best outlets for music coverage are the ones that allow you to glimpse the world beyond their particular area of focus. A Blog Supreme, which alludes frequently to the indie-rock sphere; Destination Out, which makes a constant effort to portray avant-garde jazz as vital and inviting rather than some pallid curio. And stretching further out, Burning Ambulance and Signal to Noise, which celebrate the esoteric spirit while still maintaining their authoratativeness, and Invisible Oranges, which cheerleads for the metal underground while at the same time calling B.S. on the scene's inherent hypocrisies.
All I'm really saying here is: Let's not pigeonhole ourselves right out of the gate. Let's bond over our shared love of this music without building a fence to keep non-jazz-obsessives out, and to blind us to the possibilities of the pop world and beyond. The best jazz I heard in 2010—records by the Bad Plus, Chris Lightcap, Dan Weiss and others—didn't need some sort of rubber-stamp Seal of Jazz Approval to convey its message. It just sounded beautiful, in a way that didn't need to be explained. As I noted in my Bad Plus post, my fiancée, Laal, often helps me to open my mind re: how I think about the jazz I take in: The operative question isn't "Was that a great jazz show?," it's "Was that a great show?" Full stop.
All of the real movers on today's jazz scene know this well. Adam Schatz, say, or Darcy James Argue, or Ethan Iverson, all of whom have demonstrated their engagement with the world outside the jazz bubble in a number of shrewd ways. Aside from all the great music I heard at last night's Winter Jazzfest, one of the coolest encounters I had was with the saxist Darius Jones, a scary-good musician and an extremely nice guy whom I've known for a few years now. I shook his hand, congratulating him on what a fine set he'd played with Mike Pride's From Bacteria to Boys, but all he wanted to do was grill me about what it was like to interview the great Nicki Minaj. So again, all this great music exists on one plate for the artists—let it also be so for those of us who cover it.
Thursday, January 06, 2011
Like The Five Year Plan, Tim Berne's second album, 7x—recorded about nine months later, in January of 1980, with a similar supporting cast—is a grab bag of styles. (And like its predecessor, it's affordably downloadable from Screwgun either alone or as one fifth of The Empire Box.) Berne's still throwing a lot against the wall to see what will stick. Interestingly, though, some of what's he tossing out is clearly identifiable as Tim Berne Music, the sort that would crop up on his Columbia records of the mid-’80s and beyond. The germs of the late style are here, as are several convincing illustrations of his burgeoning saxophone mastery.
Listening to 7x today, the tracks I enjoyed most were, respectively, the busiest and calmest pieces on the record. The title track starts off as a boisterous swinger: A complex head leads into a series of solos, with Vinny Golia blasting off first on baritone and working up to a sandpapery froth. Berne follows suit, and at this point I thought I had the track pegged—raucous swing, everyone takes their turn up top, and so on and so forth.
A magical turnaround occurs around 5:30, though, as "7x" veers into a funky 5/4 fusion breakdown, topped off by Nels Cline's atmospheric shred. What seems at first like a quizzical tangent gradually becomes a coherent set change. Berne stakes out this territory and sets up camp there: He lets Cline have his say, but re-marshalls the band for an out-head that's completely different than the opening. What we have here is a prog-funk stomp that, though still pretty primitive-sounding, definitely presages the mature Tim Berne's obsession with angular groove. I just love the surprise-attack aspect of this song: You think you're cruising along in familiar head-solos-head territory and then all of a sudden, Berne swipes you from the side, reorienting your ear entirely. "Down with formulaic structure"—one of the aesthetic credos of late Berne—had already reared its head.
