David Torn soars through 'only sky' at Regattabar
May 12, 2015
Scanning social media recently, Torn came across a journalist who was crowd-sourcing questions to ask him in an upcoming interview. A common reply: Ask what he’s been doing since “Cloud About Mercury.” That’s Torn’s most famous album, sure, but it came out in 1987.
I'm reasonably certain that I heard David Torn on the two Everyman Band LPs that ECM released before Cloud About Mercury arrived in 1987, but what an impact that record made on me. How could it not? Mark Isham played stellar trumpet, and the rhythm section was the then-current King Crimson tandem of Tony Levin on Chapman stick and bass, and Bill Bruford on electronic and acoustic percussion. Over it all, Torn's guitar dipped and soared, gliding like some proud bird of prey. The album holds up for me even now, and led to further adventures by three-quarters of the band - joined by Chris Botti on trumpet - as Bruford Levin Upper Extremities (B.L.U.E.).
Torn's done quite a lot since. But instead of continuing to build, his renown took something of a dip. Maybe part of it was that he signed to Windham Hill when that label, formerly the iconic stronghold of acoustic New Age, was exploring other routes; surely part of it was a health crisis that kept Torn out of the spotlight for a time. But as he indicated in this interview, he kept extremely busy with sideman and soundtrack work; you've quite likely heard him on film, on television, in video games, on singles by John Legend, and on albums by David Bowie.
In 2007, Torn came back to ECM with Prezens, a disc that found him working with saxophonist Tim Berne, keyboardist Craig Taborn, and drummer Tom Rainey - collectively, the trio Hard Cell, whose most recent recordings for other labels Torn had produced.
Now Torn has a new CD out: only sky, a completely improvised solo album that showcases his knack for fashioning moody atmospheres with guitar, oud, loops, and pedals. It's a quiet stunner, and to celebrate its arrival, he's touring solo for the first time in around 20 (!) years. On Wednesday night (May 13), he'll be playing sounds consistent with the album - but not identical, mind - at Regattabar in Cambridge.
Two videos here: first, rare footage from 1987 of the Cloud About Mercury band, with the late, lamented bassist Mick Karn filling in for Tony Levin, and second, a recent TEDxCalTech lecture/concert by Torn that demonstrates the kind of magic he works on only sky.