David Torn is known as a guitarist, but he's spent much of his career behind the scenes, as a prolific movie composer and producer. In one or another capacity, he has worked with the likes of David Bowie, John Legend and Tori Amos. But he has returned to performing with
, his first album for the prestigious ECM label in 20 years.
An unassuming, gray-haired figure, Torn took the stage at the Clef Club on Saturday night, accompanied by a trio known to devotees of avant-garde jazz as Hard Cell: Tim Berne on alto and baritone saxes, Craig Taborn on keyboards, and Tom Rainey on drums. (Torn produces Hard Cell's recordings.)
Double bassist Michael Formanek, who does not appear on Prezens, joined as a special guest. He opened the show with the world premiere of "The Offbeat Manifesto," a compelling 30-minute duo piece for acoustic bass and baritone sax. The Ars Nova Workshop produced the event.
Torn recorded his previous ECM title, the art-rockish Cloud About Mercury, in 1986, the twilight of the LP era. What he does with today's technology is vastly different. His music - an ocean of abstract sound involving distorted lead guitar, live sampling, "bent circuits," and surging rhythms - has grown stranger and more powerful.
In making Prezens, Torn manipulated the band's performances in post-production, and came up with a document not meant to be copied live. The Clef Club set list, therefore, consisted of two long spontaneous compositions and an encore.
Formanek's bass added an earthy acoustic element, bringing the music closer to free jazz. Torn put his searing guitar through two amplifiers and a profusion of effects, but he played exquisite watercolor chords under Berne's alto to start the second piece.
Taborn's Fender Rhodes was at once machinelike and full of warmth, otherworldly. Rainey, commanding yet subtle, drove home the encore with an entrancing, off-center pulse on the tom-toms.