You hear something similar on "A Pearl in the Oliver C.," an otherwise entirely different piece. This is easily the most straightforwardly beautiful performance on either The Five Year Plan or 7x—a hushed hymn, scored for the trio of Berne, Golia and Roberto Miranda (on arco). Unlike the quieter pieces on The Five Year Plan—which partake of a sprawling, ritualistic vibe that Berne reexamines on 7x's "The Water People"—"Pearl" is brief and focused. As with the title track, you think you know what you're in for until Berne throws a curveball. Berne plays alone for half of the piece's four minutes, reaffirming his interest in unaccompanied performance, established at the end of The Five Year Plan's opening track, "The Glasco Cowboy." He sounds intensely poignant, passionate but not overheated, balancing urgency and tenderness. When Golia and Miranda enter, it's something of a shock, but a glorious one, like flipping on a light and realizing you've entered a cathedral. The three sing a quiet, sad song, over too soon. This is a stunning piece, and though I can't remember hearing anything like it on any later Berne records, it does ring an important bell due to the fact that employs the favorite Berne device—employed in Bloodcount and various other projects—of "Let's improvise first and then make our way to the theme." I really enjoy that tactic, as it results in the composed material feeling earned rather than canned.
The other tracks run a wide gamut. Opener "Chang" was a real head-scratcher for me. It's a sort of festive, Latinish piece with a catchy theme but no structural wrinkles, just a straight head-solos-head vibe. That's no crime, of course; it's just that pretty much every other track on either of these records offers something extra. "Flies" also features a conventional jazz structure, but it has a lot more going for it, namely a really fun head—prancing, intricate and driven by brushes on the snare drum, foreshadowing later Berne pieces like "Hong Kong Sad Song" from 1989's Fractured Fairy Tales—and a home run of a Berne solo. The rhythm section of Miranda and drummer Alex Cline lays it down nice and easy, and Berne just bops along, sounding as soulful and relaxed as an old pro. After a couple more solos and some Dixieland-ish group blowing, Berne pulls another card out of his sleeve and cuts the bass and drums, leaving the three horns (Berne, Golia and trombonist John Rapson) to writhe and wriggle. Closing track "Showtime" also features a sly set change, but I won't spoil it—let's just say it brings the title into sharp focus.
7x is another good record, and another record with a lot of ideas shooting off in a lot of directions. As I make my way through Berne's catalog (again, no promises re: promptness), I'll be curious to see where along the line he started to streamline his aesthetic, to prune off some of the stray branches. I know that at least as early as 1986's Fulton Street Maul, he was making great, fully coherent records, so it shouldn't be long.
Wednesday, January 05, 2011
Lately, in my recreational listening time, I've been spinning little else but Tim Berne—a not-at-all unusual scenario. Though I'm loath to make any promises re: future DFSBP content ("How do you make God laugh? … Make a plan"—Kicking and Screaming), I thought it might be fun to systematize this obsession, working my way through the Berne discography in chronological fashion and recording some reflections. So, again, no promises re: where this project will lead, but since I spent good time today with Berne's debut release, The Five Year Plan—available as a download via Screwgun, either alone or as part of The Empire Box—I'll share some impressions.
Tim Berne's mature records—with Hardcell, Big Satan or Bloodcount, say—bear his unmistakable fingerprints: proggy vamp-labyrinths, liberal use of gradual coalescence (a concept I discussed in depth in this Bloodcount write-up), and lengthy passages of gritty, deep-listening improv. You won't find any of that on The Five Year Plan. Checking out this album (recorded in April of 1979) in light of Berne's later work, you hear an artist who has yet to really locate his aesthetic North Star.
But that's not to say there's not a strong vision at work here. Overall, I was pretty damn impressed with how methodical and well-paced this record is, not to mention how distinctive it is. On the latter tip, one of the first things you notice about The Five Year Plan is that two of its four tracks are dedications (one to Julius Hemphill and the other to Abdul Wadud, two names that any Berne-head will know well; refresh via Do the Math if necessary). Sometimes that can be a bad sign, but not here: These may be tributes, but they're pointedly not imitations. Berne is clearly going his own way here.
It's obvious that he wants to frame himself not so much as a composer—the thematic material here is brief and not terribly memorable—but as a conceptualist. Each piece on the record has a clear reason for existing. This is an experimental-minded record, but it is absolutely not a Free Jazz record. These are tightly controlled sound spaces, even the ones with a lot of breathing room.
