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Music for the head, but not the heart; Tim Berne & Big Satan Custard Factory, Digbeth.

Throughout the 90s, Brooklyn resident Berne visited Birmingham several times, always with a different band. The saxophonist's latest combo features a new configuration of already-familiar players, the Parisian Marc Ducret (guitar) and fellow New Yorker Tom Rainey (drums).

Big Satan's music appears to rely on a greater amount of composition, but you never can tell, so ingrained is the trio's rapport. Making the big mistake of accepting an initially flat atmosphere rather than attempting to change it, Berne and crew acquitted themselves well on a technical level, but their playing was stuck on a somewhat cerebral channel throughout the first half.

It's an aloof stance that also infected the second set, although realising that this was effectively the climax of their three-date visit, Satan eventually began to drive harder. Berne engaged in repeatedly supple solos, several numbers hanging around repeated belches on the baritone horn, feats of big-lunged stamina, laying riff-beds for Ducret's low-volume distortion manipulation.

Most of the excitement was happening behind the drumkit, Rainey applying his usual skin sensitivity, striking loud then soft, a controlled violence cutting off decayed cymbal hiss, chopping up the attack of each snare tattoo and jack-knifing rhythms mid-stream.

They did nothing "wrong", but Berne and Ducret were often sucked up a duct of over-technical inner ponderment, needing very much more interaction with their audience. By Berne's high standards, this wasn't the best of gigs. No encore was demanded and none given.

Martin Longley
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Author:Longley, Martin
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 28, 2000
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