Tim Berne s third ECM album, You ve Been Watching Me, sees the saxophonist-composer again leading his ultra-dynamic New York band Snakeoil, but with the quartet now a quintet with the arrival of guitarist Ryan Ferreira, whose sound adds textural allure. The group s 2013 release, Shadow Man, garnered Berne some of the highest praise of his career as a composer and bandleader, with JazzTimes marveling over how his work grows wilder and deeper. The four-star DownBeat review said: This music rocks and thinks, explores, deconstructs and, yes, it swings, in its own identifiably angular, Berne-ian way. Just as Berne has hit a new peak with his writing on You ve Been Watching Me, his band has reached a heightened state of collective interaction, realizing the compositions to a tee. Snakeoil with the leader on alto sax alongside pianist Matt Mitchell, clarinetist Oscar Noriega, percussionist Ches Smith and Ferreira on electric and acoustic guitars can still be bracingly kinetic. But there is new space in these compositions and more lyrical focus to the improvisations, leading to a dramatic, even cinematic experience in such tracks as Embraceable Me. Put simply, Berne s music has never been richer or more arresting.
Recorded live at The Stone in New York City on a sweltering July evening in 2009, The Veil is the debut of BB&C (also known as The Sons of Champignon), an acronym for alto saxophonist Tim Berne, drummer Jim Black and guitarist Nels Cline—veteran improvisers with a long history of collaboration. Cline first recorded with Berne in the early '80s, while Black was a member of Berne's revered '90s era Bloodcount quartet. Unfolding as a single uninterrupted long-form improvisation and encore, the date's indexing points and song-titles were created after the fact for convenience. Despite having no predetermined agenda or rehearsal, the set flows as seamlessly as if it were pre-composed—such is the intuitive accord of these three veterans.
After compelling contributions to ECM discs by David Torn and Michael Formanek, here is Tim Berne’s first leader date for the label. “Snakeoil” introduces a fascinating ensemble, a “chamber-like group” in Berne’s words, albeit one that packs some power. Tim’s tough alto is heard with Oscar Noriega’s earthy clarinets, Matt Mitchell’s cryptic piano, and Ches Smith’s tone-conscious drums, tympani, gongs and congas. Berne: “I'd decided on this very transparent instrumentation to try and avoid obvious stylistic references and to focus the listener on the musical ideas being presented.”
Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page backs Harper up on this album and earns co-billing for his trouble. The guitar interplay turns out to be the highlight of the album. Harper displays a nihilistic attitude toward everything in general, and quite a few things in particular…
Visitation Rites is the debut of Paraphrase, a collaborative improvisational trio featuring Tim Berne on saxophones, Drew Gress on bass and drummer Tom Rainey. Recorded live in Berlin in 1996, Berne and company stomp, boomerang, flail and jump all over the place, musically, yet somehow it all seems to make sense. Berne's serpentine lines let him milk a motif for all it's worth before letting Rainey and Gress take it somewhere else. Although their flights of collective improvisation are rather lengthy, they maintain a sense of cohesiveness throughout this challenging music. Their musical tapestry is vivid, rendering emotional peaks along with moments of whimsy.
Unwound is a fully satisfying dose of Tim Berne's Bloodcount (live, as always) in a three-disc set. The first two contain performances from March 1996 that took place in Berlin, while the music on the third disc comes from an April show in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which ended with an epic journey of an improvisation – the 40-plus minute "What Are the Odds." Disc one, "We're Only in It for the Food," starts with a medium burner that works into a groove called "Bro'ball." This piece (one of the box set's shortest, at 16 minutes) is followed by "No Ma'am," which allows the listener to get used to floating in the thick of the music before any graspable theme emerges (about halfway through).