Tim Berne Interview

Tim Berne
Photo credit: Matt Brown/ Creative Commons

“I love London”, says Tim Berne, profiled and interviewed for LondonJazz by ALEX ROTH prior to Berne's two nights at the Vortex:  Wednesday March 14th and Thursday 15th.  

One of the most respected figures on the New York jazz scene, saxophonist and composer Tim Berne, has led a series of groundbreaking ensembles since the late 70s.

One measure of his quality is the company he has kept down the years: drummers Paul Motian, Tom Rainey, Jim Black, Joey Baron and Bobby Previte and bassists Drew Gress, Mark Dresser and Michael Formanek have all featured in groups spear-headed by Berne at one time or another, not to mention guitarists Bill Frisell, Nels Cline, Marc Ducret, cellists Hank Roberts and Erik Friedlander and pianist Craig Taborn.

He also prefigured the current crop of musician-led record labels by founding Empire in 1979 and Screwgun in 1997 to release his own albums and those of his collaborators (John Zorn and Dave Douglas are other notable NY-based improvisers to have done so, with Tzadik and Greenleaf respectively).

Berne's latest album Snakeoil (reviewed here by Chris Parker) is a new departure in two respects; it's his first outing on the ECM label under his own name (having previously appeared on releases by David Torn and Michael Formanek, and is also the premiere recording of his new quartet featuring clarinettist Oscar Noriega, pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer Ches Smith.

Berne answered a few questions I had about recording, touring and composing, writes Roth.

Alex Roth- Your latest album Snakeoil is on ECM, rather than your own Screwgun label. Why's that?

Tim Berne : I've been trying to do something with them for years. It's a great label and it's too expensive to do a studio album on my own. I didn't really change my approach for the recording.

- What was it that appealed to you about this particular line-up?

This band has been playing together for over two years now - before those other groups actually.

I love the sound of this instrumentation because it's extremely flexible. The players are great too!

- There's some lovely and very distinctive contrapuntal writing on the album. Are there any specific composers whose music has informed your approach to polyphonic writing?

Ha…not really, although I'm a big fan of [Henry] Threadgill, Ty[ondai] Braxton, Antony and the Johnsons and numerous others.

- One of the central themes in your catalogue to date seems to me to be the integration of compositional order and improvisational freedom. Are you aware of any specific influences (musical or extra-musical) on that aspect of your music?

Braxton, [Roscoe] Mitchell, [Julius] Hemphill, [Henry] Threadgill, [Marc] Ducret, [Michael] Formanek etc.

- Would you say that there are any other over-arching themes in your music, and if so how have these developed over the years?

I think I've been approaching things pretty much the same way since the beginning; I love juxtaposing complicated written forms and wide open improvisation.

- Several of the most celebrated young bands in European jazz (notably TrioVD in the UK and RedivideR in Ireland), not to mention New York, cite your music as a primary influence - are you aware of having an impact on younger musicians and if so how do you react to hearing them?

I'm not really aware of anyone I've influenced but it's nice to know I guess. I always enjoy listening to these bands.

- What do you like to do in your time off when you're touring?

I watch movies, bodysurf and eat Indian food in London.

- Any favourite spots in London?

I don't remember names but I love London.

Vortex, Dalston -March 14th and 15th. BOOKINGS

Alex Roth is a guitarist and composer based in London. (Twitter:@alexrothmusic )

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