Tim Berne & Michael Formanek | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Tim Berne & Michael Formanek 

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Saxophonist Tim Berne and bassist Michael Formanek have worked together for much of the 90s in the group Bloodcount, whose music thrives on being boxed in. Berne's knotty compositions are filled with twists and turns, and this superb quartet--with drummer Jim Black and reedist Chris Speed--navigates his mazes by intuition. But as a duo on last year's Ornery People (Little Brother), Berne and Formanek like to break through the hedges once in a while. In most jazz situations, the bass is the harmonic anchor, but it's drummers that tend to keep Berne from floating away--as on the wonderful trio record Big Satan (Winter & Winter), where he chugs ferociously against Tom Rainey's shuffling rhythms. So Formanek's limber, woody accompaniment (his recent solo recording Am I Bothering You?, on Screwgun, is a wordless manifesto on how the upright bass should sound) gives the reedist more options than usual. Sticking primarily to his astringent alto, Berne still likes to work in tight spaces, clinging to Formanek's undulating figures or shadowing his more linear stretches, but he also darts out into the openings the bassist occasionally leaves. The two also experiment with a more textural approach than Bloodcount: on "Stubborn Love," for example, Berne's teakettle whistle and Formanek's hollow bow thwacks eventually merge into an intense, circular drone. Sunday, 3 PM, Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; 312-744-6630. Peter Margasak

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