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Stoked by the acclaim for the first, eponymous album from saxophonist-composer Tim Berne's acoustic quartet Snakeoil in 2012, the group has upped the ante with its second ECM release, Shadow Man. Over four years together, Berne and his band of New York standouts - pianist Matt Mitchell, clarinettist Oscar Noriega and drummer/percussionist Ches Smith - have developed a rapport that sounds like communal telepathy.
The studio outcome is a marvel of kinetic action, the six pieces of Shadow Man making for music as visceral as it is cerebral; there is rollercoaster dynamism and aching lyricism, roiling counterpoint and intriguing harmony, glinting detail and ensemble impact. The album is a dizzying experience for the senses, breathtaking - and, ultimately, moving - in its sheer imaginative verve.
Critical acclaim for the first Snakeoil album came from far and wide: All About Jazz described the music as "unpredictable and fresh," while The Guardian called it "an object lesson in balancing composition, improvisation and the tonal resources of an acoustic band." The album made the DownBeat critic's poll of the top 10 best releases of 2012, New York Times critic Nate Chinen listed it as his No. 1 release of the year, and Jazzwise underscored the stature of Snakeoil by declaring it to be "suffused with genuine humanity and more than a little wisdom."
Tim Berne was recently named No. 7 of New York City's top 25 essential jazz icons by Time Out New York, and he was called "a saxophonist and composer of granite conviction" by The New York Times. His 2012 Snakeoil album, Berne's ECM debut as a leader, was his first studio release after eight years devoted to live recordings. As a sideman, he has also made ECM appearances on recent albums by Michael Formanek (The Rub and Spare Change, Small Places) and David Torn (Prezens).
Personnel: Tim Berne (alto saxophone), Matt Mitchell (piano, tack and wurlitzer pianos), Oscar Noriega (clarinets), Ches Smith (drums, hand percussion, vibraphone)
'Saxophonist Tim Berne's compositions are never what you expect -- or rather they are totally what you expect if you are hoping to be led to an unanticipated destination in a circuitous manner. Yet, no matter how unique each adventure is, you know that you'll arrive safely, if somewhat addled...Shadow Man is another excellent addition to Berne's discography.' -- The Free Jazz Collective, (Paul Acquaro), October 15, 2013 * * * * *
'Spellbinding examples of Berne's composing ingenuity and the band's agility at running with his ever-mobile ideas...It's edgy, pattern spinning contemporary music, but austere it certainly is not.' -- The Guardian, (John Fordham), October 4, 2013 * * * *
'The follow-up to last year's widely praised debut, delves deeper into Berne's difficult, beautiful sound world, mixing delicately intricate writing with muscular group improv, executed with utter conviction by Noriega, Mitchell and Smith...compelling.' -- The Irish Times, (Cormac Larkin), October 18, 2013 * * * *
'Noriega's clarinets uncoil like heavily spiced incense smoke throughout, while Berne himself provides the album's most gripping moments, launching into powerfully intense solos that are somehow playful and as serious as your life at the same moment.' -- Jazzwise, (Daniel Spicer), December 2013 / January 2014 * * * *
'Paul Motian's Psalm provides some calm amid the sonic storms. Berne is the ultimate no-bull**** musician, and even when articulating the gentle, prayer-like mood of this piece, there is still not a hint of sentimentality in his slightly astringent-toned, beautifully articulated and richly dynamic playing... Shadow Man is a fine addition to his considerable discography.' -- The Jazz Breakfast, (Peter Bacon), November 6, 2013
'Brawlingly vigorous but miraculously responsive ensemble...like all Berne's music, this is full-on, rumbustiously interactive and utterly compelling; it is also carefully balanced, thoughtful and considered.'--LondonJazzNews, (Chris Parker), October 10, 2013
Top customer reviews
So collected practically everything that came out at his label Screwgun Records and at concert-stands.
This time I have a bit of a difficulty with his difficulty.. first time.
First heard this piece of music life at the North Sea Jazz Festival. Great to see him in that overcrowded place, because he belongs amongst the most important influencers on the now-avant-garde-jazz.
His music is allways free of schmieren or satisfying people. it is what it is. And GOOD!
Am glad to see him play on ECM, because that label can bring him to new and mayby larger audiences. If anyone, than he is deserving that !
But in this concert it was too much counting and weaving. Too much brain and skill to me.
Could't find the close-your-eyes and let yourself go into this music.. The music had lost the spontanity and furiousity, the near silences, the Berne-thing is missing a bit...
Enjoyed it allright, but hmmm. It happened again in the CD, it is hard to keep on listening and let go when too many oiled snakelines are playing trough and over eachother.
It might very well be me, who is missing something, probably actually, and I hope to get back on track and find out what it is, because i fully trust T.Berne and want to know and follow up in the lines he is drawing. But after listening over and over, I can't give a five star.
Still......, dó please listen. There is something to find out and it maybe will find ground or conclusion in the next recording.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Each play contributes significantly to the sound. Mr. Bearne does not dominate, but dances in and out. The man can play long melodic lines, short phrases, and scream through overblowing and multiphonics. This range is remarkable and, in some senses, reminds me of the tenorist Evo Perelman and, to a lesser extent, multi-reedist, Peter Brotzmann.
Each piece is carefully structured and often steeped in counterpoint. Despite the absence of a bass instrument, the sonic texture is full, thanks largely to adept left hand of the pianist and the careful strategies of the group as a whole.
The tone, pace, and intensity of the tunes differ, but they are attached to a thread of continuity. Each piece sounds like it was played by the same group, but there is no monotony.
One cannot rightly call this free-jazz, since the compositions have form; but there is much freedom within that form. This this is not blowing session. It is almost chamber music.
The contrast between Bearne's alto and the bass clarinet player is a winning one. They never compete, but complement each other. They do not trade fours or trade anything else. The vibes, seldom heart on this kind of music, also add a refreshing touch.
It is heartening to find an active, engaging sound--boarding on free jazz or avant-guarde, but not quite stepping into the territory--on the ECM label, the recordings of which (at times) fall into soporific soundings.
I look forward to further recordings by this relatively new and heartening group. There is beauty and mystery in the world, and music may captive both, yet is captures neither.
Sometimes they take these tunes to some very weird, difficult-to-listen-to places. It's OK. Hang in there. They're going to come back, and when they do, it will be with something better than they would have ever delivered through conventional means.
There is no one playing music like this out there. They deserve our support for being brave and daring enough to play music they know has a limited audience. Those of us who love it, love it a lot.
Not recommended for the neophyte, but if you don't mind a little weirdness in your music (or a lot), pick it up. You'll dig it.
Well, it's certainly my favorite.
Kudos to ECM on picking up Berne and company and getting their music in front of a wider audience. This is not your typical ECM release - it's knotty, propulsive, violent, goofy, funky and ferociously complex. Yes, Snakeoiltown is many miles away from Scandinavian Rubato Junction (not to mention Hushed Bulgarian Cymbal Wash Road). That said, it's a perfect for ECM in a few other ways: it's splendidly recorded and deeply, deeply beautiful.
Also, the cover art is great (a photo from Berne, who apparently lives inside the Playstation game "Silent Hill").
This is music making on the highest level. It strikes the perfect balance between improvisation and composition. Berne, of course, is unstoppable on alto, Matt Mitchell is a phenomenon, Noriega is Dolphy-worthy on clarinets, Ches Smith finds ridiculous grooves underneath a thick tangle of angular lines.
It confuses the hell out of my cat and makes me glad to be alive. Buy it.
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