Saxophonist Tim Berne's compositions are never what you expect -- or rather they are totally what you expect if you are hoping to be led to an unanticipated destination in a circuitous manner. Yet, no matter how unique each adventure is, you know that you'll arrive safely, if somewhat addled.
Snakeoil's first release was a highly lauded event, it topped many critics polls and certainly thrilled me too. Back when it came out, I wrote "right from the first tune there is an assuredness in the intertwining melodies and ever evolving musical ideas. Quiet passages are contrasted by intense ones, and the ebb and flow throughout is seamless", which stands true, and then some, for this new offering, Shadow Man.
The recording starts out on the quiet side with "Son of Not So Sure." The track takes its time as Matt Mitchell's piano and Ches Smith's vibraphone create a dramatic and somewhat pensive atmosphere. The follow up track 'Static' picks up at a fast clip with melodies and counter-melody climbing and intertwining. Then, over a rather steady piano riff, Berne's sax becomes towering. As I listened, I somehow felt like I wandering around the base of rocky spires in a national park in southern Utah, layers of sound rising up like multihued formations reaching into the crystal skies above. It leaves you panting for air, wondering how something so delicate and beautiful is hewn from such basic elements. 'OC/DC' is a track you can get lost in. Surrounded by the wonderous peaks of saxophone and pathways blazed by the piano, the percussion provides obtuse but delightful trail markers. The dark tension that Oscar Noriega creates on his bass clarinet is captivating, and when the rest of the group picks up, the track 'Sockets' becomes yet another highlight.
Shadow Man is another excellent addition to Berne's discography. Check out a recent clip of Snakeoil's appearance at the Atlas Performing Arts Center in Washington, DC (courtesy of Kevin Reilly):