issue 20 :: September 2011

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Review: John Berndt

New Logic for Old Saxophones CD [Creative Sources]

If I had to pick a favorite musician it would probably be Ornette Coleman. He uses a plastic alto sax and I completely love everything about his playing. It’s interesting that this disc is subtitled “Acoustic solos for 1933 Buescher Soprano and 1935 Conn Alto Saxophones” because I’m not completely sure how that factors in to the enjoyment of the music that is performed. All the 15 short-ish tracks here are admittedly close mic’ed so it does make sense that the age and subsequent resonance of the instruments are part of the recording, but other than that it’s assuming a lot of the listener to find that information useful. That’s not to say this isn’t a fairly enjoyable set of pieces, but I would be more interested to know the mixture of composition versus improvisation involved.
All of the tracks have the inescapable feel of belonging to a jazz sub-genre, leaning more to experimental and extended techniques than swing. There is quite a lot of pitch bending and exploration of harmonics and multi-phonics. The best tracks (like the opening "A Slow Spiral Descent Into the Flower") are very drone-like and find counter-melody in the related 4ths and 5ths that are integral to the way wind instruments are built. He may not be so singularly committed to a certain recognizable style as Evan Parker (with his intensely controlled arpeggios and circular breathing) or John Butcher (using a tenor sax as a feedback source taking extended technique to its logical end of pure physics), but John Berndt mixes these approaches mostly with success. There’s even a piece dedicated to Anthony Braxton which appropriately ventures into the realm of pure “sound for sound.”
Review by Jacob Green, a musician and film lover living in Austin, Texas.
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