Tag Archives: tim berne

Tim Berne’s Snakeoil @ Jazz Standard, Tuesday night

There’s a bit of obsession in the dense beauty of Tim Berne’s music on You’ve Been Watching Me (ECM) – once it nails a motif, it doesn’t let go until it’s been examined and exhausted. The wily saxophonist’s tumult comes in calibrated waves, and each splashes toward one exuberant goal. Like its two predecessors, the new album’s action feels elastic, always morphing to put one of the group’s instruments in the foreground. Sometimes it’s the luscious clarinets of Oscar Noriega, sometimes it’s the steely piano of Matt  Mitchell, sometimes it’s the octopus percussion of Ches Smith. Further amazing – even with the additional density of new guitarist Ryan Ferreira, Berne’s thick ensemble passages find a way to bust out some breathing room while still delivering on the promise of their signature whomp. Give your speakers some real juice while the band gets ultra agile on “Semi-Self Detached” and you’ll likely agree. Arrangement and chemistry FTW. The quintet tends to explode club gigs like their Jazz Standard romp into a million pieces. Be there.

Jazz Standard

Here’s what I said about ’em a couple years ago.

Here’s what Richard Gehr says about ’em this time.

Here’s how Hank Shteamer hears ’em.

Ferreira Comes Onboard

Tim Berne’s Paraphrase @ Greenwich House Thursday Night

Saxophone trios have a unique equilibrium to deal with, and this rather iconic leftie outfit tickled listeners in the late 90s/early aughts by stressing fluidity above all. Sometimes they flailed to keep from sinking, sometimes they floated to enjoy the atmosphere. Then they split. So this gig is the first time in seven or eight years that Tim Berne, Drew Gress and Tom Rainey have connected, and it’s likely that the mix of pithy melodies and raucous implosions still offers the cranky grace it always did. 

Forget 10, Here’s 20 (Best Jazz Albums of 2012)


1. Brad Mehldau Trio – Ode  (Nonesuch)

2. John Abercrombie –  Within A Song   (ECM)

3. Kris Davis – Aeriol Piano   (Clean Feed)

4. Ravi Coltrane – Spirit Fiction     (Blue Note)

5. Luciana Souza  – Duo III   (Sunnyside)

6. Paradoxical Frog – Union   (Clean Feed)

7. Ahmad Jamal  –  Blue Moon     (Jazz Village)

8. Billy Hart – All Our Reasons   (ECM)

9. Tim Berne – Snakeoil    (ECM)

10. Orrin Evans – Flip The Script     (Posi-Tone)

11. Ryan Truesdell – Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans  (ArtistShare)

12. David Virelles – Continuum  (Pi) 

13. Vijay Iyer Trio – Accelerando (ACT)

14. Neneh Cherry & The Thing – The Cherry Thing  (Smalltown Supersound)

15. Mary Halvorson – Bending Bridges   (Firehouse 12) 

16. Masabumi Kikuchi – Sunrise  (ECM)

17. Jon Irabagon’s Outright!  – Unhinged  (Irabbagast)

18. Darius Jones Quartet – Book of Mae’Bull  (AUM Fidelity)

19. Steve Lehman Trio – Dialect Florescent (Pi)

20. Frank Kimbrough Trio – Live At Kitano (Palmetto)

Don’t go thinking this list in any hierarchical order – Brad’s not top and Frank’s not bottom. 




Michael Formanek Quartet @ Jazz Standard, October 1 + 2

On the new Small Places (ECM) the bassist and his crew find ways to have knotty themes tumble with a surprising ease. That kind of aplomb makes complex music sound much more natural, much more seductive, and from the jitters of Tim Berne’s sax to drummer Gerald Cleaver’s poetic rattle, each tune is lined with a deep confidence. Meaning they’re really starting to sound like a band.

Jazz Standard

7:30 pm & 9:30 pm $20. Jazz Standard. 116 East 27 Street.


Team Berne: Just Another Night in Brooklyn 

Tim Berne’s Snakeoil

It was gnarled momentum that initially made me fall for Tim Berne’s music. Some of the cresting swells of early albums like 7X and Mutant Variations helped sell a compositional style that fully values kinetic crescendos. Because he’s a texture fiend, the saxophonist has historically left plenty of room for visceral sounds that up the ante as well. From Fractured Fairy Tales to Bloodcount, his bands have been expert at throwing punches while galloping by.

