Enten Eller & Tim Berne

February 21, 2001

Auto da fé
Splasc(H) Records CDH 819.2

Grafting the talents of a visiting soloist onto the interplay a long-established group has established for itself can often be a recipe for disaster. The newcomer wants to plays the way he has in the past; while the band doesn’t particularly want to alter its style to make allowances for another person.

Auto da fé avoids this situation however. It seems that Enten Eller — the Italian group founded by percussionist Massimo Barbiero in 1984 — and the visitor — American alto saxophonist Tim Berne — were already investigating similar areas before they met. Not only has Berne toured and recorded with this band before, but the instrumentation even resembles that of some of his more own groups.

The saxophonist functions here as an equal partner: one-fifth of the quintet, contributing solos where needed, but more importantly helping to build on the architecture of each composition. Barbiero’s morose “Pulizie di Natale” for instance, is shaped by long, echoing reed tones and short trumpet bursts. Fattened with a cello-like tone from the bass and Brunod’s fret board explorations, the composition finally dissolves into variegated drum patterns, hopefully suggesting calm rather than a still birth.

The loopy “Torquemada”, on the other hand, written by Mandarini, relies on an extended bass ostinato, resembling offbeat soul jazz. True to form, the trumpeter, who gets most of the solo space, uses it to display his muted tone — midway between banda and bop. His brassier outbursts — which also get a workout in his membership in the Italian Instabile Orchestra — come into focus on other tunes such as “Rosencrantz e Guildenstern”.

Maier is a self-effacing tower of strength throughout, while Barbiero resists the temptation to showboat on every number, limiting himself to section work. To make up for that restraint on other tunes, “Amras” is solo traps workout, while “Ri.Co.” highlights his vibes and gamelan skills on an out of character trio — guitar-bass-percussion — outing that slips perilously close to New Age sheen.

Brunod’s acoustic playing here conforms to that slack impression and over the course of the session, it often seems as if he’s not sure which guitar persona to adapt. While his string stretching workout on “7/13” is definitely in character with the pile driver rhythm section work and this-side-of-free, reverberating saxophone and brass countermelody, he doesn’t fare as well elsewhere. His chording on “Vilene per top” seems to fall into Bill Frisell territory, while his tango “Traveling Day”, recalls one of those lightweight, Chick Corea “Spanish” pieces, drifts towards soft rock and is out of sync with the rest of the disc.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Konos 2. Torquemada 3. Amras 4. Pulizie di Natale 5. Traveling Day 6. Veleno per topi 7. Rosencrantz e Guildenstern 8. 7/13 9. Ri.Co.

Personnel: Alberto Mandarini (trumpet, flugelhorn); Tim Berne (alto saxophone); Maurizio Brunod (guitars); Giovanni Maier (bass); Massimo Barbiero (drum, vibes, percussion, gamelan)