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On Incidentals, Tim Berne’s Snakeoil add elements to their dense avant-garde jazz—and somehow create more space

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In press materials for his intense new album, Incidentals (ECM), reedist and composer Tim Berne notes that the addition of guitarists Ryan Ferreira and David Torn (who also produced the record) grants some leeway to his core quartet, Snakeoil. The guitarists mostly work to fill out the sound field, letting Berne and clarinetist Oscar Noriega dig deeply into the leader’s serpentine compositions. Following along with this dense avant-garde jazz can be a challenge, but pay attention to the jagged patterns of pianist Matt Mitchell—on the 26-minue behemoth “Sideshow” he functions as a kind of tour guide, pulling players from section to section and nudging listeners forward. Mitchell maintains an intractable sense of movement through every twist and turn, allowing drummer Ches Smith to contribute coloristic bowing or darkly melodic vibraphone. This music is packed with ideas, but there’s little here as satisfying as how Berne and Noriega blow their twinned lines, slaloming through color and groove with razor precision. Their moments of improvisation are inspired too, creating giddy, breathlessly spontaneous constellations of sounds. This concert features just the core quartet.   v

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