Alto saxophonist Tim Berne has given his various ensembles some cool names over the years. There was Big Satan, Bloodcount, Science Friction, Hard Cell. Then, in 2012, on his first recording for ECM Records, he introduced his group (and the album) Snakeoil. The band has become, since then, his mainthough certainly not his onlymeans of artistic expression, with recordings like Shadow Man (ECM, 2013), You've Been Watching Me (ECM, 2015), The Incidentals (ECM, 2017) and The Fantastic Mrs. 10 (Intakt Records, 2020).
Berne has sometimes invited guitarists into this mix (Marc Ducret, Ryan Ferreira), but The Deceptive 4Live is a double-disc live set featuring the band's core quartetBerne on alto sax, Matt Mitchell in the piano chair, Oscar Noriega playing clarinet and bass clarinet, and Ches Smith on drums and percussion. The sound of Snakeoil, since its inception, has been consistent, and in fact, the second disc here takes us back to that beginning. It was recorded in 2009 and 2010before their first proper album release, before, in fact, the tag Snakeoil had been dreamed up and applied.
Consistency? "Snakeoil," Berne says "goes for blood every time we hit the stage...there has never been any holding back for this band." That sums it up nicely.
Rhythmic intensity and balls-to-the-wall melodic fury either reign or they retreat to and lurk in some dark corner during periodic segments of comparative reverie when someone lays out and two or three instruments make up the mix. But the storm always regathers, swirls into new maelstroms, beginning with the 2017 recorded "Perception," disc one's eighteen minute stealth opening, with Noriega's clarinet slinking through the shadows in the opening moments. A period of relative gentility ensues, instruments orbiting an empty center of gravitya black hole, perhapsthat eventually pulls them into a raging pre-galactic conglomeration, Berne wailing for all he's worth. And the concept remains the same straight through to "Hemphill," disc two's 2009 recorded closer, with its long, rubbery melodic lines, wax and wane intensity and rubato improvisations all around.
Spin 2020's earlier Snakeoil outing, The Fantastic Mrs. 10, for proof that Tim Berne and his Snakeoil haven't mellowed out over the years. Listen to The Deceptive 4Live and find out they didn't start out that way either.
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