Tim Berne’s Snakeoil

The Fantastic Mrs. 10
Intakt CD 340

Tim Berne/Nasheet Waits

The Coandă

Relative Pitch RPR 1103

Far along enough in his career that he doesn’t have to prove anything, two recent CDs by alto saxophonist Tim Berne show that he hasn’t lost his mojo when it comes to composing or playing. A bulletin from his Snakeoil quintet, The Fantastic Mrs. 10 consists of six new Berne compositions and a brief one by his mentor Julius Hemphill. Shared with drummer Nasheet Waits, The Coandă is a live out-and-out blowing session of mutual exploration by two players who have cultivated the evolving codes of Jazz improvisation.

Taking off on the quintet disc’s title track with some freylekhs-like saxophone jumps, Berne is quickly followed by percussion smashes by Ches Smith, snarling low-pitches from Oscar Noriega’s clarinet, ascending guitar licks from Marc Ducret and soon spelunking among the piano’s crevices by Matt Mitchell. Berne’s squeaky flutters continue the narrative even as Smith ping pongs between drums and vibes and Mitchell intensifies the pressure with high-pitched key tinkles. Reaching a crescendo of five-part cacophony the piece segues forward to a logical conclusion.

With Smith also playing glockenspiel and Haitian tanbou and Mitchell tack piano and modular synthesizer the number of textures available from this unusually set up combo is multiplied. For instance while because of its title “Amazing Mr. 7” may sound like a companion piece to the first, it’s instead dedicated to a rhythm section groove propelled by junkeroo percussion, shaking guitar flanges and driving keyboard harmonies. Introduced by super-swift saxophone runs harmonized with piano picking and underlined by chalumeau clarinet slurs, it asserts its individuality. Still, when Noriega too reduces his output into sound shards the reed cross tones may dissect the narrative, but cunningly reference the introduction. Close to this strategy, the tack-piano’s jittery thwacks on “Rolo” , set up a near honky-tonk theme elaboration that contrast reed-biting squeals, and keyboard pounding and add some cow-bell whacks for inflated kinetics. After Ducret’s ringing pops torque the piece still further, first drum pops than horn riffs accompaniment to his string buzzes affirm its rhythmic impetus.

On Hemphill’s “Dear Friend”, a sympathetic threnody and on others of his compositions, Berne confirms that his skills aren’t just confined to extended texture-and theme-shattering. Each piece is open enough to allow for a range of distinctive coloration, whether involving expanded keyboard glissandi, unexpected woodwind patterning, moving percussion emphasis or even breaks that let Ducret showcase his evolved free music take on Blues-Rock, and it’s all here. Ironically enough though, “Rose Colored Assive” that concisely evolves restructured alto saxophone split tones alongside juggling and oscillating synthesizer riffs could serve as an introduction to the extended duet on The Coandă.

Named for the tendency of a fluid jet to stay attached to a convex surface, the one massive performance and one brief coda that make up the duo disc musically demonstrate this connection. The unexpected part of this meeting is that over the years Berne has been identified with advanced players such as John Zorn and Michael Formanek, while Waits usual milieu is with more mainstream stylists like Jason Moran and Fred Hersch. However sonic kinship is more present than separation here. Reminiscent of Hemphill’s duets with Warren Smith, another drummer who plays inside and outside, Waits almost immediately sets the pace on the 38-minute “Tensile” with thematic patterning emanating from bass drum thumps and cross handed cymbal whacks. In contrast Berne’s alto saxophone tone is both dissected and shaded, propelling altissimo runs at the same time as inferring melodies. With the drummer maintaining a constant percussion continuum, the saxophonist slides from high to low pitches, exposing acerbic bites and accented slides, increasing the tension with tongue flutters, triple-tongue stops and head-shaking line expansion. Waits rugged paradiddles, cymbal accents and multi-directional slaps return the pressure in kind, pushing the saxophonist to shaded slurps and irregular vibrations propelled almost without pause until dual kinetics explode at the half-way mark. Attaining a well-paced flow, the next sequence is defined by Berne’s expelling near-lyrical trills, as Waits’ rolls and pops relax the interface. Pivoting still further in near lockstep, the two reach an attractive climax where rim shots and subtle rebounds fasten themselves to a string of accented reed tones and a slow slide to an ending. While the 10-minute “5see” which follows appreciative audience applause allows Berne to highlight more strained and nasal hollers and Waits to expand his pops and ruffs so that the duet angles more towards unbridled Albert Ayler-like suggestions than Hemphill’s style, it seems no more than an afterthought.

Developed along the same exploratory lines, but in final analysis vastly different, both CDs are prime example of Berne’s musical maturity.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Fantastic: 1. The Fantastic Mrs. 10 2. Surface Noise 3. Rolo 4. Dear Friend 5. The Amazing Mr. 7 6. Third Option 7. Rose Colored Assive

Personnel: Fantastic: Tim Berne (alto saxophone); Oscar Noriega (bass and Bb clarinets); Matt Mitchell (piano, tack piano, modular synthesizer); Marc Ducret (guitar); Ches Smith (drums, vibes, glockenspiel, Haitian tanbou)

Track Listing: Coandă: 1. Tensile 2. 5see

Personnel: Coandă: Tim Berne (alto saxophone) and Nasheet Waits (drums)