Release Date: Feb 7, 2012
Record label: ECM
Genre(s): Jazz, Modern Creative, Avant-Garde Jazz, Saxophone Jazz
When it comes to great musicians who have disregarded boundaries to the point of becoming genres unto themselves, many of their back stories are auspicious. They seem to connect to music at a very young age, often prior to their teens, and their primary instrument lands in their lap soon afterwards. They get an early start and never slow down. The community of jazz greats is filled with lofty stories of promise, which is why Tim Berne’s late bloom into the style comes as a relief.
The influential New York saxophonist Tim Berne writes music of byzantine intricacy, but intends it for improvisers, who must follow his mathematically meticulous mazes while remaining alert to any tempting diversion. Berne likes Motown and funk at least as much as he does jazz and contemporary classical, so his varied bands sustain a soulful bite and drive; his all-acoustic Snakeoil quartet strikes the composition/improv balance with expressive elegance. Berne is partnered in Snakeoil by three formidable virtuosi: the distinctive Oscar Noriega on clarinets, seamless Matt Mitchell on piano and sonically subtle percussionist Ches Smith.
Hardcore Tim Berne fans may wonder about the compromises that were necessary for him to make in order to cut his first date for ECM as a leader. Label headman Manfred Eicher's hands-on aesthetic usually leads him to the producer's chair, and it did here. Berne's music, as evidenced by 40-plus albums, can go against giving up that kind of control. Snakeoil, however, represents a compromise; a true collaboration between them.
As dramatic as the weather, bright and diffuse one moment, then blustery – even sinister – the next, Tim Berne's debut as bandleader on jazz and classical vanguard ECM frames a quartet blurring all lines of tonal and structural grounding with avian musical ascension. Produced in New York last January by label head Manfred Eichner, the alto saxophonist's reptilian coils of brass all but sprout wings on Snakeoil's six songs in 68 minutes, and the piano, drums, and clarinet/bass clarinet team with a Darwinian tension. "Simple City" finds Berne and pianist Matt Mitchell climbing as one instrument until Oscar Noriega's stilling bass clarinet subverts the piano for a duet somewhere between a Tchaikovsky ballet and Gershwin.
An interesting new chapter for Berne, promising much for the coming years on ECM. John Eyles 2012 On his latest album, Snakeoil, recorded in New York in January 2011, alto saxophonist Tim Berne has broken away from patterns that have characterised his music for years. Instead of being released on his own Screwgun label, it marks his debut as a leader on ECM.