In spite, or perhaps because, of the lull in work in 2020, alto saxophonist and composer Tim Berne
maintained a busy release schedule. Spiders
, his third set of duets with pianist Matt Mitchell
, arrives hot on the heels of The Fantastic Mrs 10
(Intakt) and The Deceptive 4 Live
(Intakt), both by his band Snakeoil which also includes Mitchell. The program, which comprises all new material, was recorded live not long before the Covid pandemic effectively ended in concert appearances in NYC, and has been speedily issued as part of Out Of Your Heads Records Untamed Series.
While some of the previous entries in the series have a rough and ready sonic fidelity, both alto and piano come through loud and clear here. There's a balletic quality to the dialogue, as the pair move in a synchrony which requires two separate parts to realize the whole. Nowhere more so than on the coolly poised "Increminced" where Mitchell contrasts and complements Berne's involved headlong rush in oblique ways, through phrasing and dynamics, but without echoing.
Separating what's written and what's not can be confounding, especially so given Mitchell's propensity to make the complex seem natural, and to so thoroughly inhabit Berne's charts (as borne out by Førage
on Screwgun in 2017, his wonderful solo album which reimagines a selection of Berne's scores). Even the obvious traits of composition-like unisons happen so rarely, that when they do, as in the scuttling opening of "Purdy" or the staccato doubling which surges out of the starting gate on "Seemly," they pack all the more charge.
Intermittent unaccompanied breaks, which feel integral to the fabric rather than blowing opportunities, spell concentrated teamwork. And what a team. Berne's slightly tart tone carries over into the bittersweet melodic contours of his long flowing lines. He allows just the occasional multiphonic coloration, relying on purity of sound and design for his expression. Mitchell exploits the twin polarities of the keyboard as the altoist toggles between plunges and ascents. Indeed the pianist's rich voicings constitute one of the delights of the record. Check how he chisels the tune out of the treble register on "Julius" for just one example.
High drama pervades every cut, delivered with a steely intensity which demands attention.
Increminced; Purdy; Julius; The Rose Charade; Seemly.