Tim Berne 

Snakeoil

Initially inspired by legendary avant-garde jazz saxophone legend Julius Hemphill (an original founder of the World Saxophone Quartet), alto saxophonist and composer Tim Berne has resolutely blazed his own path. Like his mentor Hemphill, Berne expresses earthy, hard-hitting notions in a flexible, loose-form context. Snakeoil is Berne's debut as a leader for the ECM label as well as the maiden voyage for his newest band, a foursome of Berne, Oscar Noriega on clarinets, Matt Mitchell on piano, and Ches Smith on drums and percussion. Although it's unlikely to take jazz radio by storm, Snakeoil may be a touch less daunting for novices to "out" jazz than many previous Berne opuses. "Spectacle" has a cyclical structure, with Berne's lithe alto singing and sighing in a tart, slightly bluesy manner, Mitchell's keys tinkling melancholy, Noriega's bass clarinet moaning ominously, and Smith's drums rumbling like a storm about to break. "Simple City" has a cinematic feel, its pensive, lurching, noir-ish quality broken by Noriega's warm, woody clarinet and Mitchell's deeply rhapsodic piano, ending with an almost classical-sounding theme. "Scanners" is crackling and angular, Berne all jagged and sardonic, Noriega's clarinet at first cool then squealing up a storm, Smith laying down a shifting, quasi-New Orleans drum pattern, and Mitchell's cool, hefty lyricism anchoring the proceedings. "Spare Parts" is full of the bittersweet, slightly oblique melodiousness of Lee Konitz and Jimmy Giuffre (and Ken Vandermark's quieter moments) --chamber group delicacy and purity meets mercurial free-ranging improvisation. It's nnovative music with a gregarious feel --an uncommon (and welcome) combination. (ECM)

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