Tim Berne's SnakeOil | Constellation | Rock, Pop, Etc | Chicago Reader
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Tim Berne

Tim Berne

Wes Orshoski

When: Sat., May 9, 8:30 p.m. 2015
Price: $20, $15 in advance
The music of saxophonist Tim Berne, 60, has always been incredibly dense, featuring ideas packed tight into a contrapuntal tangle that requires serious concentration to parse. His intricate writing pushes each performance forward with a zigzagging propulsion that requires his musicians to engage with one another in rigorous, pinpoint fashion. On the first two Snakeoil albums, pianist Matt Mitchell is masterful at thickening and complicating the harmonic action, giving both Berne and clarinetist Oscar Noriega thick clouds of harmony to work within. And on the band’s staggering new album, You’ve Been Watching Me (ECM), the players are joined by guitarist Ryan Ferreira, whose hefty sonic sculptures not only free up Mitchell to go his own way but give the others even more to grapple with. Berne wisely includes lots of extended passages with only two or three players engaging in abstract dialogue, imparting a heightened sense of dynamics new to this project. Album opener “Lost in Redding,” for example, is a hot-potato flurry of hovering guitar noise and rheumy bass clarinet that gets pushed aside by jagged piano and astringent alto saxophone; drummer Ches Smith chimes in with metallic clatter and muted vibraphone tones. On the epic “Small World in a Small Town” Smith’s drumming prods and punctures tightly braided piano, reeds, and guitar lines that advance a dizzying proliferation of themes before breaking into more intimate interactions that explore the complex confines of the opening section, then morphing into new, ever-undulating dimensions. For this Chicago stop, the core quartet of Berne, Mitchell, Noriega, and Smith performs. —Peter Margasak
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