Tim Berne’s Snakeoil
Shadow Man

ECM ****
Picking up where Snakeoil, an album that has now gifted its name to the band, left off, Berne, once again with clarinettist/bass clarinettist Oscar Noriega, pianist Matt Mitchell, and drummer-vibesplayer-percussionist Ches Smith, has come up with a set of six engrossing improvisations Berne himself has produced along with guitarist David Torn and recorded as recently as January in the Clubhouse residential studio located in the rural setting of the Hudson valley in New York state. By the time third track Paul Motian's ‘Psalm’ from Motian's 1982 album of the same name arrives it’s like the come-down after a big event that has slowly built levels of tensile uncertainty and flashes up Berne’s, dare I say, tender side. The big tune in terms of length is the awkward and involving ‘OC/DC’, which is more than 20-minutes long. Yet, whether the tracks here are short or extended, everything is hard packed with a fractured free form sense of experimentation and Berne’s trademark ascerbic alto moan. Faking past understood musical knowledge and transferring it in a finessed state to the studio is out of the question with this band as it's a very exploratory sort of record where recognisable patterns are thrown out the window and Mitchell sometimes using a tack (prepared) piano operates more like a drummer. As for highlights I’d choose the routine after the four-minute 19-seconds mark on ‘OC/DC’ when Berne and Noriega rage jaggedly against the twin forces of piano and vibes to intuitive effect. SG
Released on 7 October