Tim Berne’s Snakeoil – You’ve Been Watching Me

you've been watching me(ECM 472 2298)

The U.S. alto saxophonist adds a fifth player to this third album from Snakeoil, so clarinettist Oscar Noriega, pianist Matt Mitchell and percussionist Ches Smith (he spends as much time on vibes as he does on drums or other percussion) are joined by guitarist Ray Ferreira.

Ironically, the band feels more spacious rather than more cluttered. That is partly due to Berne’s exacting and ever-developing skill as a composer but also to the way the band is (figuratively) arranged. Berne says: “I picture it as Ryan, Matt and Ches creating a kind of ‘U’ shape that Oscar and I fit into.

The dynamic range of this band, from near silence to a full hurricane, is amazing, as is the range of moods. Of course, it’s all pretty intense – Berne’s music has never been for the faint-hearted, nor for those seeking large swathes of calm. It’s not only Marmite music in terms of some loving it while others simply can’t bear it, it’s also very much dependent upon the listener’s mood – sometimes it’s all I want to hear; sometimes it’s the last thing.

The development in tension and the slightly threatening air of the very impressive Embraceable Me feels quite cinematic – the soundtrack to a long-drawn out and increasingly uncomfortable scene from Breaking Bad, perhaps? The brief Angles is a bit like starting a computer game and being whisked through to the higher levels in under two and a half minutes – what was vaguely manageable in terms of oncoming threats at the start is completely overwhelming before very long.

This album is well worth investigating not only by intrepid jazz explorers but also by those interested in contemporary composition. Through, I am guessing, a combination of sheer hard work and a very low boredom threshold, Tim Berne continues to surprise and enthral with each new piece of music.

Categories: CD review

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