Thursday, September 07, 2017

Tim Berne's Snakeoil - Incidentals (ECM, 2017)

Alto saxophonist Tim Berne has been a leading light on the creative music scene since he studied with master musician Julius Hemphill in the 1970s. This is the fourth album on ECM for Berne's Snakeoil band which includes Oscar Noriega on clarinet and bass clarinet, Ryan Ferreira on guitar, Matt Mitchell on piano and electronics and Ches Smith on vibraphone and percussion. David Torn sits in on guitar for a few tracks as well. The music has a deeply woven textural context with floating unmoored sections balanced by areas of bracing improvisation."Hora Feliz" opens the album with spacey and atmospheric piano and percussion building a ambient sound, then after four minutes saxophone and fuller full band sound erupts, building a medium uptempo strident sound with biting saxophone as the focal point. Clarinet and strong currents of piano, bass and drums punctuated by shrieks of clarinet and waves of rhythm makes for a propulsive and exciting performance, as saxophone and clarinet play off one another strong collectively improvised finish. Deeply textured full band with undercurrents of guitar and subtle vibes are the setting for "Stingray Shuffle" which evolves into Berne's saxophone in subtle space, with his fine grain sandpaper tone playing off against scrapes of guitar creating an ominous soundscape. There is a haunted house feel to the unusual sounds and textures, which are alarming and exciting simultaneously. The epic twenty-six minute "Sideshow" opens quietly with spritely solo piano and swirling saxophone and guitar building in, creating an energetic and complex full band improvisation with multiple layers and textures to the development of the music. There is an excellent spirit of collaboration as the musicians meld their sounds and ideas spontaneously by trusting their instincts, leading to a dynamic downshift to reeds and piano in space, with harmonized saxophone and clarinet giving the music structure and a solid foundation. Music rolls on in waves lapping or crashing against the shore, with smears of electric guitar arcing out across percussive piano maturing to a complex weaving of group improvisation that becomes fast and furious. Pockets of near silence are also part of the music, with percussion or vibes giving it a suspended sound, before the music comes crashing through in conclusion. "Incidentals Contact" has a dense and exciting full band introduction, with individual instruments bubbling up and then sinking down in the music. A patient saxophone solo breaks out against vibes and spikes of electric guitar, then leading to a fast and volatile full band cascade of sound, which is muscular and exciting. There is a storming piano feature for Mitchell, who plays with great depth and resonance, concocting a wild and thrilling avalanche of notes and chords. Noriega's clarinet swirls in against a stark backdrop of heavy drums, ringing in the soundscape. Light and nimble reeds fluttering, framed by vibes set the stage for the concluding track "Prelude One / Sequel Too." The music is patient and eerie, with dark piano moving amidst the music and setting a foundation which allows Berne's saxophone to fly above it, while subtle bass and percussion keep the music from flying apart. This was a fascinating album with the music never resolving quite the way you might expect. Improvisations are often without a clearly defined shape or form allowing for a wide range of freedom and possibility that is subtly shifting throughout. Incidentals -

Send comments to Tim.