In this 2019 live set from The Sultan Room in Brooklyn, alto saxophonist Tim Berne and drummer Nasheet Waits connect a 49-minute Möbius strip of improvisational wonder. Composed of two free outpours, “Tensile” and “5see,” the performance is a barrage of ideas, which, despite their thickness of description, leave plenty of room for our imagination as listeners to run wild in tandem. With an immense freedom of spirit and catharsis of expression, the duo breaks down one wall after another until all expectations end up in a free box at the side of our mental road. Without a map, we are left to roam the subtler implications of their interactive cause. The ending of each statement becomes the beginning of another, leaving us with a string of words barred access to orthography. The ebb and flow between clarity and obscurity is as cohesive as the connection between bodily organs.
Berne plays with intense lucidity of communication. He tells stories not for the sake of a reaction but in the interest of filling in blanks the rest of us may be afraid to touch in the Mad Libs of life. His incisiveness fires arrows of indisputable meaning into the air. Waits likewise pulls out the rug from under us not out of a desire to break our equilibrium but to reveal an even more stable surface beneath it. Like Peter Pan, he cuts away his shadow in search of a land without rules, only to realize that connections of a higher order can never be broken. Such is the depth of their rapport as each defers to the other until the geyser of creativity grows too hot to contain. And so while we might end up with more questions than answers, we are all the better for having asked them.
(This review originally appeared in the May 2020 issue of The New York City Jazz Record, a full PDF of which is available here.)