July 8, 2007

Now Playing: David Torn

David Torn: Prezens (ECM 1877) (2007)

David Torn: guitars, live sampling and manipulation
Tim Berne: alto saxophone
Craig Taborn: Fender Rhodes, Hammond B3, Mellotron, Bent Circuits
Tom Rainey: drums

This is one of those exceedingly rare records that, right from the shrinkwrap, just rings my bell, floats my boat, gets me off - however you want to put it, I just can’t get enough! I’ve listened to this thing intently, repeatedly - sometimes twice in one day. (If you know me at all well, you know that this kind of behavior is pretty much of unheard of.) What it is it about this record that I find so compelling?

I guess you’d have to call this “fusion”: It’s all about electricity and texture. Here we have the brilliant, but not-very-prolific, David Torn with the core of Tim Berne’s long-time ensemble: An all-star lineup, to be sure. To be honest, I’m not the biggest fan of Tim Berne (though he sounds pretty good here). On the other hand, his band is phenomenal: Craig Taborn breathes new life into old-school analog keyboards and Tom Rainey’s clattering traps don’t merely groove, but emphatically punctuate the music.

The very first track, “AK” sets the tone: Opening with a spacey wash from which individual instruments emerge to suggest a staggered rhythmic figure. After a number of twists and turns, the whole thing suddenly erupts into an explosion of distorted guitar. The first time I heard this, I was completely blown away – I felt 16 years old again, with virgin ears, discovering the overwhelming power of the electric guitar for the first time. Wow. Oddly enough, even the thirtieth time, it’s still pretty darn cool. There are a lot of moments like that on this disc, fleeting moments that I want to experience again and again, even if they’ve long ago lost the element of surprise. In the process of re-listening, more subtle elements of the music reveal themselves over time, thereby reinforcing the desire to listen again – and again and...well, you get the picture.

Torn giddily exploits the sheer artifice of record-making and each track offers a rich variety of evocative atmospheres. Most striking is his use of live sampling to introduce deliberate glitches and fractures in "real time." All of the instruments are subjected to Torn’s manipulations and it is sometimes difficult to tell who is making what sound - which, of course, only makes me want to keep listening to try and discern what’s really going on. This is deliciously trippy stuff.

A lot of music is basically comprehensible the first time you hear it. Pop music is, of course, built around this phenomenon: Pleasurable familiarity breeds a desire for repetition. But, there are other kinds of music that do not reveal their secrets right away. One of the reasons why I love difficult, avant-garde music is simply because it is not immediately or even easily comprehensible and therefore sounds endlessly fresh. David Torn’s Prezens combines both kinds of musical pleasure: It is immediately appealing yet amply rewards repeated listening.


1 comment:

Sam said...

Sign me up! Sounds very intriguing, and right up one of my alleys. This record is definitely near the top of my want list (after all the recent Transparency and Art Yard Ra stuff, however!). I did finally get "Strange Strings"...the sound is remarkably superior to what we'd had before. And the bonus track with the squeaking door-synth is really sweet.