Tim Berne has been a major presence on the New York Avant Garde Jazz scene since the mid-1980s, leading several bands, running his own record labels and collaborating with folks such as John Zorn, Bill Frisell, and Joey Baron. As an alto saxophonist, he plays in a bluesy, dissonant style that descends from Ornette Coleman and, more directly, mentor Julius Hemphill. His passionate, almost painful tone is instantly recognizable, and while he's certainly a free player (i.e., he doesn't rely on existing chord changes), his solos ultimately emphasize melody above pure sound or noise. As a composer, he excels at writing angular, tongue-twisting melodic themes that manage to be both elusive and catchy. His lengthy pieces wind their way through sections of dense, cloudy chamber-improv, odd-metered funkiness, and sheer go-for-broke physicality, out-rocking plenty of rock bands in the process. In terms of covering all these bases, his quartet Bloodcount (Chris Speed, tenor sax/ clarinet; Michael Formanek, bass; Jim Black, percussion) has arguably been his best vehicle. Other Berne outfits worth checking out include the larger Bloodcount precursor Caos Totale, the free improv trio Paraphrase and the guitar/drums/saxophone trio Big Satan.