From: Jim Macnie
I should have done a broader background check on you birds before we began our digital salon last week — I had no idea that we’d have a majority consensus about the Snakeoil disc, or that it made Peter and Nate’s year-end lists (mine too). Anyone else’s? I’m a longtime Berne fan (please don’t overlook that first Miniature album), and was tickled by the fact that the saxophonist’s longstanding rhythmic m.o. of “hurdling” was refined a bit on this one. The momentum on the new pieces has a more adroit flow – no doubt that Snakeoil ups Berne’s pliancy and poise in noticeable ways.
One of the key reasons is his connection with Mitchell. (I get a kick out of your newly coined term altopiano, Nate; don’t you wish that Jimmy Lyons and Cecil Taylor made a duet album?) To some degree Mitchell’s left hand has to be a bassist in this band, and as he says in that JT profile Nate mentions, Berne’s music “has to groove.”
That’s not a term often associated with the saxophonist’s Screwgun canon, but it’s dead on — if we’ve learned anything at this late date, it’s that there are innumerable way to swing. Mitchell moves the band towards that goal, and gives each of his partners — including his boss — a bit more liftoff. As far Berne himself goes, he’s seldom sounded so supple, another move forward. That tart tone may sound comfy inside those architecturally elaborate pieces of his, but this new gentility is becoming. For a sec I thought it was all due to Berne touching down in ECMville, but it’s not. As I said in my DownBeat review, he has been actively amending his playing to accommodate a wider variety of approaches. Mitchell’s got a yen for maximal phrases (don’t sleep on his own knotty stuff), but here he helped Team Snakeoil pull off some seductive minimal passages.
Two other discs waxing feathery were impressive as well. Dave King’s I’ll Be Ringing You finds The Bad Plus drummer leading a trio of pianist Bill Carrothers and bassist Billy Peterson through a series of fetching feints that present standards such as “This Nearly Was Mine” and “Autumn Serenade” in a new light. Everything is fragile, elusive, sketched instead of painted — and all the more compelling because of it. Some jazz is about looking around corners to see what’s there; this album is an exemplar of that approach. Ditto for Masabumi Kikuchi’s Sunrise. With a rhythm section of Thomas Morgan and Paul Motian, the pianist made every aspect of the music yield to a gossamer aesthetic. The act of fluttering was as agitated as the music got, and like Andrew Hill’s most poetic pieces, a single note could tug the entire procedure into a new direction. I’m going to go see if that disc made it through my flooded basement disaster (I’m thinking not). If it did, it’s a perfect ta-ta soundtrack to a gloomy Monday afternoon.
Before I close: Thoughts of peace and perseverance go to Jimmy Greene’s family, and everyone effected by the Newtown tragedy, which I believe is anyone with a heart.
P.S., Anyone in the New York area looking to sustain a deep spirit while lightening their weekly load should be heading to the Jazz Standard to see Matt Wilson's Christmas Tree-O on Tuesday and Wednesday this week. Seasonal glee as well as tidings of comfort and joy are on the docket. Five bucks says some “renewed wonder” might be in the air as well.