So I’m wondering why I’m so smitten with the utter grace of Berne’s latest outfit, Los Totopos. He hasn’t made any stylistic switch-ups for his first ECM disc, but the level of refinement that this new music boasts is unmistakable. Surrounded by Oscar Noriega’s clarinets, Ches Smith’s drums, and Matt Mitchell’s piano, the leader’s alto patterns have moved from tumbling to swooping. That momentum mentioned above is still there – parts of Snakeoil, like the drive towards oblivion at the end of “Scanners,” come on like a locomotive – but the group’s unity bevels the turbulence. I got to see the band during several formative gigs, and they were tight. But this disc captures an eloquence that wasn’t there prior.

One of the program’s strong points is the ensemble’s ability to be diffuse yet determined. From the opening speculation by Mitchell (whose ability to render frenzied passages with a gentle touch is crucial to this refinement thing I’m talking about) to the dreamy investigations the band renders on “Not Sure,” Los Totopos concoct the kind of formal informality that the Art Ensemble claimed as their own early on. The start of “Spare Parts” offers jitters inside a feathery reflection. The tune’s mid-section finds everything on constant simmer, waxing supple and prickly at the same time.

Noriega’s pulpy tone is a rich foil for Berne’s signature tartness. Smith’s deep palette of pummel options dodges cliché at every turn. Mitchell, who studied the bandleader’s music as a student, deploys the kind of whimsy that’s imbued with gravitas. Along with Manfred Eicher’s meticulous production, these singular skills help Berne reshape his sound. Together, they’ve found a way of presenting architectural idiosyncrasies as enchanting wrinkles.



Ches Smith’s Cong For Brums “Psycho Predictions”

From Baby Dodd’s tumbling his way through “Spooky Drums” to Han Bennink getting giddy on Tempo Comodo, I’ve long been intrigued by the choices a percussionist makes when he or she sets up shop alone. Over the course of three discs Ches Smith has come up with some intriguing turns. Away from noted collaborators such as Marc Ribot and Tim Berne, and under the moniker Cong For Brums, he’s melded his skills at the trap set with his yen for electronics and other percussion instruments. The resultant array of soundscapes are as logical and gorgeous as they are abstract and hermetic. The three on this latest outing are titled “Death Chart,” “Birth Chart,” and “Conclusion: That’s Life.” Using lessons from such mentors as Pauline Oliveros and Alvin Currin picked up during his studies at Mills College, the NYC drummer builds a narrative arc that includes moments of Morse Code mixed with flourishes of doom metal. He calls ‘em etudes, but you can call ‘em the most well-plotted cris de coeur ever – even the bleeps nicked from Pac Man.

Smith, a lanky dude who plays a somewhat tiny drum set featuring a mile-high crash cymbal, recorded Psycho Predictions live, and its improvised design has a deliberate feel. That’s a plus. It may seem like a parade of textured thwacks and buzzes, but each segue does a good job of leading the music away from randomness. “I’m trying to find a way to connect the three instruments compositionally,” he says of the drums, vibes, and electronics. “I had this whole thing mapped out harmonically, but it came together differently than what I had imagined when I set out.” There are giddy passages with a Raymond Scott feel, luminous passages with an Cluster feel, and there’s a moment or two of good old Baby Dodds as well. Smith may do strong work with such associates as Mary Halvorson and Xiu Xiu, but he has no problem creating a load of eloquence on his own. 

Box Score: Five Best Moments of Last Night’s Undead Fest

1. Tarbaby’s Can of Whup-Ass 

They opened it, they laid it on the floor, and then they stomped the holy hell out of it. The rhythm section is a modern miracle of power-swing, rocking with a Claymore mine explosiveness (and an Art Ensemble playfulness). Oliver Lake’s blowtorch sounded like it had been part of the unit for years. 

2. Tyshawn Sorey’s Drum Kit

The Paradoxical Frog drummer works in a series of hushes (when he’s not working in a series of thuds) and his percussion needs are specific. Long story short, he’s a soundscapist who knows exactly which tools are necessary. But the array of tiny cymbals, sideways toms and clatter devices was amazing, in a Duchamp/Goldberg/Bennink kind of way. Maybe the best part was when he was rubbing the thigh of his jeans for a texture-specific whhhhzzzzzttt.

