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Reviewers: Don Mather, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby


Tim Berne

Diminutive Mysteries (Mostly Hemphill)

Winter & Winter, No. 919060-2



1. Sounds In The Fog
2. Serial Abstractions
3. Out, The Regular
4. The Unknown
5. Writhing Love Lines
6. Rites
7. The Maze (for Julius)
8. Mystery To Me

Tim Berne (alto and baritone sax); David Sanborn (soprano and alto sax); Marc Ducret (electric guitars); Hank Roberts (cello); Joey Baron (drums); Herb Robertson (trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn - title 7); Mark Dresser (bass - title 7)

Band leader, composer and saxophonist, Tim Berne, is renowned for unswerving dedication to his craft. He has formed and ran two record labels, led such trios as Paraphrase and Miniature, and played as a sideman in various duets with the finest musicians in modern jazz. From the beginning, his style was highly distinctive - confident and expressive beyond his years - but he has always strived to progress and develop rather than risk stagnation. Picking up the baritone whilst improving on the alto, he has taken his music through numerous directions - from radical improvisatory pieces to highly-wrought, rhythm-patterned structures - producing a wealth of acclaimed recordings. Ultimately, however, it’s Diminutive Mysteries - Bernes’s tribute to his mentor, Julius Hemphill - that has firmly sealed his reputation. First released in 1993, it is now regarded as a modern classic...

And if originality is anything to go by, this verdict is more than justified. Diminutive Mysteries refuses to fall neatly in to any single genre, twisting and turning through all moods and styles in a manner so bold and striking that even the most innovative records in jazz same tame and uninspired by comparison. From eery abstraction to melodic soul; from swing, to blues, to chaotic discordance; rarely a moment goes by on this work without a surprise for the listener. Freedom of expression, with no holds barred, is the underlying concept - and, thankfully, the band have necessary talent to turn this in to reality.

Berne’s playing is impressive throughout, emotionally charged and uninhibited, but always in keeping with the overall vision. Marc Ducret, on electric guitar, likewise proves himself a sensitive musician, adding a mellow, dreamlike quality to the complex ‘Serial Abstractions’, whilst demonstrating a talent for gritty intensity in the lengthy, ambitious, ‘The Maze’. The unique sound of the recording, though, is ultimately due to Hank Roberts on cello, whose powerful, resonant swells of sound are responsible for numerous spine-tingling harmonies.

Be warned, however, that Diminutive Mysteries is rarely a comfortable listening experience. Based on skeletal compositions, submitted by Julius Hemphill, much of this work is improvised, and as such takes time - and a few jarring notes - to settle in to its final form. And when the band sense the need to let everything go, this is precisely what happens. Saxophones screeching, cello grunting, guitar wailing and weeping, everything suddenly melds together in a whirling mass of sound. ‘Rites’, in particular, will be difficult going for those with delicate eardrums, the brass section at one point involved in what seems like the musical equivalent of a violent brawl.

Berne has admitted himself, of course, that his love of experimental music didn’t develop overnight; it was something he had to work at. For those prepared to put in the effort, the subtly, spontaneity and passion of this highly original album may indeed be worth the time. But for those of the belief that jazz becomes noise when formal structures and principles are abandoned, this one is definitely best left alone.

Robert Gibson

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