~ Laurence Donohue-Greene
To see the Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet is to catch glimpses of the international monkey business once practiced by the Globe Unity Orchestra. The band is made up primarily of Chicagoans and now Scandinavians; an interesting dynamic since Chicago and Scandinavia have always lost out to New York and Germany respectively. Fascinating then to have the German Brötzmann bring them to New York's Tonic (May 18th). Apart from bass and cello, the proceedings were unamplified, allowing for a wonderfully natural sense of dynamics. Oddly the strength of the Tentet comes not during full group segments but when smaller outcroppings highlight different members and what they bring to the larger amalgam. The one long improvised piece had such delicious segments as Ken Vandermark and Brötzmann blowing sax lines of different notes but equal length; the two-drum attack of Paal Nilssen-Love and Michael Zerang in an exchange of brushes and bamboo sticks; Mats Gustafsson playing a 1920's slide saxophone during the final climax; and Brötzmann and Joe McPhee closing the proceedings out in a composed dirge for tenor and soprano saxophones. In the center of the maelstrom was the unflappable tuba of Per-Åke Holmlander, the solid tree buffeted by storms. Unfortunately, the occasional docile moment was thoroughly disrupted by a pounding techno beat from the club's basement, startling audience and band alike.
Seeing pianist Andrew Hill and trumpeter Charles Tolliver separately is rare enough. The two together, first heard to great effect on Hill's Dances with Death (1968), is a particularly special treat. At Birdland (May 21st), Hill and Tolliver, augmented to a quintet with saxophonist Greg Tardy and the percolating rhythm section of John Hebert and Eric McPherson, performed a set that could have been session committed to Blue Note Records in 1965. To interpret this as nostalgia is an injustice; Hill was 40 years ahead of his time back then! The opening "11/8" was a tropical fanfare that belied Hill's Caribbean roots, though the tune was spacious and Hill's comping subverted the texture pretty quickly. Hebert stole the set here with a conceptual giant of a bass solo. "By Round" was notable for having the trumpet and tenor trading leads as the initial solo section. "Round Midnight" was interpreted far differently than usual; not morose and final, with no lush chord voicings and funereal beats, implying that much happens after 12 am. "Malachi", a slow legato melody, was full of bittersweet piano, arco and cymbals. The set closed with "Nicodemus" (from 1990's But Not Farewell) and was another typical Hill melody, meaning it was as far from typical as jazz can get.
~ Andrey Henkin