Tim Berne’s Snakeoil ‘Shadow Man’ (ECM) 4/5

Tim_Bernes_SnakeoilIf it is music that has you on the edge of your seat wondering what is going to happen next that you are searching for, then you may just have found your nirvana in Tim Berne’s Snakeoil formation. This acoustic quartet has been in operation for four years and a critically acclaimed debut for ECM surfaced only last year and rapidly made the Downbeat top ten. It is an indication of the band’s precocious inventiveness that a second album is already upon us. The music veers between post-bop, new music and improvisation and as such is quite divorced from the jazz tradition and this is reflected in the influences of the group members that are truly eclectic and by no means exclusive to jazz. Percussionist Ches Smith has performed with both Marc Ribot and John Zorn while pianist Matt Mitchell has recently been part of the Dave Douglas Quintet. Multireedist Oscar Noriega meanwhile has worked with Anthony Braxton. With such heavyweight credentials, the music is anything but predictable and the rambling number ‘Socket’ gains in intensity at the piece unfolds with furious percussion work from Smith and the alto saxophone work of the leader and the clarinet of Noriega working in tandem when all of a sudden an intimate piano and alto interlude intervenes. A cacophony of sounds greets the listener on the hustle bustle of a piece that is ‘OC/DC’ and a hypnotic riff is created between piano and alto with Smith doubling up on vibraphone. However, it would be wrong to bracket the formation as being only interested in fast-paced numbers for on the Paul Motion composition ‘Psalm’ the saxophone wails sweetly and this writer would like to hear more of this side to the band on subsequent albums. Three of the compositions range between fifteen and twenty minutes in length and comprise the second half of the album. Progressive improvised music where jazz is but one component is a recurring theme in much of New York’s cutting edge scene and Tim Berne’s Snakeoil are at the apex of the emerging groups. Tim Stenhouse