Another regular visitor to Tonic was saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, who would have packed the house even if it hadn't been the club's third-to-last night. While Brötzmann comes through town most every year, it's rare to see him with his German compatriots. His trio with two younger players - bassist Marino Pliakas and drummer Michael Wertmueller - has been playing together for several years and were clearly up to speed with Brötzmann's full on sound on Apr. 11th, meeting him with the fury of the Brö of yore and backing off for extended solo passages. Pliakas in particular is an enormously inventive player, tapping quick and soft pointillist passages, making civilized use of electronic effects and then sailing back into fast, grounding lines. He's the rare electric bassist who has found extended techniques on the instrument beyond aping the upright bass or electric guitar. The trio was more than adept at breaking into high speed staccato sections, interrupting themselves with explosive blasts and snapping right back. On the metal clarinet, Brötzmann's real power showed through. He plays clarinet harder, louder, than most people would think possible, dropping gracefully into its natural voice and then pushing back to the hilt to the almost speed metal backing of the rhythm section. "I know it's a sad night for the town, for us all, but what can we do? Brötzmann said from the stage in a fitting farewell. "We can just go on and I hope that you have some fun tonight.
~ Kurt Gottschalk
The Thing at Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center
It was ironic that the member of The Thing that lives the closest to New York, Oslo-to-Chicago transplanted bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, was the one whose flight was held up. But late he was for the first night of a short US tour and fellow bandmates Mats Gustafsson (baritone sax) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums) were forced to start the gig without him. At the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center Apr. 17th (relocated generously from the now defunt Tonic), the duo presented a 20-minute version of their 2002 album I love it when you Snore as a prelude to a full trio set. Few groups, especially duos, can so effectively channel moments reminiscent of both Machine Gun and Topography of the Lungs, often seconds apart, with perfect accentuation of each other's yelps and crashes, pops and pings. When Flaten finally arrived, whisked in by taxi from Newark Airport, he brought far more than a 33% increase in intensity - perhaps his pounding and sawing were palpable effects of traffic frustration. Working first in medley format, the trio, now at full strength, played material mostly from their last studio disc, Action Jazz. But the themes were offered only briefly as moments of focused chaos in between long exploratory improvised sections. A long, particularly moody, version of Norman Howard's "Haunted followed and The Thing closed the set with a snippet of a piece by the man whose band was following them - Joe McPhee's "Alien .
Billy Hart at Smalls
A new era of stability has hopefully now come to the famed West Village venue Smalls, with its recent takeover by pianist Spike Wilner. One immediate benefit was the presentation of Billy Hart's Trio with saxophonist Johannes Enders and bassist Ed Howard Apr. 10th. Hart is so often to be found adding vital foundation to an amazing array of musical projects that one forgets what he can do as a leader. And that is to remake post-bop and late period standards into exciting modern vehicles for spirited blowing. With Hart at the kit, rhythmic units were subdivided, often seeming to double back on themselves, not linear, not circular but almost three-dimensional. Throughout was a deep percolating swing, no surprise given Smalls' commitment to traditional jazz, but there was often a jagged edge, propelled by Enders' envelope-pushing rebuttals to Hart's rhythms. And although there was a limit to how diverse the arrangements could be given three instruments, there was enough difference - a bass solo to start or drum breaks in tandem with sax - to keep things interesting. Sax trios are usually much more about energy than harmony given the lack of a chordal instrument but since a drummer was leading the band, it was the metrical crests of the melodies that were emphasized, sometimes leading to appealingly argumentative moments onstage. Hart was, of course, his usual dynamic and tasteful self, at both low and high density.
~ Andrey Henkin