In jazz, recording is generally about documenting performances, not creating something new from the ensuing notes. But David Torn, a forward-looking guitarist and composer who’s worked with artists as disparate as Jan Garbarek and David Bowie, refuses to be bound by such restrictions. Prezens, his first album for ECM since Cloud About Mercury (released way back in 1986), eschews mere replication in favor of a bold cut-and-paste approach that’s as exciting as it is idiosyncratic.
Torn chose his associates wisely. Alto saxophonist Tim Berne, keyboardist Craig Taborn, and drummer Tom Rainey – known collectively as Hard Cell – are among the more adventurous players on the current scene, and they eagerly follow Torn into under-explored territory, where rule-breaking is encouraged and stylistic differences melt into insignificance.
“Ak,” the opening number, eases listeners into this brave new world with fairly conventional sounds, such as Taborn’s subtly fingered B3. Before long, though, Berne’s squeaks and squeals get weirder and Rainey’s beats grow increasingly energetic, encouraging Torn to transition from atmospheric plucking to full-out heavy-metal thunder via a looped riff capable of cooking anything in its path. The quiet coda that follows allows everyone to catch their breath – musicians and listeners alike.
There are more thrills where those came from, including “Bulbs,” which opens with herky-jerky sax splats before evolving into an effects-pedal workout par excellence, and “Miss Place, The Mist…,” a thoroughly cinematic voyage that pits quasi-orchestral passages against robotic beeps and blips. Torn and company would have an awfully difficult time reproducing such pastiches onstage, but that doesn’t matter in the slightest. Prezens is a collage, not a snapshot, and the results are fascinating.
- Michael Roberts