AMN Reviews: Tim Berne’s Snakeoil – Incidentals (2017; ECM Records)

There is a certain structure to Tim Berne‘s compositions on Incidentals. On one hand, they seem rigid and strict, but at the same time leave ample space for Berne and his group (Oscar Noriega on clarinets, Ryan Ferreira on electric guitar, Matt Mitchell on piano, and Ches Smith on drums and percussion) to collectively improvise. Perhaps this is especially due to Mitchell’s penchant to add complex and varied piano lines to Berne’s outlines (or perhaps these lines are part of the outlines – it is hard to tell). To get an idea of what this might sound like, one can look no farther than Mitchell’s own A Pouting Grimace or his contributions to Dan Weiss’s Fourteen and Sixteen.

That is not to downplay the significant contributions of Noriega, Ferreira, and Smith, who wend their way through the album’s five pieces with grace and authority. With a few modest exceptions, there is little emphasis on long solos. The centerpiece of Incidentals is Sideshow, a 26-minute track that begins with Mitchell setting forth a labyrinthine piano theme. He is quickly joined by the rest of the group and the theme becomes more complex and contrapuntal. This densely-composed set of interweaved riffs features Ferreira’s aggressive guitar-work and Smith’s non-stop, arrhythmic drumming, along with Noriega providing drones and accentuations. Around the five minute mark, the group goes downtempo with a quiet, improvised interlude. Slowly, structure reemerges with Berne, Noriega, and Ferreira teaming up for a complex, medium-paced, lead motif. Afterward, the group engages in freely-played atmospherics. This leads to an angular Ferreira solo over another complex line from Mitchell, until the rest of the group join in once more with a reprise variation of the opening theme. Subsequently, Mitchell and Smith provide an unconventional duet of avant piano stylings and non-western drumming which is followed by a structured set of wailings from the remaining players to end the piece.

It is rare to hear music this exquisitely crafted. Like much of the best modern avant-jazz, it is difficult to determine where the composition ends and the improvisation begins. But with an album this compelling, such a distinction is not important. While you can grab just about anything that Berne has released over the last 40 years and expect an enjoyable listen, Incidentals is evidence that he can still achieve rare form.

This Week in New York


For the third night of the FERUS Festival, Sxip Shirey presents three pieces built around death, disappearance, and returning home. The pieces will be accompanied by the unique dancer Coco Karol, who also does choreography for the show. The show also will feature the puppetry of three notable performers: Basil Twist, Erin Orr, and Chris Green.
Monday, January 15 at 7:00 PM
Tickets $25
National Sawdust, 80 North 6th Street, Brooklyn, NY

Tori Wrånes (Norway) will create a new piece in response to a New York public site through a ten-day New York residency period during which the artist will research and develop an original work. The piece will integrate the artist’s “Troll Technique”, an improvised, non-verbal language based on rhythm and temperament.
Thursday, January 18 at 5:30 PM
Washington Square Park, Northwest Corner, New York, NY

The Echo Drift, an operatic collaboration between Mikael Karlsson, Elle Kunnos de Voss, and Kathryn Walat, centers on a convicted murderer trapped in a timeless prison. This world premiere production switches between the confines of a tiny cell and an expansive visual world of hand drawn animation, exploring the psychology of a woman struggling to overcome her nature and the freewheeling tendencies of the mind when robbed of external stimuli.
Thursday, January 18 to Saturday, January 20 at 7:30 PM
Tickets $30-$75
Baruch Performing Arts Center, 55 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY

Teodora Stepancic and Lucie Vítková perform works by Pauline Oliveros, Elizabeth Adams, Muyassar Kurdi, Michael Vincent Waller, Coleman Zurkowski, and Teodora Stepancic.
Friday, January 19 at 9:00 PM
Tickets $15, $10 students/seniors
Spectrum, 70 Flushing Avenue, Garage A, Brooklyn, NY
..:: Website

It Cant Happen Here: art in response to oppression is a chamber music program consisting of six pieces by five composers that have each been inspired by events that have challenged freedom of thought, expression, and religion. The program includes a response project partnering with Artistic Noise.
Saturday, January 20 at 8:00 PM
Tickets $15, $10 students
Greenwich House Music School, 46 Barrow Street, New York, NY

Concrete Timbre presents a program called Anathemas, featuring short compositions inspired by 7 banned words: diversity, entitlement, evidence-based, fetus, science-based, transgender, and vulnerable. Featured composers include Marie Incontrera, Peri Mauer, Ann Warren, Jin Hee Han, Tom Blatt, Robert Morton, Ana Paola Santillan Alcocer, Rodrigo S. Batalha, Donald Cuba, Jacob Elkin, Hector Oltra Garcia, Jesse Glass, Tim Goplerud, Stephanie Greig, Josh Oxford, Johari Mayfield, Ven Spatz, and Cullyn Murphy.
Sunday, January 21 at 2:30 PM
$10 suggested donation
Olli Studio Gallery, 336 West 37 Street, New York, NY

Newsbits: Ambisonics at UW / Roland Kayn / The Ex / Subotnick Symposium / Julian Lage and Gyan Riley on Zorn

Keith Fullerton Whitman in 2006

An electroacoustic (ambisonic) performance at the University of Washington is reviewed.

Roland Kayn’s A Little Electronic Milky Way of Sound is reviewed by Keith Fullerton Whitman

The Ex have a new album coming out.

Friday, January 19, NYU will host a symposium titled “Morton Subotnick and the Many Orbits of Silver Apples of the Moon”.

Julian Lage and Gyan Riley’s take on John Zorn is reviewed.

Heterodyne in DC, January 18

On Thursday, January 18Heterodyne performs at Dew Drop Inn DC, which is located at 2801 8th Street NE, Washington DC.  The music begins at 8pm; donations for the traveling musicians would be gratefully accepted.

Heterodyne is an improvisational project; its core performers are Maria Shesiuk (synthesizers and processed vocalizations) and T. A. Zook (NS Design Omni Bass, strung as a basscello). Although it is essentially a duo, when complex schedules permit, it performs with Patrick Whitehead on quarter-tone flügelhorn and trumpet; Bob Boilen on ARP synthesizer; Doug Kallmeyer on bass and synthesizer; Jerry Busher on drums; Sarah Hughes on sax; Leah Gage on drums; Sam Lohman on drums; and Dan Gutstein, spoken word.