Tim Berne's Snakeoil: The Fantastic Mrs. 10

Dan McClenaghan By

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Tim Berne's Snakeoil: The Fantastic Mrs. 10
Saxophonist Tim Berne figured out what he wanted to do early on, with albums like Ancestors (Soul Note, 1983), Nice Winter ( Winter & Winter, 1993), Science Friction (Screwgun, 2002) and Snake Oil (ECM Records, 2012)—to pick one representative recording per decade from a jam-packed discography. "I'm doing the same thing I've been doing from the start," he says. That thing is making madcap tapestries with various ensemble configurations, forming a collective voice full of piss and vinegar.

The Fantastic Mrs. 10, from Berne's group Snakeoil, is sort of the same thing. A cacophonous quintet which blares and squabbles, a barrage of instrumentation with the interplay of a collective barroom conversation with happy hour in full roll. Patterns emerge. Melodies surface. Berne's alto sax sounds like a zingy Mexican salsa full of jalapenos, garlic, tomatoes and lime juice; Oscar Noriega's bass clarinet lays low and haunts the proceedings; drummer- percussionist Ches Smith sounds like he is trying to batten down the hatches in a hurricane, and pianist Matt Mitchell creates a manic sparkle which seems to somehow hold the sound together, to keep things from flying off in some chaotic musical big bang.

Then there is the wild card, guitarist Marc Ducret, in his first Snakeoil appearance. His contribution is usually more covert than overt— something that can be said about all of the band members except for the solos from Berne and Noriega that sneak in, usually briefly, during periodic ebbs in forward momentum. Ducret's additions of metallic flavors counterpoint perfectly with that tangy, acidic sauce of Berne's alto sound.

The title tune opens the disc, Berne blowing solo for thirty seconds. Then the band bursts into life, introducing a Fantastic Mrs. 10 who sounds like a formidable lass, strong and mysterious and serious, a take-no-b.s. sort of woman. "Surface Noise" opens with one of the set's more contemplative moments, Mitchell's piano and Smith's vibes staking out their territories tentatively, soon joined by Berne's searching sax. Like most of the tunes here, the sound gathers momentum in the direction of the inexorable.

Berne composed all of the music on The Fantastic Mrs. 10, with the sole exception of "Dear Friend," penned by Julius Hemphill, an early career mentor of Berne's. In contrast to a good deal of the sounds of the set, this is a drift-on-a-cloud sound, wearing its beauty proudly, underlain by a luminescent smear, leading into "The Fantastic Mr. 7." Showcasing Ducret's electric guitar, the tune—characteristically for Snakeoil—begins with a wandering motif which gels into a focused insistence that wanes into a beatific rumination, until the energy level cranks itself up again.

The Fantastic Mrs. 10 is an Intakt Records release. It is Tim Berne's sixth Snakeoil recording. All the previous Snakeoils—released between 2012 and 2017—appear on the ECM Records imprint. The change in labels hasn't changed a thing for Tim Berne—he is still doing the same thing he has been doing from the start, and doing it to near perfection here.

Track Listing

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


Tim Berne: saxophone, alto; Matt Mitchell: piano; Oscar Noriega: clarinet; Marc Ducret: guitar; Ches Smith: drums.

Album information

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

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