It's been more than 20 years since guitarist David Torn last recorded on the ECM label with the heralded album Cloud About Mercury. Well, he's come back home for Prezens, a schitzophrenic yet highly enjoyable exploration into free-jazz and avant-garde mayhem. Joining Torn here is a highly skilled cast of musicians who have been making lots of noise on the New York jazz scene the last few years-Tim Berne (alto sax), Craig Taborn (Fender Rhodes electric piano, Hammond organ, Mellotron), Tom Rainey (drums), and Matt Chamberlain (drums). Expect lots of cacaphony, repetitive rhythms, and the occasional glimpse of melody, all characteristics that we've come to expect from Mr. Torn.
You have to love the fact that Torn kicks things off with "ak", a rambling near 10-minute free jazz journey that features loops, Berne's squonking sax freakouts, and plenty of molten, distorted metal guitar shards from the guitarist. "Structural Functions of Prezens" is another lengthy piece that bridges the gap between avant-jazz, prog rock, and electronica, with Berne's sax snaking around the mix while Torn's yearning guitar lines search for an entry point. At about the halfway mark on this piece, Rainey comes crashing in with some frenzied drumming while the sax squeals and various electronics blip around the mix. On "bulbs", Taborn starts things off with some tasty Hammond, before Torn's massive bass and guitar riffs burst onto the scene, backed by Mellotron and sax. David gets to do some serious picking on this one, almost hitting some Zappa-ish notes on a few occasions before rampaging in with waves of distortion and whammy bar fury.
Fans of the guitarist's jazzier side will love the brief "them buried standing", a tender piece that leaves out the bombast and noise for some plaintive strumming and melodies, much like some of his earlier work. Don't get too used to this moment of clarity, as "sink" sees the guitarist burst back in with seething, feedback drenched shred guitar lines, before the rest of the band crashes in with a wild torrent of explosions that can only be called "jazz-metal" for lack of a better term. Funk and jazz combine on the CD's longest piece, "neck deep in the harrow...", which is 12+ minutes of echoed guitar shards, intricate drum grooves, stabbing sax lines, and funky Fender Rhodes vamps. If you like repetitive loops, Rhodes, and yearning guitar breaks, you'll like the atmospheric "ever more other", and "Ring For Endless Travel" has sort of a futuristic style to it, although honestly it really goes nowhere and might be the weakest piece on the CD. "Miss Place, the Mist..." features soothing Mellotron cellos and jangly slide guitar, while the closing "Transmit Regardless" is Torn 'guitar noise' meets 'free jazz', and as disjointed as that might sound it pretty much works.
Much of Prezens might just be a lot of noise to many, but if you have an open mind, there's a good chance you'll find something of serious value here. The music of David Torn has always been for a select few, and he might even polarize some of those folks with Prezens, but there's plenty of sonic brilliance here to go along with some out and out weirdness. Give it a try...better yet, give it a few tries, and you just might enjoy it.
2. rest & unrest
3. structural functions of prezens
5. them buried standing
7. neck-deep in the harrow...
8. ever more other
9. ring for endless travel
10. miss place, the mist...
11. transmit regardless