|Tim Berne's Snakeoil — Shadow Man (2013)|
Tim Berne's Snakeoil — Shadow Man
Ξ A longtime leader of New York avant jazz and creative improvisation with an unmistakable alto sax tone and unique composing style.
Born: 1954 in Syracuse, NY
Location: New York
Album release: September 30, 2013
Recording Date: January, 2013
Record Label: ECM
1. Son of Not So Sure 6:43
2. Static 8:02
3. Psalm 4:09
4. OC/DC 22:58
5. Socket 18:56
6. Cornered (Duck) 16:17
Ξ Tim Berne: alto saxophone
Ξ Oscar Noriega: clarinet, bass clarinet
Ξ Matt Mitchell: piano, tack and Wurlitzer pianos
Ξ Ches Smith: drums, vibraphone, percussion
Tim Berne Composer, Cover Photo, Primary Artist, Producer, Sax (Alto)
Bella Blasko Assistant
Joe Branciforte Engineer
Marc Ducret Composer
Peter Gannushkin Photography
Sascha Kleis Design
Matt Mitchell Piano, Tack Piano, Wurlitzer Piano
Paul Motian Composer
Oscar Noriega Clarinet, Clarinet (Bass)
Ches Smith Drums, Percussion, Vibraphone
David Torn Mixing, Producer
The Guardian, Thursday 3 October 2013 22.45 BST
Ξ American alto saxophonist/composer Tim Berne says his four-year-old Snakeoil quartet is evolving toward "transparent density" — a highly composed, contrapuntal contemporary jazz that doesn't sacrifice detail or spontaneity. Berne offered a big glimpse of this on last year's debut album for the conversational all-acoustic ensemble (with Berne plus clarinetist Oscar Noriega, Matt Mitchell on piano and Ches Smith on drums), but the splices between writing and this adroit group's collective improvisation are all the harder to spot here. Three episodes (around 20 minutes each) on the six-track list are spellbinding examples of Berne's composing ingenuity and the band's agility at running with his ever-mobile ideas. Three shorter pieces feature typically seesawing themes, but the captivating Psalm with its brooding sax part sounds as if it has come from a more melodiously meditative ECM session than would usually carry Berne's name. The long passages OC/DC, Socket and Cornered (Duck) represent Snakeoil's progress, mingling wide-interval melodies that sometimes sound like contemporary classical music and sometimes trampling funk, quiet solos or intimate duets, tonal contrasts (warm clarinet lyricism, glimmering vibraphones, free-jazz sax wailing), dynamic percussion and unrelenting eventfulness. It's edgy, pattern spinning contemporary music, but austere it certainly is not.
Ξ Stoked by the acclaim for the first, eponymous album from saxophonist-composer Tim Berne's acoustic quartet Snakeoil in 2012, the group has upped the ante with its second ECM release, Shadow Man. Over four years together, Berne and his band of New York standouts — pianist Matt Mitchell, clarinettist Oscar Noriega and drummer/percussionist Ches Smith - have developed a rapport that sounds like communal telepathy.
Ξ The studio outcome is a marvel of kinetic action, the six pieces of Shadow Man making for music as visceral as it is cerebral; there is rollercoaster dynamism and aching lyricism, roiling counterpoint and intriguing harmony, glinting detail and ensemble impact. The album is a dizzying experience for the senses, breathtaking — and, ultimately, moving — in its sheer imaginative verve.
Ξ Critical acclaim for the first Snakeoil album came from far and wide: All About Jazz described the music as "unpredictable and fresh," while The Guardian called it "an object lesson in balancing composition, improvisation and the tonal resources of an acoustic band." The album made the DownBeat critic's poll of the top 10 best releases of 2012, New York Times critic Nate Chinen listed it as his No. 1 release of the year, and Jazzwise underscored the stature of Snakeoil by declaring it to be "suffused with genuine humanity and more than a little wisdom."
Ξ Tim Berne was recently named No. 7 of New York City's top 25 essential jazz icons by Time Out New York, and he was called "a saxophonist and composer of granite conviction" by The New York Times. His 2012 Snakeoil album, Berne's ECM debut as a leader, was his first studio release after eight years devoted to live recordings. As a sideman, he has also made ECM appearances on recent albums by Michael Formanek (The Rub and Spare Change, Small Places) and David Torn (Prezens).
Ξ Acclaim for the first, eponymous album from saxophonist-composer Tim Bernes acoustic quartet Snakeoil came from far and wide: All About Jazz described the music as unpredictable and fresh, while The Guardian called it an object lesson in balancing composition, improvisation and the tonal resources of an acoustic band. The album made the DownBeat Critics Poll of the top 10 best releases of 2012, New York Times critic Nate Chinen listed it as his No. 1 release of the year, and Jazzwise underscored the stature of Snakeoil by declaring it to be suffused with genuine humanity and more than a little wisdom.
Ξ Stoked by this reception, Bernes Snakeoil has upped the ante with its second ECM release, Shadow Man. Over four years together, Berne and his band of New York standouts pianist Matt Mitchell, clarinettist Oscar Noriega and drummer/percussionist Ches Smith have developed a rapport that sounds like communal telepathy. The studio outcome is a marvel of kinetic action, the six pieces of Shadow Man making for music as visceral as it is cerebral; there is rollercoaster dynamism and aching lyricism, roiling counterpoint and intriguing harmony, glinting detail and ensemble impact. The album is a dizzying experience for the senses, breath-taking and, ultimately, moving in its sheer imaginative verve.
