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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, James Poore, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Bert Thompson, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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TIM BERNE'S SNAKEOIL

You've Been Watching Me

ECM 472 2298

 

 

  1. Lost in Redding

  2. Small World In A Small Town

  3. Embraceable Me

  4. Angles

  5. You've Been Watching Me

  6. Semi-Self Detached

  7. False Impressions

Tim Berne - Alto saxophone

Oscar Noriega - Clarinet, bass clarinet

Ryan Ferreira - Electric guitar, acoustic guitar

Matt Mitchell - Piano, electronics

Ches Smith - Drums, vibes, percussion, timpani


Hold onto your hats! This is not jazz for the faint-hearted nor for those who are afraid of the avant-garde. From his early days in the business, Tim Berne has been associated with experimental music which is the antithesis of easy listening. His influences would include, for instance, fellow altoist and composer, Julius Hemphill with whom he studied from 1974-8. There is also more than a hint of Ornette Coleman in Berne's work. Over thirty years ago, Berne was playing the compositions of Coleman in a group brought together by John Zorn and he shares Ornette's penchant for individual freedom within the ensemble, a kind of fervent interactive creativity. Now sixty years of age, a native New Yorker, Berne is revered among those who are excited by free-jazz. In fact, he was recently numbered in the Top 10 of Time Out New York's 'Essential NYC Jazz Icons'. This is his third disc for the ECM label but the first to include in the group the fluid guitarist, Ryan Ferreira (catch his brief but telling solo effort on You've Been Watching Me). Matt Mitchell is a versatile composer and educator as well as the group's pianist. Oscar Noriega has worked with Lee Konitz, Anthony Braxton, Dewey Redman and Paul Motian, among others. The group is completed by a skilled percussionist in Ches Smith.

Tim Berne has composed all the music on the disc and both noise and silence have their part to play in the intricate and ingenious layers of possibility he has provided. My personal favourite is Small World In A Small Town, although we are over half way in before the highlight solo by Oscar Noriega, pure-toned and lucid on clarinet. That's not in any way to undervalue Berne's probing, energetic (and lengthy!) contribution, Matt Mitchell's emphatic ringing of the changes on piano or the way the other musicians collaborate. Despite that calm in the midst of the storm when Noriega plays, ultimately this track is rumbustious, the rhythm insistent as we move towards the climax. The moody Embraceable Me will attract admirers, too. It has a subterranean, not to say ominous, feel about it, with mounting tension leading to a slow fade. Angles has an atmospheric beginning which then descends into a vortex of sound before the sudden, final silence. Even where there seems to be a complete cacophony as in the opening track Lost In Redding, the result can be strangely absorbing. Semi-Self Detached, however, is decidedly abstract while on False Impressions, if the impression that you come away with is that of chaotic complex rhythms, interspersed with quieter passages, it won't be a false one!

Jazz has meant different things to different people throughout its history. To some, this disc will reinforce negative perceptions of the music. Others will be impressed by the sheer energy and off-the-wall invention demonstrated. As ever, judgement is informed by the particular taste of the listener.

James Poore



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