One positive effect of the Great Lockdown of 2020 is that musicians and their friends are scouring closets for old tapes and releasing archival recordings that otherwise might not have seen the light of day. Case in point, on December 12, 2009, Tim Berne and six collaborators performed in Philadelphia. The set was recorded, and recently rediscovered and released.
The all-star lineup included Berne on alto sax, Chris Speed on tenor, Shane Endsley on trumpet, Matt Mitchell on piano, Michael Formanek on bass, Marc Ducret on guitar, and Dan Weiss on drums. This was the only time that these gentlemen performed together, though Berne, Ducret, and Mitchell would go on to record as Snakeoil with Ches Smith, Oscar Noriega, and others. In fact, Adobe Probe is a logical precursor to Snakeoil in style as well as personnel, as the septet rolls through thorny, labyrinthine compositions as well as more open-ended improv. In particular, the cerebral contributions of Mitchell and Weiss foreshadow the type of dense, information-rich offerings that those two would later put out under their own names. Highlights include Berne, Speed, and Ducret trading solos over staccato and fluid chording from Mitchell on Whatever, as well as the whole group navigating edgy contrapuntal themes and variations throughout parts of the 37-minute title track.
In short, if you like Berne’s catalog in general, or Snakoil specifically, you cannot go wrong with Adobe Probe. It is a most welcome – if not daunting – discovery.