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Hard Cell's soft sell: Try it, you might like it.

Byline: Carolyn Lamberson The Register-Guard

If your idea of a jazz saxophonist is Kenny G, Tim Berne and his trio, Hard Cell, just might blow your mind.

Berne, who plays alto and baritone sax, doesn't like the term "free jazz" - "when I hear that, it kind of scares me off.' Instead, he composes music that is meant for improvisation, music that is challenging, music that he admits is not in the mainstream.

`It's not for everybody,' he said. `But I have to say that - and we do a lot of concerts - based on the reaction, for people who are open-minded enough, it seems to work.

`We've had really good audiences, and a lot of young people, which is kind of nice.'

Berne and Hard Cell will demonstrate their improvisational skills tonight in Eugene when they perform at the Shedd as part of the Oregon Festival of American Music's Now Hear This series.

It's Berne's first show in Oregon in years, but certainly not his first trip to the state. The Syracuse, N.Y., native attended Lewis & Clark College in Portland in the early '70s.

So what brought him clear across the country for school?

`I didn't really want to go to college, but I figured if I did I would go really far away and possibly learn something new and see a new place,' Berne said.

Turned out to be a good move, too. While nursing a sore ankle in the dormitory, Berne met a saxophonist who was selling his alto.

On a whim, Berne bought it.

A few years later, he moved to New York City to study with jazz sax great Julius Hemphill. By 1979, Berne had founded his own record label, Empire, and had released his first album, "The Five Year Plan."

In his career, Berne has recorded with many noted jazz musicians, including Bill Frisell, Paul Motian, Nels Cline, Alex Cline and John Carter.

In the mid-'90s, he formed a quartet - called Bloodcount - with bassist Michael Formaneck, drummer Jim Black and tenor saxophonist and clarinetist Chris Speed.

Bloodcount put out five albums before Berne moved on to other projects.

Hard Cell has been around for a few years. Berne and drummer Tom Rainey have played together on and off for 20 years. Keyboardist Craig Taborn and Berne first met in 2000, and they've played together quite a bit since, Berne said.

The trio's first CD was 2001's "The Shell Game." The group's most recent album, "Acoustic and Electric Hard Cell Live," was released in 2004 on Berne's Screwgun label.

One thing Berne hopes is that audiences are able to put away any preconceived notions they may have about modern, improvisational or free jazz.

`I get a lot of reviews and they always end up saying `not for the faint of heart' or something that kind of plants a seed in someone's mind,' Berne said.

"I've noticed when we play in places where no one really knows us, they don't know the record, they're just coming because it's a cultural event, it doesn't strike them that way until someone tells them what it is.'

When he's composing pieces for his improvisational group, Berne said the written part of the piece is a starting point.

`My job is kind of to surround the band with as many interesting ideas as I can with the writing and then kind of give everybody a lot of rope to make stuff up,' he said. `I really like to have an extreme amount of complexity and chaos going on at the same time.

`When you have a band that plays a lot, it can be interesting. It can sound very loose and very complicated at the same time.'


Tim Berne's Hard Cell

When: 7:30 p.m. today

Where: The Shedd, 285 E. Broadway

Tickets: $18 through the OFAM box office, 687-6526 or (800) 248-1615


Tim Berne's Hard Cell: keyboardist Craig Taborn (left), drummer Tom Rainey and Berne.
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Title Annotation:Entertainment
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 11, 2005
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