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Two key Berne compositions - "The Proposal" and "Open Coma" - recorded in 1997 with an incredible band including Bakida Carroll, Marc Ducret, Erik Friedlander, Jim Black, Chris Speed, &c.

Berne, Tim

Berne, Tim: Insomnia (Clean Feed)
Label: Clean Feed    
Released in: Portugal    

"Insomnia might seem like a liability for someone who needs to be creative and sharp, but not always. Sleeplessness can give the eye another perspective - as if seeing through a kind of kaleidoscope: The things on the other end are the same, but they look different, other.

Tim Berne didn't sleep the night before he and a choice international octet recorded Insomnia live in the studio, summer 1997. "I wouldn't suggest not sleeping before a session or a gig," Berne says, "but in this case, it did make everything look sharper. It was a different kind of focus." And this document is different, strikingly so.

Released for the first time, Insomnia comprises two key Berne compositions - "the proposal" and "oPEN, cOMA," each a half-hour long or more - refracted through an expansive, even orchestral sensibility. Eight musicians can sound like 20 in these beautifully textured arrangements, with chamber-music intimacy the order, rather than any typical big-band jazziness.

The core of the band is Berne's '90s quartet Bloodcount: Berne on alto and baritone saxophones, double-bassist Michael Formanek, drummer Jim Black and reed man Chris Speed on clarinet. The rest of the rich ensemble is made up of veteran trumpeter Baikida Carroll and a complement of strings: violinist Dominique Pifarély, cellist Erik Friedlander and guitarist Marc Ducret on 12-string acoustic.

"It's just large enough to sound big, but it's not too big to keep from being intimate," Berne says. "The big band thing, per se, doesn't really interest me. I'm not into some people improvising and the rest just playing backgrounds. Here, all the improvising actually makes the written notes sound more alive but also more lucid." Composition and improvisation are threads woven together like a fantastic, multi-hued yarn on Insomnia. There are shades both bold and subtle; passages that are knife-edged, others that are limpid. There are extreme rhythmic intricacies, as well as disarming legato melodies and textures that feel wholly new. Moreover, instrumental episodes lead from one to another like chapters in a stream-of-consciousness narrative.

"The big thing to me are the transitions - if they don't work, the whole thing falls apart," Berne says. "With the arrangements, it's about balance, matching an instrument with very little sustain, like acoustic guitar, with one that has a beautifully sustained sound, like the cello. And the doubling allowed people to play lighter, with more subtlety, that intimacy I was looking for."

Even the album artwork -done by Steven Byram, who has created so many latter-day Berne covers - feeds into the kaleidoscopic impressions of Insomnia. "Byram's work is beautiful in that organic way; it just adds to the vibe. You get stimulated even before you open the thing."-Clean Feed

"Chris Speed is a composer, clarinetist and saxophonist - and is "one of the principal figures in a dynamic left-of-center jazz/improv scene in the city" (NYTimes). His own bands include Endangered Blood, Human Feel, yeah NO, Trio Iffy, Pachora and The Clarinets. He is a founding member of Jim Black's Alas No Axis and John Hollenbeck's Claudia Quintet (two of the most influential working bands today), works with Uri Caine (deconstructing works by Mahler, Mozart, Bach, Schoenberg, Gershwin) and maintains a busy career of touring, recording, performing, composing, practicing and teaching. Current projects include work with Craig Taborn's Heroic Frenzies, Michael Formanek's Ensemble Kolossus, Dave King's Trucking Co., Matt Mitchell Quartet, Mary Halvorson's Reverse Blue, Banda de los Muertos (NYC's only Banda band), as well as touring his latest project, Endangered Blood (with Black, Trevor Dunn and Oscar Noriega) which was featured on NPR's Tiny Desk Concerts in 2012. (Endangered Blood 2010, Work Your Magic 2013 Skirl). "Speed's Endangered Blood originals stand out as his most melodically generous, accessible and warm batch of compositions he's yet to produce." -DownBeat ****Born in 1967, Speed grew up in the Seattle area where he met future colleagues Jim Black and Andrew D'Angelo, all of whom ended up in Boston in the late 80's where they formed Human Feel with guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel. (Scatter 1992, Welcome to Malpesta 1994, Speak To It 1996, Galore 2007). While in Boston he studied at New England Conservatory and graduated in 1990. By 1992, after a short tour with the Artie Shaw Band (led by Dick Johnson), Speed moved to New York City where he started working with Tim Berne's (now legendary touring band) Bloodcount. (Unwound 1996, Discretion 1997, Saturation Point 1997, The Seconds 2006).In April 2006, he launched Skirl Records, a label dedicated to Brooklyn based creative music" -Chris Speed Website (

