David Torn

David Torn

Review by Brad Walseth

Like ambient soundscaper Brian Eno, but with a harder edge and a jazz/funk feel, David Torn is a guitarist/sound manipulator whose atmospheric work has been heard in jazz, rock and film scores. Torn's prezens is his first album as a leader in a decade - one that is perhaps the closet to presenting the artists vision - and one that is sure to please fans of this avant-garde texturalist's work.

Taking pieces of live improvised jams with alto saxophonist Tim Berne, keyboardist Craig Taborn and drummer Tom Rainey, Torn then set to work remixing and reimagining the music itself. Thus some inspired original improvised playing gets looped, twisted and mutated into surprising and unexpected directions.

Difficult to describe in words - there are elements of quiet ambience here, but these are often punctuated by intense outbursts of heavy metal rock or down-home (albeit warped) funk. While the funk draws from Miles Davis Bitches Brew template, the loud rock is akin to King Crimson and Torn's guitar here sounds quite a bit like Robert Fripp or Venon Reid of Living Color; whereas his quieter guitar interludes call to mind Bill Frisell. Understandable then that Torn has been called upon to work with such rock artists as David Bowie, David Sylvain, Bill Bruford, Mick Karn, Tony Levin and Jeff Beck. But there is also a jazz flavor quite evident, especially in Berne's bent saxophone stretches ("Transmit Regardless"), and occasionally a melody pokes its head through the contortions like on the bluesy "Ever More Other."

Songs such as "AK" and "Bulbs" mutate stylistically within themselves in creatively skewed fashion, while "Miss Place, The Mist" - startles with its ominous slide guitar; but despite the varied architectural supports, the entire recording seems to stand as a coherent and solid structure. The playing by all parties is enjoyable, and Torn's manipulations reveal thought and a strong sense of color, pacing and sonic excitement. That said; the sound collages on prezens may be best enjoyed by the open-minded listener who enjoys the experimental as much as his funk, rock and jazz. As a mix of organic and metallic sounds forged together by a master welder, prezens is a sculpture-like soundtrack built of fascinating aural elements.

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