As Sun of Goldfinger Emerges, Genre Disappears

Photo: Caterina DiPerri

Like his earlier Prezens project, jazz guitarist David Torn's latest band Sun of Goldfinger thrives on surprise and texture instead of form or tradition.

Sun of Goldfinger
David Torn / Tim Berne / Ches Smith


1 March 2019

Guitarist David Torn, saxophonist Tim Berne, and drummer Ches Smith have been mainstays of the ECM label for various lengths of time. Torn and Berne have worked together plenty, and Berne has worked with Smith, but Sun of Goldfinger, the name of the band as well as the album, brings all three together after approximately nine years of gigging. Think of the tape-splicing techniques from Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis, tighten up the ensemble, and give it some extra noise and digital fidgeting.

This massive, sprawling jazz/post-rock/avant-garde hybrid album only occasionally sounds like the work of a trio. Part of that comes from Torn and Smith using electronics and looping capabilities alongside their live performances. Sun of Goldfinger is also bolstered by the presence of keyboardist Craig Taborn, guitarists Mike Baggetta and Ryan Ferreira, and the Scorchio String Quartet, featuring Martha Mook on viola, Amy Kimball on violin, Rachel Golub on violin, and Leah Coloff on cello. All of this extra help rounds out the sound of "Spartan, Before It Hit" in the lushest, densest way possible.

Sandwiched between the opener "Eye Meddle" and the closer "Soften the Blow" (all three tracks exceed 22 minutes in length), "Spartan" goes furthest out on any of the limbs. This Torn original begins life as a modern classical piece but soon takes a strange detour to guitar and saxophone noise buoyed by a tribal beat. Somewhere in the middle of this behemoth, Sun of Goldfinger sound like they are lost in a dark cave with only their burbling sounds to guide them toward one another. "Spartan, Before It Hit" then evens out into pastoral dissonance.

"Eye Meddle" and "Soften the Blow" are both jams, extended pieces that were written on the fly. "Eye Meddle" lays all the weird cards on the table, getting them out of the way early. "Soften the Blow", true to its name, dials things down as the disc comes to a close. Though each piece manages to achieve different moods, both rely on repetitive figures to build up the sound -- perhaps too much so. When one considers the dexterity required of playing a two-handed instrument while taking the time and mental energy to tweak effects pedals and the like as the piece is progressing, these vamps are cast in a more forgivable light. Still, I can't shake the feeling that it's probably more satisfying to participate in the recording a track such as "Eye Meddle" than to listen to it.

But all three members of Sun of Goldfinger, as well as the entire ECM roster, qualify as working musicians. Their play is their work, and their work is their life. Sun of Goldfinger is a giant leap forward in artistic integrity and will supply you with plenty of crazy and/or pretty sounds along the way.


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