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Review: Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet

Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet
(Café Oto, 18th and 20th April 2011; nights 1 and 3 of the Tentet’s three-day Residency. Review and drawings by Geoff Winston* .)

UPDATES:

-Ten drawings of the residency are HERE.

Jazz on 3 will feature a recording on Monday May 2nd.

There is arguably no other large improvising jazz ensemble to match the Brötzmann Chicago Tentet for sheer firepower, wealth of musicianship, flair and inspiration. Bound together by shared musical imperatives, the Tentet took root in Chicago in 1997, initially as an octet, and after all these years have made it to London for the first time – and what a treat it was!

The two concerts I saw were successions of seamlessly changing musical combinations – solos, duets, trios … mass band blasts – it was all there! Each night brimmed with surprises. Per Åke Holmander‘s solo tuba set on night 1 was muffled growls, breathy sonority and piercing interjections (he also played the rarely seen cimbasso with the large group). Kent Kessler‘s dextrous, soft-toned bass solo spot on night 3 with its classical undertone was in sharp contrast to the preceding reed trio which had Brötzmann on alto in hot pursuit of Ken Vandermark on clarinet, all over the registers of their instruments, to be joined by Mats Gustafsson in blazing, honking homage to ‘Machine Gun’.

Joe McPhee‘s presence (drawing above) was pivotal in this stellar line-up; like Brötzmann, exemplary in his contribution of poise and pacing to the maelstrom, just when it was needed, he was an anchor in the perpetual flux that is the essence of the Tentet, and perhaps its unsung hero.

The greatest revelation was the lightning speed with which the terrain changed, so adept and intuitive were the powers and skills of each player in maintaining this state of flowing elision. Charting the changes in flow of the musical combinations would have yielded a complex diagram, indeed. Dual trombones, dual drums, pairs of saxes, the bass and cello, clarinet duets, all underscored the importance of the duo, and echoed the sentiment of Ornette’s ‘Free Jazz’ double quartet of 1960.

Whether it was a concerted blasting ramp up the register by the brass, a near cacophonous interlude sounding like ‘The Rite of Spring’ gone mad, or the perfect accord of the two-man percussive force on either side of the stage, the impact was immediate and one could only marvel at the skill with which the balance was sustained throughout their lengthy sets. Brötzmann’s Hawkins-like tone broke in to harsher, poignant middle eastern phrasing in a duet with Zerang, whose hollow beats brought a spacious feel to the texture. Lonberg-Holm added an electronic dimension to his cello input, and Brötzmann’s feisty duel on tenor with Johannes Andreas Bauer‘s trombone at the close, preceded the final crescendo which unleashed the full force of the Tentet’s wall of brass.

The key to the functioning of this group is, explained Brötzmann (in the earlier interview with Jez Nelson for BBC’s Jazz on 3, on night 3), “to give everybody responsibility”, and combined with the enthusiasm, respect and sheer enjoyment that each brought to the party, the sum of the parts was often close to overwhelming.

The good news is that Brötzmann hopes to bring the Tentet back, having enjoyed the three nights at Café Oto so much! It just needs another sponsor with the same vision as the Goethe-Institut.

Personnel:

Peter Brötzmann (Reeds)
Joe McPhee (Pocket Trumpet/Reeds)
Mats Gustafsson (Reeds)
Ken Vandermark (Reeds)
Paal Nilssen-Love (Drums/Percussion)
Fred Lonberg-Holm (Cello)
Per Åke Holmlander (Tuba)
Johannes Andreas Bauer (Trombone)
Michael Zerang (Drums/Percussion)
Kent Kessler (Bass)
Jeb Bishop (Trombone)

*Drawings copyright Geoffrey Winston 2011. All Rights Reserved

The Tentet’s Residency was supported by the Goethe-Institut.

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2 replies »

  1. I wish I'd been there! I saw the Tentet at the North Sea Festival with a similar line-up, although I remember it include Mars Williams.
    Also, I'd like to have heard Ken Vandermark on alto!
    Just now I'm green with envy.

  2. Thanks, Steve. In the passage referred to, Ken was playng clarinet and Peter was on alto. The way it was first written and appeared on the site was ambiguous so this has been rephrased, to make it clear; many apologies for the lack of clarity on my part! I don't think Ken actually played any alto in these concerts, so again apologies if this was accidentally misleading. Viridian, grass, moss … I take it you are somewhere between a wavelength of approx 520–570 nanometres!

    Geoff

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