When Tim Berne recorded with Snakeoil for ECM in 2012, it marked the debut of a new working band and his first studio album in a decade. With Oscar Noriega on clarinets, pianist Matt Mitchell, and drummer Ches Smith, Berne was able to extend the horizons in his compositions. While conversational intrigue, fiery improvisation, knotty counterpoint, and wildly varying dynamics had long been part of his aesthetic, they found a fluid yet immediate language on 2013's Shadow Man. That quartet has become a quintet with the addition of guitarist Ryan Ferreira on You've Been Watching Me (produced by David Torn). If you're thinking of this as a direct link to his Bloodcount group that added guitarist Marc Ducret, you're only partially right. Ferreira adds not just firepower, but a unique ability to explore texture and space. Four of the album's seven pieces are over ten minutes. Opener "Lost in Redding" commences with an avant-prog-like intro as harmonic cadences are woven together almost knot-like. Ferreira and his distortion boxes cut loose before restrained clarinet and saxophone skeins give way to a gorgeous Mitchell solo. There isn't anything "small" about "Small World in a Small Town." Over 18 minutes long, its first five-and-a-half are a duet between Berne and Mitchell that begins elliptically but gathers force and labyrinthine dimensions before the rest of the band enters. Ferreira's guitar is another lyric instrument in an expansive, contrapuntal study that opens on to a spacious yet at times sparse sonic vista. Noriega's clarinet solo is lovely before the band re-enters in a bluesy, steam-gathering waltz. "Embraceable Me" has a chamber ensemble's intimacy, albeit one where Smith's use of vibes is as poignant as it is illustrative, and it holds down its angular lyric line. It maintains that feel even when the dynamic increases with Noriega (on sax) and Ferreira adding cadenza-like extensions before dialoguing in jagged yet precise counterpoint and then shifting toward a thematic five-note pulse (Mitchell) as Ferreira, Noriega, and Berne add tonal color and breadth before introducing another complex harmonic line with the guitarist taking it out. Most of "Semi-Self Detached"'s ten-plus minutes is made up of long languorous spaces, ambient textures, and melodic suggestions that give way to a blistering free alto saxophone solo, cracking clattering drums, majestic piano, and precise, gear-like lyricism at its nadir. "False Impressions" features frenetic, unmistakably swinging conversations between Berne and Noriega in the tune's head (with hints of Julius Hemphill's influence). Mitchell places a percussive, tangled melodic frame as Smith adds dimension on vibes and Ferreira's distorted guitar lines soar atop. Even the long, shapeshifting, textural digression in the center is focused, smart, and full of surprises. You've Been Watching Me is the most structured record from Snakeoil as well as the most varied. The band's language has expanded with the addition of Ferreira, yet it's more intuitive -- where the space and complexity are different shades in the face of beauty.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek