Tim Berne's Bloodcount | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Tim Berne's Bloodcount 

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TIM BERNE'S BLOODCOUNT

The LA-to-Lincoln Center crowd may get the hype now, but the future of jazz--not to mention its present--really rests with bands like Tim Berne's Bloodcount, which confronts the continuing evolution of improvised music. Saxophonist Berne created Bloodcount in 1993 as a means of deconstructing the jazz combo--to "de-emphasize the usual soloistic approach and create more of a chamber-music approach to improvisation," he said at the time--and of reconstructing the balance between structure and freedom. The first concept is hardly a new one: Lennie Tristano fooled around with it in the 40s, Ornette Coleman and Bill Evans made strikingly different uses of it in the 50s, and it became a hallmark of Ronald Shannon Jackson's bands in the 80s. But Berne employs it to such strong effect--creating complex textures not with volume but with layers of information--that his quartet can sound like a group three times its size. Berne plays a virile, mercurial alto, while his baritone work is both agile and voluptuous, and he finds an equal partner in the excitingly garrulous tenor of Chris Speed; bassist Michael Formanek combines with drummer Jim Black to create rhythms at once primal and multidimensional. Instrumental lines tumble into and after each other with an almost dangerous intensity, offset by craft and wit. As heard on Unwound, a nerve-tingling three-CD set of 1996 concert performances on Berne's own Screwgun label, Bloodcount has reached a point where each performance has apparently limitless possibilities. Berne has exploded the walls of traditional compositional form: instead of adhering to anything remotely resembling theme and variations, he intersperses thematic material--sometimes repeated, elongated, or truncated--with the careening pleasures of free improvisation. Again, not so new, but the surprise comes in hearing the structural elements arise seamlessly from the engrossing solo and ensemble improvisations--as if the latter had in fact birthed the former. Berne's soulful lyricism was shaped by his mentor, the late Julius Hemphill; it recalls such Hemphill classics as Fat Man and the Hard Blues, and it helps the whole enterprise swing like Tarzan. You wouldn't want every band to play like this, but much of what ails the wannabeboppers could be solved by prolonged exposure to Bloodcount's inspired balancing act. Saturday, 9 PM, Elbo Room, 2871 N. Lincoln; 773-549-5549. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Tim Berne's Bloodcount photo.

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