Peter Brotzmann Chicago Tentet +1: London, UK, April 18-20, 2011
Swedish tubaist Per-Ake Holmlander joined the Tentet in 2005, having already been a mainstay of bassist Barry Guy's New Orchestra and Chicago saxophonist Ken Vandermark's Territory Band. To open his solo set he established a two note pattern which he modulated by varying volume and attacksoft then brassy, fast then slow, sliding and bending the notes. As he blew, seated with his unwieldy axe, his face seemed to meld with the instrument, especially when he was circular breathing: a drone ascending through the registers, punctuated by sniffs as he inhaled through his nose. As he said disingenuously, while taking respite after his exertions, "The tuba is not so much music, it is more athletic." He could be very quiet for such a big man with such a big instrument. His second installment began with a piercing whistle and slurps of inbreathed air, evolving through gargles with higher pitched voice harmonics. He then proceeded as if giving vent to an outpouring of spleen, becoming more vibrant and brassy as his animation increased.
Holmlander proved himself an amazing technician, but one who was able to ally technique with musicality. Such was his physical connection that at times it seemed as if he were caressing, kissing or even trying to inflate the tuba. But, in fact, he played the only tune of the whole three daysa rendition of "Jabulani," by Abdullah Ibrahim, formerly known as Dollar Brandwhich began in a most unlikely way with blurts, snuffles and splutters, before an exuberant vamp presaged theme and variations including a lengthy circular-breathed digression. Wonderful.
Lined up across the Oto stage to open the second evening, the four strong Brasstet stands as one of the subgroupings which have less of an independent life outside the mother ship; based on this showing, that might be an oversight. As an opening gambit, their instrumental throat-clearing, odd breaths and preparatory squeaks were so imperceptible that no-one noticed. It was only as the cumulative detail took on a noticeable rhythm that attention was captured, eventually unfurling into an effervescent Ivesian brass band with luxuriant harmonies.
The foursome constantly grouped and regrouped, breaking down into fluctuating duos and trios. McPhee, this time on pocket trumpet, and Chicago trombonist Jeb Bishop started the following number with the trumpeter's breathy screeches paced by muted trombone. Fellow trombonist Johannes Bauer, standing alongside, appeared to be living the music even when not taking part, as fleeting expressions swept across his face, accompanied by conducting hand gestures, as he concentrated. His eventual entry catalyzed a horn chorale full of playful conversation.
Later, Bishop's slow repetition of funereal bass notes quieted to an interchange of almost inaudible whirrs and slobbers. Bauer whispered sometimes with his horn at his lips other times not. Slowly gaining momentum and volume the two trombones bickered animatedly until suddenly haltingapparently mid phrasecausing laughter all round.
In a bravura introduction to the last piece McPhee supplemented his pocket trumpet growls with vocalized harmonics, muted by his hand, recalling the sonorous burr of a didgeridoo. Aptly matched by tuba, the trombones entered with assorted mutes, exploring overtones in a colloquy knitted from four interweaving threads. Listening to this consonant brass chorus, it was, however, possible to grasp how some of the Tentet confluences might arise.
Fred Lonberg-Holm/Paal Nilssen-Love duo
Chicagoan Fred Lonberg-Holm and Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love debuted as a duo on the second night. Electronic cacophony vied with pile-driving drumming in a powerhouse start. Under the American's ministrations, the cello functioned as effectively in a noise environment as in its more customary chamber habitat. Adjusting his buttons and pedals while bowing, the cellist added sheets of buzzes, white noise and interference. Lonberg-Holm's technique astonished close up, whether scrubbing on his strings, creating hyper distortion, or tapping percussively with both the horsehair and the heel of his bow. Such was his ardor, that almost straight away half the hairs were trailing from the bow.