Monday, July 18, 2016

Tim Berne's Snakeoil - Angus Oleum (Screwgun Records, 2016)

Snakeoil is Tim Berne on alto saxophone, Oscar Noriega on clarinet and bass clarinet, Matt Mitchell on piano and Ches Smith on drums and percussion. This is a very exciting live album of music from the book Spare by Berne and Steve Byram that was “mastered into submission” by guitarist David Torn. Tim Berne is a wizard at bringing musicians together for a specific sound or mission and this band is particularly potent. They have recorded three studio albums for ECM with another on the way, but truly come into their own when onstage. Everyone is at the top of their game and completely engaged in the material and each other. The music is comprised of three very long and one medium long performances that allow the band to stretch out at length, improvising not only in solo contexts but as a collectively improvising unit and in groups of twos and threes. “Deadbeat Beyonce” is the leadoff track, and in the running for the best song name of the year. There is a fantasia of color and sound that is achieved here, whether on a full-bodied Matt Mitchell solo feature, or in the different shades of sound that Berne and Noriega are able to achieve from their instruments. Ches Smith has been one of the most exciting percussionists on the scene for some time, and he shows just how valuable he is on this recording, whether playing in a quietly abstract manner or driving the music forward, his drumming is endlessly fascinating. The other two very long performances, “Spare Parts” and “OC-DC” are both dynamic pieces of music, shifting from a quiet and impressionistic to thrilling free jazz cacophony. Berne is particularly inspired throughout and his tart saxophone tone is perfect for the edgy music that he has co-composed. There is a heart on sleeve emotion to the music that is gripping to hear and makes this album a must-listen for progressive jazz fans. Angus Oleum -

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