On the latter tip, the final piece, "N.Y.C. Rites," might be The Five Year Plan's most memorable track. It's very long and very quiet, a kind of gently murmuring horn chorus that works its way up to some jagged peaks. Percussionist Alex Cline (whose sonic palette, filled with chimes, boomy toms and what sounds like scrap metal, really defines the album as a whole) and bassist Roberto Miranda flutter and scrape in the background as Berne, clarinet great John Carter and flutist Vinny Golia play drawn-out, chamber-ish lines, setting up a ritual vibe that's right in line with the title of the piece. You can tell here that Berne knows his AACM and BAG histories, that he's internalized those collectives' throw-out-the-rulebook-and-let-SOUND-be-your-guide imperatives. The sidemen know just what to do in this setting: Everyone's playing quietly and spaciously, and everyone's listening. Berne sounds terrific (piercing and soulful) here, but he doesn't stand out as a soloist. The latter honor goes to Carter, who gravitates to this meditative vibe like a moth to a flame and turns in a fantastic solo, alternately lyrical and bracingly harsh. This is a deep piece of music and a true ensemble performance—Berne lets his collaborators play but he's drawn them a clear roadmap.
Each of the other three tracks has its own story to tell, and though they're not quite as memorable as "N.Y.C. Rites," none are duds. Opener "The Glasco Cowboy" (the Hemphill dedication) is a sax-trio suite (featuring just Berne, Miranda and Cline) and another piece that maintains that tricky balance of openness and control. It starts with a marchlike vamp in 5/4, which Berne uses as a launchpad for a bit of jaggedly funky improv. Within 1.5 minutes, we're into an upbeat swing section, the closest thing to "jazz" on this entire album. But just when you think you have the tune pegged, it changes direction again, veering into an "N.Y.C. Rites"–like meditative space. Miranda (who first blew my mind on John Carter's classic Dauwhe) tears it up in subtle fashion here, mingling poetically with Berne's hushed lines. The trio hits some post-Ayler climaxes, but never surrenders to Free Jazz. Eventually Miranda and Cline drop out and Berne plays a two-minute unaccompanied coda—clearly indebted to the likes of Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell (as well as Hemphill himself, no doubt) but gripping nonetheless—a pretty damn daring move considering that this is the very first piece on his very first album.
The Wadud dedication, called simply "A.K. Wadud," is another suite, and like "The Glasco Cowboy," it features a number of surprising set changes. Cline gets the intro, setting the mood with sparse chimes, and eventually switching over to drums and launching into a chugging, choo-choo-train rhythm—very tribal and not at all jazzy. The horns (Berne, Carter, Golia and trombonist Glenn Ferris) enter with a long theme: stern and declamatory. Then Cline begins to splatterpaint the basic rhythm and Miranda takes a deep, speechlike arco solo. A quick left turn follows: a shift into an upbeat, Latin-ish rhythm over which Golia (playing baritone here) and Ferris wail. Even amid this high-energy vibe, Berne is thinking organizationally: He unleashes only these two horns, not himself and Carter. After two minutes, the piece ramps down to ritualistic silence, and here is where Berne and Carter have their say, darting atop Cline's free-time coloration. Things heat up to a boil, but *again* Berne pulls the rug out: After another two minutes, we're back to Cline alone, playing sparse chimes and thuds before launching back into the initial choo-choo-train rhythm, leading into a quick restatement of the theme.
The brilliantly titled "Computerized Taps for 12 Different Steps" is brief and frantic, built around a zippy four-note vamp for flute and bass. The head is a marvel of post-AACM controlled chaos—check out Cline's scrap-metal madness here—though the improv section gets a little free-for-all-ish for my tastes. But that's really only a reflection of how expertly controlled the rest of the record is; this is no directionless blow-out, just the closest thing to one on what is overall a very calculated album.
I obviously can't put myself in the headspace of a first-time Berne listener, but I can't imagine having checked out The Five Year Plan upon its release and not thought, "Huh… this guy has some really cool ideas." In fact, I thought the very same thing today, even if I had some trouble linking this Tim Berne with the one I know and love. Nothing wrong with that sort of challenge though. I look forward to discovering how the dots connect.