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Tune in to "Static," the latest track from 'Palm Sweat: Marc Ducret Plays the Music of Tim Berne'

L. Poiget

There’s a great, roiling cauldron of music supporting the creative synergy between Marc Ducret and Tim Berne. Collaborators for more than 30 years, Ducret, a maniacally ingenious French guitarist, and Berne, the visionary alto saxophonist and composer, now have an impressive new token of their artistic affinity: Palm Sweat: Marc Ducret Plays the Music of Tim Berne, due out on Out of Your Head Records on March 10.

“I’ve known Marc since 1988,” Berne tells WRTI, “and can honestly say he’s one of the most sincere and important musicians alive right now, both as an instrumentalist and composer. He epitomizes honesty in his music and never plays down to the audience.”

Saxophonist and composer Tim Berne
Saxophonist and composer Tim Berne

The public record bears this out, especially if you’ve logged time on the New York scene for a while. Perhaps you remember Caos Totale and Big Satan, bands that Berne formed in the 1990s, partly as a platform for Ducret’s heat-warped guitar heroics. Or maybe you know Science Friction, which took shape soon after the turn of the century.

Around that time, Berne made an album called The Sevens, featuring chamber compositions for Ducret on acoustic guitar, David Torn on electric guitar, loops and effects, and the all-saxophone ARTE Quartett. I wrote the liner notes, opening with a riff on the subject of balance. “Equilibrium, for Berne, embodies not a state of being but rather a set of actions,” I argued, “designed to foil stasis and foster static.”

Which brings us to the latest single off Palm Sweat: an expansive, unpredictable piece that happens to bear the title “Static.” WRTI is proud to feature this track, which kicks off with Fabrice Martinez on trumpet, before Ducret’s entrance on acoustic guitar.

The igniting spark for Palm Sweat was a sheaf of unrecorded material that Berne pressed on Ducret three years ago, just before the initial pandemic lockdown. Some of it was fragments they’d played together, but much of the music struck Ducret as new. With plenty of time on his hands, he set about orchestrating and reimagining the pieces — not just for his own instrument but also, as on “Static,” for a handful of players including his son Bruno, a cellist. He recorded the bulk of the album at home in 2021, with sound engineer Pierre-Henri Thiébaut.

“I chose to ‘unfold’ Tim’s compositions in my own way,” Ducret explains in a statement, “at times stretching a melodic line into a series of pitches and dynamics, often using canons, inversions and retrograde melodies to enrich the given structure or create new ones, and sometimes adding chords to a melody or extracting a rhythmic cell to use it as a starting point for other developments.”

The episodic nature of “Static” reflects this approach, while calling back to certain touchstones — like the polyphonic mojo of Julius Hemphill’s “Dogon a.d.,” a sacred text for Berne, meaningfully evoked in a contrapuntal tussle of cello and guitar. Later (Ducret himself is responsible for the percussive rattle of chains on the track.)

Berne has recently attracted some brilliant solo interpreters of his music, like pianists Matt Mitchell and guitarist Gregg Belisle-Chi. Palm Sweat represents something more like a radical reimagining, which speaks to the duration of the relationship he’s forged with Ducret. “He’s certainly made my music glow every time we’ve worked together,” Berne says, “and his arrangements on Palm Sweat are brilliant. The only bad thing I can say about Marc is that he doesn’t live in New York!”

Palm Sweat: Marc Ducret Plays the Music of Tim Berne will be released on Out of Your Head Records on March 10; preorder here.

Tim Berne performs at Solar Myth on March 10 (with Sun of Goldfinger) and March 11 (with Bat Channel); buy tickets here.

Nate Chinen has been writing about music for more than 25 years. He spent a dozen of them working as a critic for The New York Times, and helmed a long-running column for JazzTimes. As Editorial Director at WRTI, he oversees a range of classical and jazz coverage, and contributes regularly to NPR.