Tim Berne The Shell Game

It's hard to believe that Tim Berne, one of the higher profile jazz players of the '80s, hasn't released a record in eight years, but he's back with a hard left turn. Berne has never been afraid to take risks and The Shell Game is one of his biggest yet for two reasons: it's pretty mellow and it's co-led by electronic sounds. It's about time jazz fans got used to the notion of electronic instruments in jazz; they can go places non-chordal instruments can't, they can change sounds and textures unlike any acoustic devices and best of all, they don't have to play one strict role in the ensemble. Berne and keyboardist Craig Taborn understand this. Taborn produces and manipulates fat analog bass sounds when required, but can simultaneously play Rhodes-like accompaniment. He can produce textures that complement Berne's controlled over-blowing and filter sweep them to lower octaves. Berne has written four long and complex pieces that present numerous possible balances between sax, drums and whatever else electronics can fill in. Often, the mix is so seamless one won't even notice an unaccompanied solo spring forth then dissolve into the accompaniment of the other two musicians. Berne is playing as well as ever, but no longer seeks to bludgeon you to death with raw power. Taborn and drummer Tom Rainey take timing cues from Berne, but both play excellent solos as well. If you like spacy, early ECM stuff, you should check this out. (Thirsty Ear)