Sunday, May 10, 2015

Tim Berne's Snakeoil - You've Been Watching Me (ECM, 2015)

Alto saxophonist and composer Tim Berne has led many bands in the course of his career, and the most recent, Snakeoil, began as something of a chamber jazz group with their first ECM album, but the gloves come off on this record with dynamic music that pulses with energy. In addition to Berne, Snakeoil consists of Oscar Noriega on clarinets, Matt Mitchell on keyboards, Ryan Ferreira on guitars and Ches Smith on drums and percussion. “Lost In Redding” opens the album with the full band charging out of the gate, storming forward and then deftly dropping off into a section of bass clarinet and guitar, shaded by droplets of heavy piano. They ramp things back up behind Smith’s crushing drums and Berne’s saxophone to a strong conclusion. The epic “Small World In a Small Town” begins patiently with saxophone and piano probing the music before Berne tears into a ripe solo that builds grandly as the rest of the instruments in the band gradually fade in. The music develops a spooky feel, as instruments shift in and drift out before building up to a loud and complex finale. “Embraceable Me” is the heart of the album, leaving a soft opening in the dust and peeling out full blast as Ferreira’s guitar slices through the building tension. The music takes a questing and experimental turn with ominous long bellows of foreboding saxophone against a very heavy backdrop getting more and more powerful like powerhouse jazz meeting early Sabbath and creating a massive brick shithouse of raw sound. Two short palate cleansers follow, a ripe collective improvisation called “Angels” and the title song, a gentle acoustic guitar composition. The album is concluded with “False Impressions” where the band is deeply attuned to the choppy melody and rumbling piano growls over sharp edged electric guitar. Berne’s saxophone enters throwing shadows on the backdrop of the music, his sound yearning and balanced by piano and vibraphone. This album is excellent from start to finish, the compositions and the improvisations by the full band and the individual members are first rate, and this is progressive jazz of the highest order. You've Been Watching Me -

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