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Auf "Snakeoil" präsentiert die Gruppe eine auch klangtechnisch vielschichtige Quartettmusik, die auf den Errungenschaften von postmodernem Jazz und 2. Wiener Schule aufbaut. Alle vier Musiker - statt eines Bassisten folgt der Klarinettist Oscar Noriega dem Leader wie ein Schatten - spielen sehr oft gleichzeitig. Ein großer dunkler schimmernder Klangstrom - vier der sechs Stücke überschreiten die zwölf Minuten - mäandert so in langen Windungen. Manchmal fragt man sich, in welchen Film man da wohl geraten ist, aber nach einer Viertelstunde hat sich wieder etwas merklich gedreht im eigenen Hirn - und man ist nicht mehr derselbe. Ein echtes Erlebnis.
Karl Lippegaus, Süddeutsche Zeitung

Few musicians working in or around jazz over the last 30 years have developed an idiomatic signature more distinctive than Tim Berne's. An alto saxophonist with a clear but burly tone and a proprietary set of strategies for improvisation - full of gulps and leaps, odd constructions and angular attack - Mr. Berne can be identified just as easily by his compositional style, which somehow skews both discursive and direct. It's all of a piece, coming from one central nervous system, with volatility as an underlying theme.
Nate Chinen, The New York Times

Recent opportunities to hear the influential American composer and saxophonist Tim Berne have included free-funk adventures with guitar wildmen such as Marc Ducret and Nels Cline – but Berne's current band, Snakeoil, is a different story. He still balances interlocking, rhythm-rooted melody with an affecting modern lyricism, but this group (with Oscar Noriega on clarinets, Matt Mitchell on keyboards and Ches Smith on drums) downplays electric rawness for more of a chamber ensemble sound. The opening Simple City begins as a beautiful acoustic piano melody that keeps resolving in yearning dissonances, until the drums rise around it, Noriega's bass clarinet drifts across the soundscape, and a subdued melee develops for Berne's long alto-sax notes to gleam through. The punchy postbop themes of Scanners and Not Sure are typical Berne works – exultant, convoluted twisters over edgy, driving percussion. It's a terrific set, and an object lesson in balancing composition, improvisation and the tonal resources of an acoustic band.
John Fordham, The Guardian

Few contemporary musicians blend composition and improvisation as successfully as this alto saxophonost. Indeed, Tim Berne all but renders that distinction obsolete, so seamlessly does he integrate these apparently contradictory practices. [...] With Snakeoil, there is a anese that Berne is entering a whole new phase in his music, and the group he has been woodshedding for the past two years - clarinetist Oscar Noriega, pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer Ches Smith - seems to appreciate just where he's headed.
Cormac Larkin, Irish Times

The Brooklyn-based saxophonist curbs his more rampaging instincts for a well-rehearsed, free-flowing and lyrical chamber-jazz quartet that tempers its improvised freedoms with firmly written structures that unfold and switch mood like shiftinng sand. There are left-field flutters and explosive thumps from drummer Ches Smith, and atmospheric acoustic piano from Matt Mitchell. Berne spins melody with a strong tone and forceful articulation and Oscar Noriega adds woody-toned clarinet to the twisty themes, acting as both contrast and foil.
Mike Hobart, Financial Times

That Berne and his group succeed in creating a context where freedom to coexist in such particularly seamless confluence makes Snakeoil a milestone in the saxophonist´s career. (...) Snakeoil represents a reinvented modus operandi that, in collaboration with Eicher, introduces even great er focused specificity and a synchronous new group in what will hopefully be the start of a long and fruitful relationship with ECM Records.
John Kelman, All About Jazz

Wo endet die Komposition und wo beginnt die Improvisation? In Tim Bernes Quartett sind die Grenzen fließend. Denn die sechs Stücke auf "Snakeoil" fallen vom ersten bis zum letzten Ton so komplex aus, als seien sie notiert oder zumindest detailgenau abgesprochen. Die Atmosphäre erinnert denn auch mehr an die Kammermusik des 20. Jahrhunderts als an Swing, Bebop oder Fusion. Ein wunderbarer Zwitter.
Werner Stiefele, Audio

Tim Berne, noted explorer of the tensions between composition and improvisation, knew exactly what he was doing in assembling his latest band. Here, the iconoclastic New York saxophonist has constructed a vehicle that allows his purposeful musical personality to shine through both in terms of the group arrangements and his own expressive voice. Overall, (as befits Berne's first release on ECM as a leader), the tunes have a cerebral feel. [...] Berne's sax rises upwards into an earthy extra dimension, as breezy and urban as a yellow taxi cab. There's a chamber music delicacy to it all, sure, but it's one that's suffused with genuine humanity and more than a little wisdom.
Daniel Spicer, Jazzwise

A rich, absorbing, multi-hued and continually surprising set from an inspirational composer/leader.
Chris Parker, London Jazz