Jim Black is at the forefront of a new generation of musicians bringing jazz into the 21st century. In addition to being one of the most influential drummers of our time, he is also the leader of one of the world's most forward-thinking bands, AlasNoAxis, featuring his longtime collaborators Chris Speed, Hilmar Jensson and Skúli Sverrisson. Based on the foundation of his virtuosic but highly personal approach to jazz drumming, Black's aesthetic has expanded to include Balkan rhythms, rock songcraft and laptop soundscapes. Though he is revered worldwide for his limitless technique and futuristic concepts, what many listeners treasure in most Jim Black's work is the relentless feeling of joy and invention he brings to his performances. Jim Black's smiling, kinetic, unpredictable presence has enthralled and inspired audiences worldwide for over twenty-five years.

Since the mid-90's, Black has played a major role in the incorporation of new sounds and techniques into the jazz/creative music context. As a member of the collective group Pachora (with Speed, Sverrisson, and guitarist Brad Shepik) Black was one of the leaders in the study and adaptation of Balkan music into jazz-based music. His advanced techniques abstracted the odd time signatures of the Balkans into a new polyrhythmic language equally informed by modern jazz, drum&bass and the dumbeks of the Balkans. Black has also been an innovator in the use of electronics in improvisation, bridging the gap between electro-acoustic improv and more jazz-based traditions. Today, Black's performances are just as likely to feature his laptop-based electronic textures as his drumming.

Born in 1967, Jim Black grew up in Seattle alongside future colleagues Chris Speed, Andrew D'Angelo and Cuong Vu. After cementing their personal and artistic relationships in Seattle's various youth jazz ensembles, in 1985 they moved to Boston, where Black entered the Berklee School of Music. In Boston, Black, Speed and D'Angelo formed Human Feel with guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, which rapidly attracted the attention of the jazz cognoscenti in Boston, New York and beyond.

By 1991, Black and the other members of Human Feel had moved to New York City, where they electrified the Downtown music scene then centered around the Knitting Factory and rapidly became among the city's busiest sidemen. Black's early years in New York saw him take featured roles in some of the most critically acclaimed bands of the time, like Tim Berne's Bloodcount, Ellery Eskelin's trio, and Dave Douglas's Tiny Bell Trio. Thus began fifteen years of near-constant touring and recording, with the above bands as well as artists like Uri Caine, Dave Liebman, Nels Cline, Steve Coleman, Tomasz Stanko, and Laurie Anderson.

-Jim Black Website (

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Product Information:

UPC: 5609063002157

Label: Clean Feed
Catalog ID: CF 215
Squidco Product Code: 13961

Format: CD
Condition: New
Released: 2011
Country: Portugal
Recorded in Fluz, New York City, June 1997 by Les Reverb.


Baikida Carroll-trumpet

Michael Fermanek-contrabass

Marc Ducret-12 string guitar

Dominique Pifarely-violin
Erik Friedlander-cello

Chris Speed-clarinet

Jim Black-drums,

Tim Berne-alto and baritone saxophones

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Track Listing:

1. The Proposal 35:58

2. Open Coma 29:56