Ben Perowsky, Tim Berne, Hank Roberts, David Torn at The Stone 3/16/18 (by Noah Berman)

PERSONNEL: Ben Perowsky (drums, percussion, electronics), Tim Berne (alto saxophone), Hank Roberts (cello), David Torn (guitar, electronics)

SET LIST: Improvisations 1 and 2 (Perowsky/Berne/Roberts/Torn)

HIGHLIGHTS: Each improvisation had mysterious origins. After initial introductions, the sidemen seemed to be warming up while Perowsky double checked his recording device, but he enthusiastically egged them on to make these sounds the de facto beginning of the set. Later on, as the audience applauded their first epic improvisation, Torn launched into a series of massive ascending arpeggios, creating a real-time crossfade between the applause and the second improvisation.

For the fourth night of his residency at The Stone, Ben Perowsky assembled a new quartet featuring three veteran improvisers. Their two improvisations were contrasting in length (approximately 50 minutes and 10 minutes) but shared a “let’s see what happens” approach. While there were solo moments sprinkled throughout, this set was primarily about the collective sound of the ensemble, with no explicit stylistic agenda.

Each musician brought a personal set of sounds and approaches to the band. Peroswky’s drumming was extremely dynamic, often using shifts in volume to lead the band down particular paths. Whether drawing on a deep well of pulse-based grooves or using a more abstract approach, his playing exhibited a great deal of flexibility and diversity. The combination of tasty, session-style drumming with electro-acoustic soundscapes was the most unique and defining characteristic of the set. Perowsky also augmented his drum set with a collection of bells and electronics that further increased the scope of his contributions.

David Torn brought a digital aesthetic, using cosmic reverbs, loops, and glitchy effects to continuously transform his organic and expressive guitar playing, where distortion and microtonal pitch variations link blues slide guitar and Indian music. Hank Roberts could supply contrast by emphasizing his cello’s acoustic sound, or combine extended techniques with distortion and echo effects to access a whole other set of sounds. Tim Berne operated in many spheres, whether playing soloistic lines over an evolving textural backdrop, duetting with Torn or Roberts, providing a drone, or laying out entirely. Torn, Roberts and Berne all paired off at various points for “duets,” soloing together,  shifting timbral emphasis, confusing the listener as to what sound was coming from what instrument.

— by Noah Berman