Tim Berne approda alla Ecm ed è capolavoro. […] La musica sviluppa quelle linee compositive che il sassofonista di Syracuse persegue da tempo. Inviterei i compositori classici a corto di idee a studiarsi questo disco: per seguire le tracce e le trasformazioni di motivi intervallari, aree armoniche, contrappunti, ritmi asimmetrici, che Berne tratta come materiale plastico. Materia che assume una forma, poi si scompone per riagglomerarsi in altre fogge. Qui l’improvvisazione non è liberazione dalla scrittura, ma al contrario ne è una sorta di carburante, che attinge alla composizione per approdare a quelle aree tematiche, a volte roteanti, a volte solenni, spesso pulsanti, in cui l’armonia si fa aria, porosità, ambiguità intervallare. Nei sei brani del disco tutto è nitido e tutto è sfuggente: Snakeoil è plasticità della musica, è narrazione incantata. Niente tema-assolo-tema, ma metamorfosi avvincenti di melodie, ritmi, improvvisazioni, forme.
Stefano Zenni, Giornale delle Musica

Il Tim Berne che non t´aspetti. Uno, la casa discografica. Da sempre lontano dal business, amico delle etichette indipendenti, fondatore egli stesso di proprie label, debutta per ECM, che major non sarà ma... Due, il gruppo. Nuovo. Sezione ritmica formata da batteria e pianoforte (lasciato da parte il contrabasso), front-line con sax alto clarinetti che promette scintille a go-go. E invece...Tre. La musica. Snakeoil si aggira dalle parti di atmosfere spesso intimiste e di stampo cameristico. La scrittura domina sull´improvvisazione. Il controllo sulla divagazione e sull´esuberanza. La forma sull´indefinito. Il risultato? Sorprendente. (...) L´energia e la creatività dei musicisti si insinua tra le maglie di una scrittura che, formalmente rigida, acquista via via elasticità, ricchezza di soluzioni, imprevedibilità narrativa. Il sassofonista e compositore di Syracuse mette in campo tutto il suo carisma, conduce inesorabilmente il quartetto verso una tensione espressiva quasi insostenibile, trasformata in definitiva e sublime pienezza un attimo prima del punto di rottura. Ci sbilanciamo. Uno degli album dell´anno.
Vincenzo Roggero, All About Jazz

Entschlossen und selbstbewusst schraubt der Altsaxophonist die sechs Stücke auf "Snakeoil" von einer Improvisationsplattform hinauf in frei schwebende Klangmomente. In perfekter Harmonie ergänzen sich Bernes punktgenaues Spiel mit dem ruhigen Klangfluss von Oscar Noriegas Klarinette. (...) Genial, wie Noriega mit diesem Tieftöner in "Scanners" die Vorgaben Bernes kontert, dessen plötzliche Improvisationen er nicht kommentiert, sondern auf Augenhöhe begleitet, während Matt Mitchell in möglichst hohen Oktaven einen Kontrastandpunkt einnimmt. (...) Gänzlich unbeeindruckt von vorgegebenen Traditionen schafft Berne es hier, in konzertierter Form die Freiheit des Jazz mit der schulterzuckenden Hochnäsigkeit eines unabhängigen Musikverständnisses zu verknüpfen.
Klaus Hübner, Jazzzeitung

…bei der aufnahmetechnisch exzellenten Produktion ist man in jeder Sekunde hautnah bei allen Gedankengängen dabei, die die Musiker da einschlagen, kurzerhand verwerfen, zersetzen oder wieder poetsich auskosten. Doch auch hier gilt dann: In dem scheinbar so Vertrauten schlummert das Subversive.
Guido Fischer, Jazzthetik

Für „Snkeoil“ – sein Debüt als Leader bei ECM – begibt sich der Altsaxophonist, indem er ungewöhnliche rhythmische, harmonische und melodische Strukturen zusammenfügt, auf neues musikalisches Terrain. Die Protagonisten seines Quartetts haben sich in den spannenden Übergängen von Avantgarde-Jazz und Neuer Musik gesucht und gefunden. Wie sie in kunstvoll kreierten Themen wie „Spare Parts“ und „Yields“ Spannungsebenen aufbauen und wieder auflösen, ist nur eine der vielen Überraschungen dieser Einspielung.
Gerd Filtgen, Fono Forum

Here is a new bassless Tim Berne quartet – with clarinetist and bass clarinetist Oscar Noriega, pianist Matt Mitchell and drummer Ches Smith accompanying the leader’s alto saxophone - and it’s absolutely what you’d expect from one of the most cogent and clear-eyed figures ever to come out of the American jazz vanguard.
Jeff Simon, Buffalo News

With more than half of its songs flirting with the 15-minute mark, “Snakeoil” has little interest in bite-size statements, preferring to allow Berne and his bandmates ample room to uncover their own paths.
Chris Barton, Los Angeles Times

Das freie Spiel läuft in Richtung einer fixen Komposition - und ebenso flüssig wieder zurück. Mit "Snakeoil" erweist sich Tim Berne wieder einmal als Wegweiser. Die Zeiten des Überschwanges sind vorbei, Stilkategorien sind abgehakt. Diese Musik, die Grenzen sprengt und aus den vielfältigen Möglichkeiten schöpft, eröffnet quasi eine neue Zeitrechnung.
Stefan Hentz, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

Beileibe keine einfache Musik, aber mit Kraft und eigener Magie.
Jürg Solothurnmann, Jazz’n’more