Typically, the band known as Sun of Goldfinger exists purely in the moment. Consisting of saxophonist Tim Berne, guitarist David Torn and drummer Ches Smith, the trio finds these world-class improvisers roaming freely among musical zones ranging from hard-hitting avant-rock to delicate ambient jazz.
While there’s plenty of room for spontaneity on the band’s upcoming debut album, Sun of Goldfinger, out March 1st on ECM, one track, “Spartan, Before It Hit,” takes a more meticulous approach, yielding magical results. Here you can hear the first section of the 22-minute piece.
Torn — a veteran musician, producer and soundscapist who contributed what Tony Visconti described to Rolling Stone as “aural landscapes” to several David Bowie albums — composed the piece with Berne in mind. The Sun of Goldfinger version adds seven additional musicians to the album’s core trio: Craig Taborn, who has worked with all three members of the band in a variety of settings, on piano and electronics; Mike Baggetta and Ryan Ferreira on guitars; and the Scorchio Quartet: violist Martha Mooke, violinists Amy Kimball and Rachel Golub, and cellist Leah Coloff.
“Spartan, Before It Hit” begins with hovering strings, setting up and backing a plaintive melody from Berne’s also saxophone, soon joined soon by Taborn’s piano. Around the 4:40 mark, what at first sounded like an elegant chamber composition goes full-on surreal, with the entrance of a busy electronic beat and Torn’s pealing guitar. By around seven minutes in, the piece has evolved into a hectic jam, led by Smith’s driving percussion — on the Haitian tanbou, a key instrument in the drummer’s own We All Break band — and Berne’s harsh cries. Before the excerpt fades, the music rises to an explosive peak and dissipates, giving way to the track’s improv-driven remainder.
The members of Sun of Goldfinger share a deep musical history. For more than 20 years, Torn has worked behind the scenes on various Berne projects, adding sonic manipulation to albums like 2001’s excellent Science Friction. Smith, meanwhile, drums in the saxophonist’s current working band, Snakeoil, which showcases Berne’s ingenious, prog-like compositions and also records for ECM. And Torn’s own prior efforts for the label, which date back to the mid-Eighties, include 2007’s Prezens, a quartet album with Berne and Taborn.
Asked to comment on his Sun of Goldfinger collaborators’ strengths in an e-mail exchange with Rolling Stone, Torn is effusive. “OMG, I’m so fortunate to be in this group with a) a warm, driven, real genius hero, and b) a freak of gorgeously & musically polymathic proportions,” he writes of Berne and Smith, respectively. “These dudes emit & reveal freaking multitudes. I shit you not.”
Sun of Goldfinger will be on the road in March and April in support of the release. The dates include a stop at Knoxville’s Big Ears festival on March 24th.
Sun of Goldfinger Tour Dates
March 12th – San Francisco, CA @ Freight and Salvage
March 13th – Los Angeles, CA @ Zebulon
March 14th – Portland, OR @ Holocene
March 15th – Seattle, WA @ Royal Room
March 17th – Denver, CO @ Dazzle
March 18th – Minneapolis, MN Icehouse
March 19th – Madison, WI @ Arts and Literature Laboratory
March 20th – Pittsburgh, PA @ Spirit
March 21st – NY, NY @ Nublu
March 24th – Knoxville, TN @ Big Ears Festival
April 18th – Boston, MA @ Regatta Bar
April 19th – Portland, ME @ Space Gallery
April 20th – Newburgh, NY @ Atlas