Saxophonist Tim Berne's first exposure to jazz came in the early '70s with Julius Hemphill's classic Dogon A.D. The "wildness" of the music impelled him to drop out of school and venture to New York City, where he wound up studying with Hemphill for nearly four years. He says, "Julius didn't offer me one system, but a lot of possibilities, with the emphasis always on ideas and sound." The saxophonist absorbed the wide-open concepts of the "avant-garde" from an insider's vantage. Berne developed a distinctive sound early on, which earned him heavyweight status in Manhattan's competitive downtown music scene. On Memory Select, Berne's third release from the exceptional "Paris Concert" recordings of 1994 with his quintet Bloodcount, the saxophonist moves from lyrical introspection to earsplitting brazenness with surprising fluidity. The extended forms of his compositions address arrangement over hook. Melodic exchanges with reed player Chris Speed are particularly exciting. When Berne comes to town this weekend (to rehearse a composition for the Kronos Quartet), we can expect similar thrills when he performs live with Rova saxophonist Jon Raskin, bassist Michael Formanek, and drummer Elliot Kavee.
The Berne/Raskin Quartet plays Saturday, Oct. 26, at 7:30 p.m. at Radio Valencia Cafe, 1199 Valencia (826-1199), and Sunday, Oct. 27, at 8 p.m. at Beanbender's, 2295 Shattuck, in Berkeley (510/642-3163). Both shows are $5.