Tim Berne + Gregg Belisle-Chi Mars (Intakt)

Two years ago, after decades of creating rigorous melodies that solidified his rep as one of jazz’s most progressive figures, Tim Berne challenged himself to come up with pithier themes. At home during the first months of the pandemic, he recorded comparatively compact pieces such as “Chicken Salad Blues” and “Mirth of the Cool” that showed up on his first-ever solo album, Sacred Vowels. Impressive in both conception and execution, the tunes offered a bit more poignancy and a tad more clarity than the serpentine works of his extensive songbook. To a degree, they wore their heart on their sleeve. Just after this, Gregg Belisle-Chi applied himself to scad of Berne tunes in a solo setting on the album Koi. Using an acoustic instrument, the guitarist revealed a side of the 67-year-old Berne’s work that had been previously shrouded. The performances were delicate, delightful, and mildly revelatory. It was as if Belisle-Chi could see something about the music that a sizable throng of fans had missed all those years. Arriving on the heels of Sacred Vowels, it cast a new light on the saxophonist and his work. Now comes Mars, their duet album of more Berne material. From Nels Cline to Bill Frisell to Marc Ducret to David Torn, Berne has collaborated with some of the most inventive guitarists around. This new 12-track program suggests that he’s chosen another wily mate. The conversations they shared while discussing the architecture of Koi have nurtured a bond that’s unmistakable on these miniature investigations (most pieces range from three to four minutes). “Big Belly” finds them taking coordinated, if overtly different tacks. The guitarist chips and slashes; the horn player glides and prances. “Rabbit Girl” is a bittersweet jewel, one of the most tender titles in the Berne book, and a tune that just may have Ornette’s “Kathelin Gray” as an antecedent. Like “Purdy” (done previously with the saxophonist’s other primary partner, Matt Mitchell) it finds the duo embracing romance, investing in the ethereal, and tilting towards splendor.  

Berne + Belisle-Chi unite with Nasheet Waits at Soapbox Gallery April 7

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