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Tim Berne's Snakeoil: The Fantastic Mrs. 10

Mark Corroto By

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Imagine Tim Berne as the lead in the 1980's' American television series The A-Team, declaring: "I love it when a plan comes together!" He must return to that catchphrase every time his ensemble Snakeoil finishes a recording. After four outings on Manfred Eicher's ECM Records, the previous being Incidentals (2017), he moves his A-Team to Intakt Records. The Fantastic Mrs. 10 confirms this ensemble is on par with the saxophonist's other great band, Bloodcount, with Chris Speed, Jim Black, Michael Formanek and Marc Ducret.

A new addition to Snakeoil, the guitar of Ducret joins Berne's cast of pianist Matt Mitchell, clarinetist Oscar Noriega and percussionist Ches Smith. Like Bloodcount, it is difficult to imagine any other musicians playing this music. Berne's distinctive compositions are at the same time heretically free and structurally regimented. His logic, which flows from his early years as understudy with Julius Hemphill, is elaborate yet straightforward.

The bass-less quintet maintains time in an unstated fashion, with each musician free to comment within Berne's structures. The pace of "Surface Noise" with its quiet piano and glockenspiel opening, courses stream-like into eddies and an eventual whirlpool of sound with the addition of the other musicians. The track flows into a quieter alluvial plain of scratchy guitar effects and a Noriega clarinet whale-song before the shock and awe ending. Berne's distinctive compositions are idiosyncratic without being pretentious. The one cover, "Dear Friend" by Julius Hemphill, is a beautiful ballad with gentle horns, ringing notes and scurrying of mice feet (not really) over guitar strings. Where other jazz composers are playing checkers, Berne is playing chess.

Track Listing: Fantastic Mrs.10; Surface Noise; Rolo; Dear Friend; The Amazing Mr. 7; Third Option; Rose Colored Assive.

Personnel: Matt Mitchell: piano, tack piano, modular synthesizer; Ches Smith: drums, vibraphone, glockenspiel, Haitian tanbou, gongs; Oscar Noriega: bass clarinet, Bb clarinet; Marc Ducret: guitar; Tim Berne: alto saxophone.

Title: The Fantastic Mrs. 10 | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Intakt Records

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