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Tim Berne's Snakeoil: You've Been Watching Me

Mark Corroto By

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The music of saxophonist Tim Berne has invariably raised the question: where have you been? His early self-released sessions (collected in the Empire Box (Screwgun, 1999)) from the late-1970s and early 80s gave no quarter to the neo-conservative jazz movement. Signed by Columbia Records (what were they thinking?) he forged ahead with his incendiary vision, only to be dropped by the label. With no desire to be "discovered" only after he had died, he created the quartet, sometimes quintet, Bloodcount, a superb channel for his compositions and musical vision.

But that was then, a time when record companies, and uh um, jazz critics, were apt to pigeonhole and ghettoize musicians, and this is now.

Music's present climate, and a credo that has been in place with ECM Records from it's inception, is that categorizing music and musicians is ineffective and destructive to the creative spark. Maybe that is why Berne's Snakeoil is such a great fit. Their third release You've Been Watching Me continues the upward progression of Berne's music, much like Bloodcount recordings kept getting stronger with each release.

Like Bloodcount, Berne adds a guitarist, Ryan Ferreira, to his quartet of Oscar Noriega, Matt Mitchell, and Ches Smith and interestingly, the title track here is a minute-forty-six solo acoustic piece. The band's growth is quite evident here. Within a piece like "Lost In Redding" Berne's vision is revealed, with dense rhythmic puzzles, lacerating electronics, and biting solos. Berne arranges music here to start and suddenly stop, revealing the almost hidden sounds of Noriega's bass clarinet, a piano solo, or simplicity that built the edifice of his craftsmanship. It can be almost chamber-like intricacy as in "Embraceable Me," or the 18-minute opus "Small World In A Small Town" that opens with Berne and pianist Matt Mitchell's relaxed conversation that gives way to the full band's taut enlargement of the piece. Berne moves seamlessly between improvisation, chamber music, and some infective jazz. But he can do the exact same thing in two-and-a-half minutes with a piece like "Angels." The music, while uncompromising, is approachable by minds open to infinite possibilities.

Track Listing: Lost In Redding; Small World In A Small Town; Embraceable Me; Angles; Youve Been Watching Me; Semi-Self Detached; False Impressions.

Personnel: Tim Berne: alto saxophone; Oscar Noriega: B-flat clarinet, bass clarinet; Matt Mitchell: piano, electronics; Ryan Ferreira: electric guitar, acoustic guitars; Ches Smith: drums, vibraphone, percussion, timpani.

Title: You've Been Watching Me | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: ECM Records

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