THE AVANT-GARDE jazz scene in New York has produced more than its share of interesting recordings, and the new releases by bassist Mark Helias and saxophonist Tim Berne rank among the best.
On his second outing as a leader, Helias has put together a terrific band for "The Current Set" -- a young and spirited ensemble that includes Berne, saxophonist Greg Osby, drummer Victor Lewis and trumpeter Herb Robertson.
What really sets the record apart, though, are the tunes. Beginning with the album's title track, it's obvious that Helias has a real knack for making a small band -- in this instance a sextet -- sound like a big one.
Nothing else on the album is quite as exhilarating as this performance; it features Osby's soprano saxophone swinging joyfully over a polyphonic blend of horns and Lewis' crisp, insistent rhythms. But the remaining tunes nevertheless offer other pleasures. Among the highlights are "No Passport," a brooding showcase for Helias' reverberating tone and Robertson's muted trumpet, and "Rebound," a vigorous workout for Berne.
Like Helias, Berne often extends blues and bop themes and writes in a manner that strongly suggests the influence of Ornette Coleman. Yet for all the energy and seeming chaos packed into tunes like "Unknown Disaster" on Berne's album "Fulton Street Maul," his compositions are coherent and thought-out.
They also evoke a variety of moods. Some tunes like "Icicles Revisited," in fact, are more mood than motion and don't invite repeated listenings. But the balance of the music is rich and multifaceted. The tunes all benefit from Berne's sharp, abrasive alto and the inspired, often volatile interplay of guitarist Bill Frisell cellist Hank Roberts and percussionist Alex Cline. MARK HELIAS --
"The Current Set" (ENJA 5041).
TIM BERNE --
"Fulton Street Maul" (Columbia FCJ 40530).
Both appearing Saturday at d.c. space.