|Fairy tales are unified teleological structures based on static narrative models. The same is true for most jazz styles. The music of alto saxophonist Tim Berne works according to a different set of rules, tells a different kind of stories, His compositions are Fractured Fairy Tales. For Berne, the conventions of jazz are no longer the binding foundation, He knows them and respects their validity, but he goes one step beyond, declines their security and comfort, without, however, disregarding them completely; he juggles handed-down forms and elements of style playfully. Musical form to Tim Berne is more than a servile frame. Instead, he shifts it into the foreground. "There's that whole tradition of bebop and jazz that plays the tune, and solos, and plays the tune. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's more a thing about virtuosity, not necessarily about composition. I'm not really a virtuose player- that's not what I'm about. I'm interested in organizing things, putting things together that are interesting to me. So all these little pieces are like parts of a story. I don't like to know it's going to end a certain way before it ends. I like having a surprise."
A concept like Tim Berne's poses a challenge: how to make structure and control compatible with improvisational freedom, how to realize both at the same time. It takes a set of particularly beneficial conditions to make a music happen that is as densely concentrated, dynamic, multi-layered and emotionally powerful as on Tim Berne's Fractured Fairy Tales. Music that is full of surprises, yet seems logical in its own particular way.
For his first JMT album as a solo leader, Tim Berne has assembled long-time collaborators exclusively: his alter ego on trumpet, Herb Robertson; drummer Joey Baron, who continues his experiment with electronics begun as partner in the cooperative trio Miniature (with Tim Berne and Hank Roberts; see Miniature, JMT 919 022-2); innovative cellist and vocalist Hank Roberts; bassist Mark Dresser. All of them are members of Tim Berne's regular quintet that had the opportunity to work intensively on the new repertoire during an extended European tour in the spring of 1989. Following this tour, Tim Berne's Fractured Fairy Tales was recorded.
Also featured on Tim Berne's Fractured Fairy Tales is violinist Mark Feldman. Feldman has been working with Tim Berne for a while now, and this first outing together documented on record. Feldman has also been performing in a trio with fellow-bandmembers on strings Dresser and Roberts, as can be heard on Arcado (JMT 919 028-2).
Such an unorthodox combination of instruments corresponds directly with Tim Berne's compositional principles, and it opens up unthought-of possibilities of arrangement and sound. Instruments and groups of instruments may converge, collide, move apart, emerge as dominant voice, are submerged in the collective action.
Only a team as deeply familiar with each other as Tim Berne, Joey Baron, Mark Dresser, Mark Feldman, Hank Roberts, and Herb Robertson, is able to realize Berne's demanding compositions convincingly. "I'm sitting up a context for the soloist that will ensure a certain mood, but at the same time be free enough in that context to be themselves. It takes a lot of playing so people can get comfortable."
Tim Berne's Fractured Fairy Tales unmistakably bears Tim Berne's compositional signature, and at the same time there is room for the specific talents and temperaments of each band member. Tim Berne: "The more I can control the moods of what I write, the closer I get to my vision of having the improvisational thing happening at the same time. I'm interested in the people I play and their individuality, but I don't want them to be the ones that shape my music completely, because it's my responsibility as a leader to come up with this vision. So it's not a question of playing a good solo - it's a question of playing a good solo and what the piece is supposed to be about. I want to challenge them to exceed what they've already been able to do."
And on Tim Berne's Fractured Fairy Tales, he succeeds.
-Original Press Text written in 1989