REVIEWS: Tim Berne's Snakeoil and Marcus Strickland at the 2016 Cheltenham Jazz Festival

Marcus Strickland
Photo by John Watson /© jazzcamera.co.uk


Tim Berne (Parabola Arts), Marcus Strickland (Arena).
(Cheltenham Jazz Festival, 30th April 2016. Review by Jon Turney)


A scattering of musicians around the auditorium gave us a delightful prelude to an early evening gig in the Parabola Theatre – playing the repeated figures from Alex Hawkins’ Environment Music in overlapping waves of sound that filled the space as the audience assembled. The opening moments of the feature set, with Matt Mitchell’s piano in conversation with percussionist Ches Smith on vibes sustained the lazy, ambient mood briefly, too.

Most of the music that followed from Tim Berne’s Snakeoil was rather more urgent, and astringent. This was modern polyphony from one of its most accomplished ensembles, Oscar Noriega’s penetrating tone on clarinets – he has a particularly solid bass clarinet sound – offsetting the leader’s alto sax, with low-key interjections from newest recruit Ryan Ferreira on guitar. The band know each other’s game inside out, and dig into Berne’s compositions with gusto. The opener, Surface Noise, was representative – this is a vehicle that isn’t aiming for any conventional destination but is certainly going somewhere interesting if you don’t mind a few bumps in the road.

Spare Parts tantalised with a lyrical guitar and clarinet episode, but then turned more sisnister, even Frankensteinian, with the main body of the piece sounding like the soundtrack for a Tim Burton movie. Elsewhere there was less variation in pace, but an impressively creative effort to work round familiar forms and resolutions, save for some almost-bop near the end of the set. The absence of familiar landmarks makes its demands on the listener as well as the players – you have to concentrate hard to locate yourself in the music as it unfolds. If you do, it becomes apparent that the band, and Berne, know exactly what thay are doing. The result grows on you, like a new dish with strong, unfamiliar flavours that you may learn to like while eating.

Tim Berne
Photo by John Watson /© jazzcamera.co.uk


Earlier Marcus Strickland romped through a high-energy set in the Jazz Arena. It began with his pure-toned soprano against a recorded voice reflecting on the power of art, but quickly moved on to the tenor sax and beats that dominated the set. The sax is often processed – Strickland roars rather than honks when he lets rip - which blended seamlessly when Chad Selph selected Hammond from his three keyboards. Kyle Miles on bass was fluidly funky and heavyweight drummer Charles Haynes stoked the coals continually – an electrified sax and drum duo almost lifting the roof. Dedications to Prince and Mingus featured, though it was a little hard to hear the connection with the latter, and soulful vocals on three songs from Jean Baylor cooled things down a little. A generous sampling of the state of the art in blending jazz chops with hip-hop, soul and, on one number, African rhythms, then. Oddly, though, beats aside, the band’s sound world, even the song lyrics, had something of a “back to the 1970s” feel – though no less enjoyable for that.

2 comments:

  1. surely Snakeoil was the 'feature set'?

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  2. Anonymous, we're not sure what you mean. These were two gigs that happened on the same day at different venues, among many other gigs going on at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival, and we have combined them into a double review.

    We published in total ten review pieces about the festival this year, all great pieces, and delivered at quite some speed, and covered almost twenty of the concerts.

    ReplyDelete