Sun of Goldfinger – Sun of Goldfinger – [TrackList follows] – ECM, 2613, 68:55 [3/1/18] ****:
Guitarist, sound sculptor and audio conceptualist David Torn submerges listeners into music which can be sharply enigmatic and staggeringly abstract where improvisation, post-production and collective interplay create a unique experience. Torn has worked or collaborated with David Bowie, David Sylvian, Steve Roach and many more; and has contributed to dozens of film soundtracks. One of the most satisfying musical partnerships Torn has forged is with saxophonist Tim Berne. In 2007, Torn issued the ECM album Prezens with Berne, keyboardist Craig Taborn and drummer Tom Rainey. More than a decade later, Torn and Berne have returned to similar territory with the self-titled debut of their new trio, Sun of Goldfinger, with drummer Ches Smith (a member of Berne’s Snakeoil band; other credits include John Zorn, experimental group Xiu Xiu; and Carla Bozulich). This 69-minute release is the threesome’s recording debut, but they have performed on stage often. Sun of Goldfinger is available as a CD with a cardboard cover over a plastic jewel case with a liner notes insert; or as a 140-gram vinyl LP. The LP only has two tunes; the CD has three. This review refers to the CD version.
Sun of Goldfinger contains three marathon pieces: two fully-improvised tracks, the 24-minute “Eye Meddle” and the 23-minute “Soften the Blow.” The 22-minute “Spartan, Before It Hit” has an extended ensemble with Taborn on acoustic piano; the Scorchio String Quartet; and guitarists Mike Baggetta (who has also played with Berne, Taborn and Smith) and Ryan Ferreira (Berne, Colin Stetson, Chris Dingman and others). The lengthy material echoes the trio’s exploratory live gigs. The studio recordings were whittled down and deftly mixed in post-production to generate the aural voyaging heard on the record. The album begins with the continually evolving “Eye Meddle,” where a lattice of vague electronics and guitar sounds meld with Berne’s brilliant, rhythmic sax and Smith’s percussive effects and otherworldly digital tweaking. The opening ten minutes have a drone-like quality. Eventually Torn sponsors a stormier and edgier tone while Berne whirls, veers and crafts pointed alto sax notes, chords and solos. It would be simpler to say “Eye Meddle” has no groove, but in fact it does. It’s just not easy to discern because it comes from Berne’s circular sax lines and Smith’s abstruse percussion and electronics.
“Soften the Blow” has an equally alien inventiveness. “Soften the Blow” follows an unplanned path of cloudy moments, dazzling shocks of sonic brightness, and sometimes disturbing torrents of spontaneity. Torn utilizes all matter of manipulation, from loops to delay. He inserts transmutations in his sound output alongside eerie phrasing. Berne’s sax is also unnerving and spooky in the way his notes are handled acoustically and digitally. Occasionally he fashions an impression that more than one sax is involved. Smith’s expressive percussion grounds the turbulence but also has slices of anarchic movement.
The trio becomes a tentet on “Spartan, Before It Hit,” which blends written composition with improvisation. There’s a dream-like demeanor when Torn’s guitar, the strings and Taborn’s piano coalesce. Later, a fusion-esque groove commences, fronted by squelching guitar, Smith’s beat-driven drums, the string quartet’s repeating chords, and electronic tidbits. “Spartan, Before It Hit” is not jazz, it is not rock, it is not neo-classical. It is all three, but it is also not strictly any of those genres. It’s quiet and then extremely loud. It’s melodic and then dissonant. It’s shimmering and then shattering. The dynamics, timbre, texture, delivery and kinesis during “Spartan, Before It Hit” has the same force and emotionalism of Krzysztof Penderecki’s “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima.” Sun of Goldfinger has constructed music which must be confronted head-on, with foresight and focus. This is album is a rare combination of the fantastic and futuristic, with music truly of in-the-present-moment.
David Torn – electric guitar, live looping, electronics; Tim Berne – alto saxophone; Ches Smith – drums, electronics, tanbou; Craig Taborn – electronics, piano (track 2); Mike Baggetta, Ryan Ferreira – guitar (track 2); Scorchio String Quartet (track 2): Martha Mooke – viola, director; Amy Kimball – violin; Rachel Golub – violin; Leah Coloff – cello
Spartan, Before It Hit
Soften the Blow