Tim Berne’s Snakeoil

You’ve Been Watching Me

It’s no surprise that alto saxophonist-composer Tim Berne has an affinity for live albums. He should, having cut 17 of them. But since inking with ECM and releasing Snakeoil in 2012 and Shadow Man the following year, he’s proven that he can make music in the studio that’s every bit as adventurous as his onstage efforts — and You’ve Been Watching Me provides some of the strongest evidence yet. It’s an alluringly idiosyncratic effort whose sprawling nature does nothing to lessen its impact.

As on his previous pair of recordings for the label, Berne is accompanied by clarinetist Oscar Noriega, pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer and vibraphonist Ches Smith. This time around, however, Ryan Ferreira joins in on electric and acoustic guitar, and his addition proves to be key. “Embraceable Me” is a case in point. The 14-minute opus opens with an intricate Mitchell keyboard figure that anticipates the boisterous entry of Berne, Noriega and Smith, whose lines and rhythms weave around and through each other in ways that are deeply sympathetic despite the surface chaos. A subtle passage follows, after which Ferreira cracks the number open by way of heavily amplified drone effects that convey a sense of dark majesty.

The dynamic interplay that marks much of Berne’s finest work is in thrilling evidence on “Lost in Redding,” which kicks off with a bracingly tricky joint riff that births a boldly unstructured section, during which the assorted players poke and prod at each other independently before reuniting with even greater force. Yet the patient approach employed on “Small Town in a Small World,” in which Berne and company create and explore a sonic environment specific enough to deserve its place on the musical map, is equally effective. Like the rest of You’ve Been Watching Me, it feels very much alive. —Michael Roberts

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