Jazz saxophonist Tim Berne hasn’t played in Santa Barbara since the 1980s, when he played a few concerts with musicians like trumpeter Herb Robertson, drummer Alex Cline, and current Wilco guitarist Nels Cline. However, that thirty-plus year absence will end on February 11, when he and pianist Matt Mitchell take the Stage of SOhO Restaurant & Music Club. The Tim Berne/Matt Mitchell Duo has been a unit since 2008, when the two musicians shared the stage for the first time during a staff concert at the School for Improvisational Music in New York, where they both taught. They both enjoyed each other’s playing, hit it off musically, and have spent the years since playing jazz that has often been described as “avant-garde,” not least of all on the website of the venue they’ll be playing.
When asked if he thinks the “avant-garde” descriptor is a fair one, the saxophonist found it difficult to say because the term carries different meanings for different people. However, he did acknowledge that the music he and Mr. Mitchell play is out of the ordinary.
He said of the “avant-garde” label, “It probably wouldn’t be my first choice, but I’m definitely not mainstream.”
Mr. Berne started playing the saxophone around the ages of 19 or 20, relatively late for someone who ended up a professional musician. As he recalled, during his college years he liked music, frequently went to concerts, and when someone at his school was selling a saxophone for $100, jumped at the chance to purchase it. During his formative musical years, he was influenced by jazz musicians such as Oliver Lake, Roscoe Mitchell, and other “musicians who wrote their own music and had their own unique style.” This lead Mr. Berne to commit to being himself, which produced the offbeat musical style he’s now known for.
“Apparently I’m a bit weirder than most,” he said.
The goal when Mr. Berne and Mr. Mitchell play is to create a dramatic mood that is surprising and unpredictable. Because their ensemble consists of just two instrumentalists, their musical communication onstage is very direct and they can both play stand-out passages without making the piece sound overbearing or chaotic.
“We can play at the same time without it getting too cluttered because it’s only two of us,” he said.
As it has been well over three decades since he played in Santa Barbara, the February 11 concert is something of unknown territory, which Mr. Berne always enjoys traversing. Though he’s unfamiliar with the Santa Barbara audience and how it will respond to his and Mr. Mitchell’s brand of avant-garde jazz, he hopes anyone unitiatied with what they do goes in with an open mind.
“I hope they go in there without any preconceived ideas and I hope we make an impression,” he said. Tickets for Tim Berne and Matt Mitchell’s February 11 concert at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club cost $25 and can be purchased online at www.sohosb.com. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. and doors to the venue open at 6 p.m. SOhO Restaurant & Music Club is located at 1221 State St.