Palm Sweat: Marc Ducret Does Tim Berne

Yep, the fantastic French guitarist has reconceived a batch of pieces by the fantastic American saxophonist. Both are composers and conceptualists; both hear things in rather unique ways. When I was writing liner notes for Snakeoil’s The Fantastic Mrs. 10, I chatted with Ducret about his participation on that album and his initial meeting with the Brooklyn bandleader a few decades ago. He was deeply inspired by Tim’s approach back then, and surely some of that inspiration has re-blossomed on the glorious musings that comprise Palm Sweat. The string improviser takes Berne’s pieces to far-away realms – ranging from ferocious (“Curls”) to finespun (“Static”) his arrangements dodge the routine at every turn. Seemed like an appropriate time to share Marc’s short recollection of their first encounter. Palm Sweat drops this Friday, March 10.

“I first played with Tim in 1988. A German radio producer invited people from around the world to play a concert – a whole pool of musicians. Tim and Herb Robertson came. I had no idea who they were or what kind of music they played. I’d never listened to either of them. They brought some very different stuff than the others who participated…different from anything else we had to play. I brought music I thought would fit in an ensemble of musicians who might not know each other. Nice and polite, don’t hurt anybody’s feelings, don’t bring anything too hard to play. They didn’t pay any attention to that. They brought long and difficult pieces, very abstract and very strange to me. How do you say…I got a kick out of it…I said to myself, ‘there’s no reason for me not to be able to play that.’ So at that point I really got into Tim’s music. I really practiced the lines and learned the music by heart, and we had a great time. We played two or three concerts at the end of the working week. That’s when I started realizing his thing was so genuine, was so much his. What other people bought seemed a little  pale in comparison. Then I went back home scratching my head a little bit about what I had heard. Tim called me later to be part of a tour with his Caos Totale band. That’s when we started, and we’ve never stopped.”

“Now I know Tim’s music quite well. When you’re playing with him, he really likes to be surprised and he really wants you to not play the same things on the same tunes. He wants musicians to play games with his stuff. It takes guts to feel that way. I really like playing those forms and shapes that he brings into the music. It’s tricky, because Tim works his compositions as a whole, which means most of time it would be trouble to learn your own part only; it most certainly will lead you to uncertainty and weakness. You have to learn the whole global shape and form. It’s solid music; esthetically it goes somewhere. He knows his proposals are valid. He’s been thinking about it for a long time. That’s what makes him confident. His attitude towards music is total commitment, total disregard for anything that’s not music – which I really respect.”

From Ducret’s new album notes:

I had already recorded three solo albums, and also played some of Tim’s music as solo pieces on his album The Sevens and I wanted to take the concept somewhere else. 

I chose to “unfold” Tim’s compositions in my own way, at times stretching a melodic line into a series of pitches and dynamics, often using canons, inversions and retrograde melodies to enrich the given structure or create new ones, and sometimes adding chords to a melody or extracting a rhythmic cell to use it as a starting point for other developments. I was mainly concerned with the shape of the album, trying to provide a sort of musical landscape in which the listener could wander – that is why there is very little solo or improvisation on a form; instead of a linear shape I tried to put emphasis on color, texture and development.

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