Full Blast Trio with Ken Vandermark,
(Café Oto, 30 September, final night of 2-day residency, review and drawings(*) by Geoffrey Winston, photo by Andy Newcombe)
Peter Brotzmann (saxophones-drawing above), Marino Pliakas (bass), Michael Wertmueller (drums), with Ken Vandermark (tenor sax and clarinet- drawing below)
The Full Blast Trio became the Full Blast Quartet. Joining Peter Brötzmann and his formidable bass and rhythm section, Ken Vandermark ‘s guest spot was not a traditional cameo guest appearance – he was there for the duration and for the challenge! This set was full testimony to the power and the immediacy of the live performance – at its rawest, stripped down and minimal, yet complex, nuanced and elementally subtle at other times.
With a simple curtain behind the stage, somehow suggestive of a Kurt Weill era night club, Brötzmann and Vandermark took right and left of stage in a mirror image setting and launched into a ferocious, extended call and response, with Pliakas and Wertmueller putting down a geological seam of melded rhythmic support. Brötzmann had selected two beautiful saxes for the evening, both a rich chestnut coppery colour, Vandermark alternated between his beefy tenor and a B flat clarinet.
The raucous, accelerated delivery stretched both reeds players into virtuosic, expressive forms in this physically and musically unforgiving zone. The symmetry of their positioning created a panoramic aural sensation which gained depth with the percussion and bass sitting further back, yet an integral part of that vista. Vandermark was truly the mirror image – hugely respectful, it was as though there were two Brötzmanns at times, as they pushed the blistering themes back and forth at extraordinarily high velocity. They eased off to allow quieter trilled and meandering clarinet passages, before Brötzmann, head moving from side to side, terrier-like, seriously worried his alto.
By the third number there was a pause to take on water and regain breath. Vandermark then took the lead in an echoey and moody spell, which saw Pliakas – in a Can-like delivery, creating intense and brittle tones, often in a fragile upper register. Wertmueller set the pace with drum rolls or clattering cymbals – and, almost invisibly, would drive the proceedings, echoing or suggesting rhythms which would be picked up by the other players – at one point there were extended silences which he defined very clearly before the initiative was regained. The communication was intense.
The final number began with a beautiful Brötzmann solo on alto – a breathy mellow delivery, which eventually morphed into abstract signals, and pulled the other combatants back in to the ring. The stereophonic relationship between the two reedsmen bouncing and blasting ideas back and forth, backed by the root strata of wavering bass currents somehow exposed the heart of what this music is about. It was instinctive as well as expressive – at the highest level.
The audience was treated to a encore which saw a dense, synchronised build-up which had the clarinet keeping up with the sax at similar pitches, almost interchangeable – and then, they ended the set as one, with a final single crashing beat.
(*) Drawings Copyright Geoffrey Winston 2010. All rights reserved.
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