Review by Thom Jurek; Score: ****
Ξ Shadow Man is Tim Berne's second Snakeoil project for ECM. The composer and bandleader co-produced this set in single takes with David Torn in a New York studio as a way of showcasing the crackling intensity of the group's live performances in balance with the various subtleties in scripted compositions that are sometimes lost in that situation. Berne on alto saxophone, Oscar Noriega on clarinets, Matt Mitchell on piano, and Ches Smith on assorted drums, gongs, and vibes deliver half a dozen tunes — five originals (that range from middle length to exceptionally long) and a deeply moving reading of Paul Motian's "Psalm" — with striking originality and a deepened focus on dialogue and exchange. Berne's writing is intensely detailed, and never more so than here. He writes motifs and frames that are designed to be lyrical yet open to dialogic improvisational opportunities. This often occurs in one-on-one conversations that are often contrapuntal in nature. In the kinetic "Static," the saxophonist and clarinetist go head to head before the former and Mitchell create a new conversation based on the one just held, all of it beholden to melody's context but not limited by it. Ξ Action and force introduce the suite-like "OC/DC," which gradually gains in intensity until Smith employs his vibes to underscore changes in shape and meter. Berne and Mitchell assert the off-kilter melody repetitively, before it all begins to break along various lines of conversation in various groupings. Eventually, Berne's intense solo takes hold, full of fiery emotion and winding notes to focus all of that ranging energy to a single point articulated in various voices. Mitchell's intro to the episodic "Socket" is percussive in its drive and articulation of the complex, rapid-fire lyric. Berne and Noriega join the motif before the former engages with the pianist. Smith's percussion solo creates an expanded "breath," a diversion spacious and insistent enough for Noriega to enter and not only claim the center but dictate the melody back to Berne; they eventually take it out together spherically. "Cornered (Duck)" closes playfully, with the immediacy of clarinet and alto saxophone traveling in locked synchronicity as Mitchell and Smith force them apart into open space. The front line engages contrapuntally before the rhythm section reenters, creating a new terrain for group improvisation. Mitchell's solo is colorful and motivic across the middle and lower registers. The band comes together again, recalling the melody but altered in cadence and context before Berne's solo answers the tune's harmonic questions. Shadow Man's experiment, in trying to capture Snakeoil's live performance in detail and dynamic, is not only successful, it reveals this band at a peak of instinctive, intuitive creativity and imagination.
Ξ Tim Berne was recently ranked in the Top 10 of Time Out New York’s “Essential NYC Jazz Icons”, an honour he will likely take with a pinch of salt, but also a reminder of the persistence of his endeavours: “Based on the recorded evidence, it may very well have been Tim Berne who was the definitive genius of NYC’s downtown 1980s jazz scene,” Time Out opined. “In the intervening years, he has remained committed to exploring the small group jazz idiom with a series of gritty, head-turning bands that have helped propel younger players such as Jim Black, Craig Taborn and Ches Smith into alt-jazz stardom”.
Ξ Since 1996, the primary outlet for Berne’s recordings has been his own label Screwgun, which has presented his bands, mostly in concert recordings. For the new quartet, he sought a larger platform. Accordingly, “Snakeoil” was recorded for ECM at Avatar Studios in New York in January 2011, with Manfred Eicher producing.
Ξ Berne met drummer Ches Smith through guitarist Mary Halvorson, all three part of NYC’s shifting pool of improvisers. “I liked Ches’s whole vibe, including the seriousness with which he approaches rehearsal, whether or not there’s a gig in sight. That was a big point for me. When I had these three players who were both original improvisers and great readers, it was really a motivation to write a lot of new material…” Smith extends his drum kit on “Snakeoil”, adding tympani, congas and gongs. His frame of reference is unique, his own background tracing an arc from early experiences in metal and punk bands, to jazz and free improvisation, contemporary composition and Haitian vodou drumming. His CV includes gigs with everyone from rock band Mr Bungle to Terry Riley, via Wadada Leo Smith, Iggy Pop, John Tchicai, Fred Frith, and Marc Robot’s Ceramic Dog. Smith’s own band These Arches currently includes Tim Berne, as well as Tony Malaby, Mary Halvorson and Andrea Parkins.
Ξ Matt Mitchell is a pianist and composer interested in the intersections of various strains of acoustic, electric, composed, and improvised new music. His sextet, Central Chain includes fellow Snakeoil members Tim Berne and Oscar Noriega, as well as Mary Halvorson, John Hebert, and Tomas Fujiwara. He also plays in trio with Berne and Ches Smith, and in duo with Smith. Other affiliations include groups with John Hollenbeck, Darius Jones, Rudresh Mahanthappa/Bunky Green and others. He is also active as an educator at the Brooklyn Center for Improvisational Music.
Ξ Oscar Noriega has previously worked with Lee Konitz, Anthony Braxton, Dewey Redman and Paul Motian, and been a member of the band Sideshow, who specialized in free approaches to the music of Charles Ives. Current activities include the ‘Mexico-inspired’ Banda De Los Muertos, which Noriega co-leads, and the group Endangered Blood with Chris Speed, Jim Black and Trevor Dunn. Since Fall 2010, he has curated The Palimpsestic Series, a weekly music event at Barbes, Brooklyn.
|Tim Berne's Snakeoil — Shadow Man (2013)|