On ‘An Exploded View of Time’, Andrew Bernstein creates billowing, euphoric vortices of saxophone that loop and twist like dancing clouds. This is circular breathing, baby, but not as we know it. While extended forays into the lung-busting technique are hardly unknown in underground circles – Evan Parker’s ‘Monoceros’ and Colin Stetson’s ‘All This I Do For Glory’ are two personal favourites – what’s refreshing about Bernstein’s approach is the lyricism and apparent effortlessness he brings to his playing. After all, while circular breathing is certainly challenging, both technically and physically, many of its advocates seem just as committed to a kind of performative labour as they are to the achievement of transcendence. It’s not enough for this stuff just to be hard work. It has to look like it, too.
Despite its genesis as a single, marathon improvisation session, ‘An Exploded View of Time’ sees Bernstein – one quarter of art-rock quartet Horse Lords as well as a composer and multi-instrumentalist in his own right – wear the challenges of his practice lightly. He’s got the chops, no doubt, but on tracks such as ‘Boogie Woogie Phase’ his explorations float free of any corporeal bluster, their swoops and gyres as joyful as a starling riding the wind’s invisible flight paths. On ‘Broken Arc’, Bernstein’s exhalations tumble forth in gusting torrents, their perpetual rise and fall becoming more deranged with every passing moment, for a second forming themselves into bluesy hollers, before breaking apart into hysterical cacophonies of oscillating squeals.
Those whose tastes run to a more austere cast may prefer it when Bernstein dials down the exuberance, swapping all-out blowing for more refined studies in pushing air through metal. ‘Pressure Wave Variations I – XXIII’ enacts a stately, deliberate process of lessening, downshifting from aggressive foghorn blasts to short, delicate squeaks with meticulous care. And ‘Dust’ is pure, gruelling reduction of the John Butcher-Seymour Wright school, its lurching, serrated slabs of noise as intimidating as a cast-iron goose in full attack mode.