Observed and improved

Tim Berne’s Snakeoil

You’ve Been Watching Me


20th April 2015


Tim Berne: alto saxophone; Oscar Noriega: bass, clarinets; Ryan Ferreira: guitars; Matt Mitchell: piano, electronics; Ches Smith: drums, vibraphone, percussion, timpani.

Tim Berne’s third ECM album, You’ve Been Watching Me, features the saxophonist-composer again leading his latest band Snakeoil, now expanded to  a quintet with the arrival of guitarist Ryan Ferreira, whose signature sound adds greater texture and more options to the overall feel of the music.

The group’s 2013 release, Shadow Man, left Berne with some of the highest accolades of his long and convoluted career, there cannot be many more jazzmen with more ensembles to their name e.g, Paraphrase, Big Satan, Hard Cell, Caos Totale, etc , With Snakeoil he has reached a creative peak distilling his work to date with those other groups into a radical but coherent collection. Without doubt with  this new album he has greatly further improved and enhanced his work and reputation.

The music is typically “Berneian”, extremely long and complex riffs/lines snake over an energetic rhythm section in the most part. However there is a more space here than hitherto with elements of the music taking a more introspective feel , Across the album the compositions and playing move from complex jazz/math/rock into more relaxed and contemplative chamber pieces through to Middle-Eastern melodies and into visceral layers of sound. In places you might feel you are listening to Pawn Hearts era Van Der Graaf Generator, Sonic Youth in their SYR mode,  or early Dave Holland ECM outings, such is the detailed interplay between the musicians. Ferreira’s rock tones, a fascinating mix of varying styles , together with unforgiving blowing from the two horns, create a joyous dynamic building slowly to ecstatic climaxes. Relatively short for Berne compositions, which in the past have in some instances exceeded well over 30 minutes, these pieces are well structured and engage the listener with their many ideas, their development and execution.

Former Berne collaborator Dave Torn produced the album to his usual very high standards.

Berne has a rich history of challenging conventions, his music will not appeal to all, but with this album he comes very close to offering a selection which could, and should, grab the attention of the more conservative jazz listeners and get him the wider recognition he richly deserves.

Highly recommended.

Tracks from the the album will be featured on World of Jazz Podcast 126 which will be available on 30th April.

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