Innovative Jam / Chaos Theory
In many a Bernie Torme album there is an epic song. I am not sure what else to call them. Typically, they start with some acoustic playing, perhaps some violin, leading to layers of guitar, almost orchestrated. there is some element of classical music in these. There is often some Colin Towns keyboard incorporated. On Presences there is some of the man’s flute. Typically, they start out slow, and typically they do not speed up. They only intensify.
It is now almost tradition starting perhaps with Presences on Electric Gypsies. Torme’s Mystery Train is another early candidate. These two more point to what he would later develop and what now is a destructive force, and some damn good music.
Jump ahead to Dark Horizon on White Trash Guitar. What he started in that one he continues roughly fifteen years later, taking it to the next level with Stoneship. On Dublin Cowboy these same themes are perhaps touched upon in Janus (Parts 1 & 2). Really, Dublin Cowboy is in its entirety is perhaps a variation on the theme we point to. The ordering, however, is wrong. He starts with the electric, then offers up the acoustic, and then finally the live set.
So it is only appropriate that in a perhaps parting piece, a final song in what is perhaps a final album, he offer up Innovative Jam / Chaos Theory. It is fourteen minute opus. Basically a summation of his work, at least so far.
Innovative Jam / Chaos Theory coming in as I said above at 14:25 is special from the start. On it he has a half dozen or so pledger musicians join him. A pledger musician is one that pledged to contribute to Torme’s new album, Shadowland. They did not, however, just offer a monetary contribution. They did not just go to Bernie’s Pledge Music page and select the particular package debating options such as vinyl albums, versus signed CDs, versus tee shirts and the like. They pledged to contribute musically to the album.
These pledger musicians went to his studio and recorded with the man. We had eight of them performing duties on guitar. There was John Duncan, Chris Howles, Graeme Williams, John Simms, Al Pashby, Craig Isherwood, Jason Saulnier, Al Pashby. And then there was Maxine Marten on percussion. So you have nine folks with various levels of musical talent contributing to this project.
It does start out slow, with Bernie on the acoustic guitar, and singing of celebration, of the sun above us, and the earth beneath our feet. The second verse ends with the words, “Hang onto the moment before it fades away.”. It progresses into this hypnotic trance-like rhythm. I would suggest this rhythmic-hypnotic element, this playing with repetition and variation, is perhaps what he explores in the songs I allude to above.
Some violin is heard. At some point it switches to electric guitar and then it is just prime real estate for what Bernie does best – shred. Just the amazing runs up and down the neck of his guitar and of course simultaneously just teasing and taunting, what one would think would destroy his whammy bar, his tuning, and guitar. And of course behind all of this still is that rhythm, continuing on.
At some point though you start to hear guitar runs and solos that are not Bernie. Just atypical solos and sounds from the man. It so works but there is something there that is not him. At first I thought, wow, he was able to reach beyond himself to that which is not him and incorporate that in his music. I liked what I heard but just pondered how? I would argue his sound is unlike most others. He is for my money instantly recognizable, and yet in this song, in these solos, he is found with pieces that are not him.
I marveled at this. How does one take styles not your own and embrace and incorporate them? How do you play that which is not yours? And then I realized he did not play these parts. What I heard and distinguished as not his, belonged in fact to the pledgers. He had taken these folks and basically orchestrated this piece. And they have done a more than adequate job with it! I had known of the pledger / players contributing to the album, but I did not realize until two or three weeks perhaps of listening that I was hearing their work on this song.
So you have now this picture that starts with him, one guitar, and one voice, and it proceeds into this forest of guitars and explorations, innovations and chaos. At first, I simply took the title of the song as referencing the fourteen plus minutes of jamming, especially with Bernie and eight others going at it. No doubt there is some chaos. That is true, but the title is simply not Innovative Jam / Chaos, but rather Innovative Jam / Chaos Theory.
Chaos theory is in fact a mathematical theory that suggest that random acts are in fact the result of underlying complex patterns. The classic favorite relating to this is the butterfly effect. The effect imagines the flutter of a butterfly’s wings in let us say India leading to a tornado in who knows. . . Kansas. I exaggerate. The basic idea is that a small, almost insignificant event, the flutter of a butterfly’s wings, can lead to large consequences, in this case a tornado vast distances away. Of course for the mathematicians, it is the underlying pattern doing the work and it is that or those patterns they are trying to make sense of.
It is not the chaos of the tornado that they are after. Rather, they are interested in how two seemingly random events in two different parts of the world are in fact connected. The understanding of those underlying patterns eliminates the seeming chaos, the randomness, of the two unrelated events.
Now we need to bring this back to the task at hand, Mr. Torme’s tune. So right off, the chaos is not the song. There is some chaos there. There is some destructive forces there, but that is the consequent of the ‘underlying patterns’. Remember, chaos theory is interested in two unrelated and distant events being tied together somehow. The song is the consequent. The question becomes what is the antecedent? What leads to this fourteen minute monstrosity, and one could argue this absurd essay.
I would suggest the first note of the song gives it away. That first note is a harmonic strummed on an acoustic guitar. It is for my money the first note of the famous Yes song Roundabout. It should be noted that Steve Howe did the guitar work on that song.
Bernie starts his song with the same famous first note from that song that was recorded and released back in 1971 – 47 years ago? We are, it must be conceded, switching out distance with time here. Our two events take place over time, as opposed to distance. Regardless, that note, that harmonic, played by Steve Howe back in 1971 is the flutter of the butterfly wings that leads to the storm of those fourteen minutes, which was conceived by Bernie and performed by himself and the nine or ten others today.
The underlying patterns here involve those 47 years between the release of Roundabout and the release of Innovative Jam / Chaos Theory. In short, Innovative Jam / Chaos Theory is the culmination of 47 years of Bernie Torme playing guitar and making music.
In 1971 Bernie, a young man, was probably just learning guitar. And no doubt he ate up players such as Hendrix, Rory, and Eric Bell, but I am sure that song, that harmonic, and that intro haunted him too. Considering the amount of acoustic music he has explored in recent years, I would say Steve Howe also left a lasting impression upon him. The complex patterns we allude to here is the creativity and music of Bernie Torme.
I am sorry to be so damn pedantic, but regardless, this is an amazing tale!