3. Andrew D’Angelo’s Poem For Felicia Wilson

Music is the healing power of the universe, and the saxophonist knows about its many truths. So after having his Big Band roil ‘n’ roll through an ultra-tight set of knotty charts (be on the look out for crazyman Josh Sinton), he sent out a smooch for dear friend currently embroiled with deep medical issues. The theme lilted, then it soared. And those who sang along offered personal prayers. Somewhere in Baldwin, a woman was kissed on the cheek and patted on the back. 

4. Michael Blake’s Basie Nod

The saxophonist had just finished taking the Carpenters through a “Chasing The Trane” excursion, and he wanted to say goodnight to his audience. Pretty has always been in his wheelhouse (make sure his spin on Bean’s “Maria” is in your wheelhouse), and “Blue and Sentimental,” the simple blues treat by the Count’s crew was unlike anything else I heard all evening. Old school lyricism and three-way (Royston/Allison) swing at its simplest and most effective. Nuanced, bittersweet, gorgeous. “Don’t forget that Basie played on Bleeker Street, too,” said Blake.

5. Goldfinger’s Goodbye

In the first 90 seconds of the set, David Torn had a ghostly fog hovering three feet above the stage, but he was getting ready to pierce it. A stomp or two on his foot pedals and blammo, a scream from the upper, upper, upper register. Tim Berne hadn’t made a sound yet, but when Torn let his siren wail, the saxophonist wasn’t a split-second behind. They announced their arrival with a long-held note that didn’t waver one iota for three or four minutes. Frightening in a way, but that fog was still there to give you an earthly point of reference. 

and would you like a 6th one? It’s on me…

Five Don’t-Miss Shows At the Undead Jazz Festival

Kicking off the June jazz season, The Undead Festival takes place in the Village this weekend, and like its kissin’ cousin, the Winter JazzFest, it’s a hive of activity that brings 35 acts to stages of (le) Poisson Rouge, Sullivan Hall, and Kenny’s Castaways. Best to make a few must-see choices before you hit the storm. Here’s the Voice blab.

1. Fight the Big Bull

The Virginia big band likes to retreat to clamor when melodies and textural gambits falter, but as their newish All Is Gladness in the Kingdom (Clean Feed) illustrates, they’re becoming more and more eloquent with the spray of sound that they create with such obvious spirit. And dipping into the pop nugget realm, they pull out a nifty spin through The Band’s “Jemima Surrender.”

2. Ideal Bread

The repetitious themes of Steve Lacy‘s music have long had an enchanting quality. Each go-round of the melody lets improvisers dig a bit deeper and set up a somewhat circular dynamic of ideas. Saxophonist Josh Sinton knows the power of Lacy’s puzzles; his quartet is a repertory group, leaping into the master’s book, and reminding listeners that in several cases Lacy himself led blowing bands (the front line of Steve Potts, Irene Aebi, and the soprano saxophonist himself was always ready to let the solos spill forth). On Transmit (Cuneiform) Sinton’s bari mixes with Kurt Knuffke‘s trumpet to do the same – this is curious quartet. The tunes can be conundrums, but they have a fascinating sense of entertainment.

3. John Hollenbeck’s Large Ensemble

The wily drummer’s big band is one of the versatile outfits around, but doesn’t play often enough. Those who caught Hollenbeck at the (le) Poisson Rouge at the end of last year got a great sampling of the group’s clout and eloquence. But he presented three distinct ensembles that night, and I for one could have used more of the precision and creativity that’s found on Eternal Interlude (Sunnyside). This set should boast both.

4. Steve Coleman & Five Elements

In the mid-80s, the alto saxophonist was considered a renegade; these days he’s being positioned as a guru. Lots of upcoming players are smitten with his gripping rhythmic agenda and the hyper maneuvers of his post-bop soloing vocabulary. On the new Harvesting Semblances and Affinities (Pi), the pieces are both skittish and sleek, and the band’s approach to articulation borders on zealous.  Their live shows are few and far between, but watching Coleman lead his associates through his maze can be a powerful experience.

5. Dave King/Tim Berne/Craig Taborn

Three sage improvisers fully taken with the poetry of working in the moment. The Bad Plus drummer is a cross between Keith Moon exclamation and Andrew Cyrille invention. The stalwart alto saxophonist is always on his toes when it comes to sketching his way through a soundscape, and the clever keybster brings an array of acoustelectric textures to table while advancing a deep rhythmic agenda. Making it up as you go is an art form.