Late 80s Downtown at its best
William R. Aceves | Oakland, CA USA | 04/18/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Thank you Winter and Winter for rescuing this 1988 album from the late, lamented
JMT and rereleasing it! A more beautiful "out yet in" album I've not heard in
The processed pizzicato cello and processed drums of Hank Roberts' "Ethiopian
Boxer" begin the journey, building layers of texture upon which Tim Berne's alto
skates sublimely, leading to a pair of interrelated pieces penned by Berne, one
bearing a dedication to guitarist Bill Frisell. Both of these pieces feature the
rhythmically slippery head motives that have always been a signature of Berne's
writing. Of the eight tunes on the disc, Berne's four contributions are arguably
the most "composed" of the set, and the third track, "Hong Kong Sad Song," moves
from a deftly swinging melody to a dark ocean of sparse free improvisation and
back breathlessly, providing the high point of the record. Berne apparently
thought enough of this tune to re-record it with a sextet (that included Baron
and Roberts) on his JMT release Fractured Fairy Tales a year later.
Joey Baron's "Peanut" veers smoothly, though perhaps comically, from a subtle
latin groove to an Elvis-esque 50s rock progression, and his "Lonely Mood" is
really an exercise in processed atmospherics and dirge-like sonorities from the
sax and cello.
Roberts' "Abeetah" produces the biggest smiles on the disc, a gleeful bellylaugh
of a tune that prominently features Baron's bashing drums, his screechy and/or
gastro-intestinal Casio and a surprising, bizarrely lovely coda with
appropriately wailing vocals from Roberts. Throughout, Tim Berne's lines lilt, chatter, compliment and expand, Hank
Roberts' cello alternately and simultaneously provides bass-like foundation AND
melodic/harmonic glue, and Joey Baron provides his inimitable sonic texturing.
This period (late 80')is still my favorite for the playing of the amazing Joey Baron, who in addition to drums plays "Shacktronics" (consisting of a Casio CZ-101 synthesizer and various electronic oddities). Joey truly defines himself as a drummer of texture and nuance here, but Naked City fans note- this is not to say there aren't some moments of flailing abandon as well.
As much as I love his work with Frisell and Zorn, to me these two records and Tim Berne's Fractured Fairy Tales represent Joey at his best.