Monday, February 20, 2012

Tim Berne, Snakeoil, 2012

The best thing he's done in years. Tim Berne's Snakeoil (ECM 2234). It's a quartet. Tim on alto, Oscar Noriega on clarinet & bass clarinet, Matt Mitchell, piano, and Ches Smith, drums.

The music? It's a seamless integration of composition, improvisation, and compositional improvisation. There are six separate pieces that more or less flow together as movements in a single work. Chordal improvisations on the piano turn into a compositional-improv for alto and piano, drums come in, and it's on from there. Mr. Berne has put together music where the written and the improvised are so much of a piece that it has a continuous inspirational feel to it, where nothing is tossed into the mix that is not somehow a meaningful part of the whole. The harmonies sometimes modulate continuously so that pitch centers get multiple, Mitchell's piano part often has a centering role that the two reeds circle around and through, reeds improvising their way into another motif or two-part counterline, either of which sometimes seems to expand outward improvisationally and/or compositionally, the piano joining in obliquely or directly. Ches's drums can pulse or color according to the moment. He artfully sets off the music.

It's a remarkable work that puts an ellipsis where much improvised music puts a period or exclamation point. It is perpetuum mobile music at times--continually flowing outward only to find itself back where it was and outward again. Then next thing you know that figure regularizes into a series of riff-motives for a soloist to soar over.

This is music you should hear.


  1. Back again, man, doing my usual plug for The Jazz Session. Here's the Tim Berne episode:

    Saw the band the other night in NYC. Great show!


  2. Thanks for letting us know Jason. I heard that show was something else!