Album: Incidentals

Artist: Tim Berne's Snakeoil

Label: ECM

Release Date: September 08, 2017


The Upshot: High-powered sax man proves he’s just as wired and iconoclastic as ever.


Alto saxist/composer Tim Berne has always been known for his energy music – few musicians outside of John Zorn are as comfortable with powerhouse improvisation as Berne. But he’s as much author as performer, and Incidentals, his fourth LP with current ensemble Snakeoil, highlights his writing as much as his musicians’ playing.

Not unusually, the first song lays it all out. “Hora Feliz” begins contemplatively, building slowly until Berne weighs in with a surprisingly straightforward melody. But soon enough, pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer Ches Smith arrive to knock the tune off-kilter, as the songs shifts to more angular moves, and clarinetist Oscar Noriega rampages through the arrangement like a Tie Fighter with a faulty gyro. The burly “Stingray Shuffle” keeps the arrangements roiling, as does “Incidentals Contact,” in which Smith switches to vibraphone and guitarist Ryan Ferreira adds thick, rumbling textures beneath the horn attacks. But the centerpiece is “Sideshow,” nearly a half hour of Berne, Noriega, Mitchell and Ferreira exploring every nook and cranny of the piece, going from out to in to somewhere in between, translating the love/hate relationship between chaos and order into a musical journey. Closing cut “Prelude One/Sequel Too” slows down the tempo, but Berne’s fiery soloing keeps the tune from ending the album on a calm note.

After as many decades as he’s been active, you’d think Berne might be slowing down in his middle years. But Incidentals is proof that he’s just as wired and iconoclastic as ever.

DOWNLOAD: “Sideshow,” “Incidentals Contact,” “Hora Feliz”

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