The attractions of tumult are many, and as Tim Berne becomes a increasingly articulate composer with each passing year, the gnarled fantasias he pens for this far-reaching quintet take on an eloquence chock with idiosyncrasy. Textural breadth is key, especially on 2015’s You’ve Been Watching Me; please say hi to percussionist Ches Smith’s timpani, guitarist Ryan Ferreira’s string skronk and pianist Matt Mitchell’s left hand cannon blasts. But aura is just as exciting. Shards of minimalism, zig-zag melodies and great gusts of abstract noir unite to tell a larger story – each is driven by a mildly crazed sense of purpose. Some sections remind me of the images Berne shot for his project, Spare, a book of photos and drawings made in cahoots with his illustrator/designer mate, Steve Byram. Snakeoil has a live CD attached to that gorgeous package as well, and when played at the right volume, it can tear your head off.
If everything goes right, that live experience will parallel the group’s kick-off gig at the Quad stage. The band will hopefully apply itself to some of the new pieces from upcoming Incidentals (ECM) which furthers the intricacy and intensity while somehow providing more breathing room for the relentless thematic elaborations that mark the boss’s writing. I’ve been playing “Stingray Shuffle” on repeat for the last few days. Snakeoil gets better and better at calibrating momentum, and its collective whomp can be frightening.
Newport Jazz Festival 2017 Schedule / Aug 4 – 6