Tim Berne's Snakeoil band makes its fourth ECM appearance on Incidentals. The core group of saxophonist Berne, clarinetist Oscar Noriega, pianist Matt Mitchell and percussionist Ches Smith was augmented by guitarist Ryan Ferreira, as it had been on the previous album You've Been Watching Me (ECM, 2015). Producer David Torn also made two brief appearances on guitar. The integration of composition and improvisation typical of Berne's work is especially pronounced in this program.
"Hora Feliz" opens the set with atmospheric soundscapes (anchored by Torn's looping) that run for almost half of the track, before the long-line theme is introduced. After that the playing is largely collective, as it is on much of the album. It's easy to hear the entire thing as an extended suite: Berne's writing is so episodic that it can be hard to hear when one track stops and the next one begins. "Stingray Shuffle" follows with more electric guitar texture (this time from Ferreira) and rubato collective playing.
"Sideshow" is the literal centerpiece: the longest track by far, it is also placed in the middle position, with roughly equal running time on either side. It begins with a stunning contrapuntal section that builds into a jerky groove. A succession of different textures follows (including a large role for Smith's vibraphone) before ending with timpani, horns and the other Torn cameo, trademark strangled pitch-bend guitar using whammy bar and electronics. "Incidentals Contact" focuses more on individual solos. After a fast, busy theme (with Smith again on vibes, rejecting the traditional timekeeping role) Ferreira's guitar emerges, then Smith switches to drums to accompany Berne's frenetic saxophone solo. A second theme makes room for piano and clarinet solos.
The second part of "Prelude One/Sequel Too" is a callback to the previous album, based upon the same composition as the title track of You've Been Watching Me. That album's acoustic guitar version takes on a new character when arranged for the full group: a powerful emotional capstone. It demonstrates the potency of Berne's compositions, as well as the interpretive range of this band, in what may be their best recording to date.
Hora Feliz; Stingray Shuffle; Sideshow; Incidentals Contact; Prelude One/Sequel Too.
Tim Berne: alto saxophone; Oscar Noriega: clarinet, bass clarinet; Ryan Ferreira: guitars; Matt Mitchell: piano, electronics; Ches Smith: drums, vibraphone, timpani, percussion; David Torn: guitar (1, 3).