Tim Berne’s Snakeoil ‘You’ve Been Watching Me’ (ECM) 4/5

tim-bernes-snakeoilSaxophonist Tim Berne is an interesting musician in that he has actively favoured live performance over studio recording. This latest album is only the second in studio in a decade and follows on from ‘Shadow Man’ (2013).
Essentially, the New York band is showcased here and that means a quartet plus one, the latter being guitarist Ryan Ferreira. To give proceedings that ‘live’ feel, the music was recorded at the Clubhouse in upstate New York under the expert production of David Torn, himself a musician (a future album review will be forthcoming) fellow ECM stable mate and former colleague. The material is at once dense and meaty, with four numbers alone going beyond the ten minute mark. Berne and band are at their most lyrical on ‘Semi-self detached’ which features some glorious collective work on horns (Oscar Noriega featuring throughout on clarinet), the piano of Matt Mitchell (who doubles up on various electronica elsewhere) and guitarist Ferreira. In a more intimate vein is the eighteen and a half-minute opus ‘Small world in a small town’ with a rapport between piano and alto saxophone. Mitchell is in fact the favoured pianist of trumpeter Dave Douglas and here stretching the outer limits of the duo format, one can hear why. In parts the music is densely layered, no more so than on the fourteen minute plus ‘Embraceable me’ where piano, saxophones and percussion all gradually come together and the overall sound becomes increasingly frenetic. Ferreira tales a leaf out of the Pat Metheny acoustic guitar on the title track and this writer would certainly like to hear more of the aforementioned musician in this vein. As an interesting aside to the rest of proceedings, the brief ‘Angles’ is a brooding mix of piano and percussive overload with Berne entering at pace. The album ends on an athletic, pulsating note with ‘False Impressions’ where bass clarinet predominates from Noriega with some wailing saxophone from Berne creating a veritable cacophony of sound.

Tim Stenhouse