Saturday, November 02, 2013

CD Review: Tim Berne's Snakeoil - Shadow Man

Tim Berne's Snakeoil
Shadow Man

If Snakeoil, Tim Berne's 2012 debut for ECM, allowed label head Manfred Eicher and the alto saxophonist to reach a mutual agreement on how to combine the label's sound and the artist's rugged approach, #Shadow Man# puts the reins back in Berne's hand. This is classic Berne: jagged compositions with independent lines moving simultaneously, solos that shriek and continue while the foundation changes behind them (always evoking a soliloquy delivered along onstage as the set is shifted behind the speaker), passages that evoke beauty even when they feel ominous, and, as always, tight group interaction.

The writing can remind longtime Berne fans of other melodies from previous albums, but the difference comes in the direction the Snakeoil quartet takes them. Pianist Matt Mitchell has a strong presence, doing as much as Berne to frame the pieces. His challenging album of etudes, Fiction, makes more sense as a warmup exercise after hearing the rolling, fast piano opening to "Socket." Like the previous album, Shadow Man opens not with Berne, but with Mitchell giving a long exposition of phrases that hang in the air during "Son Of Not So Sure," before the structure slowly reveals itself.

Oscar Noriega's bass clarinet sounds great in this setting, stepping up in "Socket" and "Static" with only Mitchell to accompany him. In the latter, he really rises to a fevered pitch, while the former has him working through Mitchell's combination of stabbing chords and what sounds like chopped-up Bach phrases. Noriega also plays b-flat clarinet on the album as well.

Drummer Ches Smith creates an instant party whenever he turns up, but he adds even further to music by playing vibes on a few tunes. On "Son of Not So Sure," he sounds like he's distorting the instrument and getting a sustained tremolo out of it. "Cornered (Duck)" prove just how much this instrument can do to give Berne some extra edge. Further, there's rarely been a drummer on ECM that has bashed away like Smith does on "Socket."

Berne usually sticks with his own compositions or perhaps those of his bandmates. But Shadow Man includes a reading of Paul Motian's "Psalm." It's a short track among a sea of fairly long ones ("OC/DC" lasts 23 worthwhile minutes) and reveals both the saxophonist's reflective side in performance and a nod to his predecessors.

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