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På skive


«Other Zones»

The quartet of American double bass master Michael Formanek – with alto sax player Tim Berne, pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Gerald Cleaver – released a decade ago two acclaimed studio albums on the ECM label – The Rub and Spare Change and Small Places (2010. 2012). Two years ago a live album from 2014 was released, Pre-Apocalyptic (Out Of Your Head, 2020). And now, Formanek’s newly-founded label Circular File unearths another treasure from his archive of this now-defunct quartet – unreleased free improvisation recorded around the same time as the original recordings of the quartet, as captured at the Charlestown Road Studio in Hampton, New Jersey.

Other Zones stresses, again, the greatness of this quartet and its alchemical rapport established in countless previous collaborations and formats between these gifted improvisers. Formanek and Berne have been collaborating almost non-stop for almost thirty years now, beginning in Berne’s Bloodcount, as a duo and in Formanek’s bands. Taborn’s played in Berne’s Hardcell and with Berne’s in David Torn’s Prezens (ECM, 2007) and on his Sun of Goldfinger trio.

Formanek advises listening to the about seventy minutes of Other Zones with our favorite Scotches or Cote du Rhônes. But, fortunately, even without such desired incentives, you most likely feel immediately that this quartet delivers a masterful and passionate set. Obviously, the atmosphere on Other Zones is looser than the chamber, modern jazz atmosphere of the ECM albums. Formanek, Berne, Taborn and Cleaver know how to abstract an immediate idea into a coherent composition with many subtle and evocative layers, but also how to exhaust such ideas just at the right time with no attachment.

Each of the nine pieces suggests a distinct approach, and all enjoy the open, leaderless dynamics with enough space for individual solos. Formanek anchors wisely the busy commotion with his powerful, vibrant playing. The opening «Solid Bones» sounds as setting the spirit of this meeting and adapts Berne’s approach of developing free, constantly-shifting melodic and snaky melodies. But, even more, it emphasizes the tight rhythmic power of the quartet, and the natural manner that Formanek and his comrades lock into infectious, massive grooves – a funky one on «Skipping Stones», a slow-cooking one on «Metal Drones», and, without Cleaver, a gentle and lighter one on «Dying Phones». The lyrical and more sparse side of the quartet is shown in «Porcelain Thrones» and «Vast Knowns», both pieces focus on sketching nuanced and poetic, quite cinematic textures.

Eyal Hareuveni 

Michael Formanek (b), Tim Berne (as), Craig Taborn (p), Gerald Cleaver (dr)


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