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Live Reviews

Peter Brotzmann Chicago Tentet +1: London, UK, April 18-20, 2011

By Published: June 1, 2011
Nilssen-Love convinced as the consummate free drummer—speed, power and articulation, he showed it all. His energy levels were prodigious, leaving him bathed in sweat almost immediately after he appeared. Alongside the jackhammer drumming, he also investigated the more timbral byways expected of a European improv percussionist. A small cymbal held against his crash cymbal as he struck it at speed sounded like the sea washing on the shore, an effect he amplified by placing gongs and cymbals on his drum heads for a ghostly resonance. There was no quarter sought or given, but the impact remained curiously uninvolving. It wasn't until towards the end of their 30-minute set that they allowed an enticing space to develop.


One of the longest standing Tentet sub-units, having first emerged as a threesome under the Sonore moniker back in June 2002, the reed trio of Brötzmann, Ken Vandermark and Mats Gustafsson
Mats Gustafsson
Mats Gustafsson
launched the final evening. This combination offered a splendid opportunity to hear all the subtleties of the three reedmen too easily obscured during the combined tumult. As if reading from a score, they opened with a united clarion blast from Vandermark on clarinet, Gustafsson on baritone and Brötzmann on alto. But, in fact, everything they conjured was spontaneous, with fluid shifts between every permutation as the course of the music dictated. There were spellbinding passages, resulting from bountiful interplay and deep listening.

From left: Ken Vandermark, Peter Brötzmann

In their first piece Vandermark and Gustafsson parried with each other in the upper registers, sending bat squeak split tones fizzing around the room. Their second improvisation of four in an enthralling 40-minute set was the peak among heady foothills. Brötzmann enjoyed a dynamite solo spot, where every breath and inflection of his carefully controlled vibrato was apparent, while Vandermark's later tenor explosion displayed a Brötzmann-like impassioned oratory. A beautiful threnody from the German led into a gentle group coda which rounded off matters to perfection. Each man gave it his all, with no holding back due to the impending main course.

Kent Kessler />Bassist Kent Kessler, the driving force from the Vandermark 5, presented a one man set which demonstrated his interest in texture and timbre. Hunched over his bull fiddle, the Chicagoan commenced by bowing frantically, as he slid his fingers up and down the fret board for a variable drone. He especially favored his arco work, but one pizzicato sequence brought Charlie Haden
Charlie Haden
Charlie Haden
bass, acoustic
to mind with the gravity of his knotty melodism and resonant muscular tone.

Peter Brötzmann's Chicago Tentet As a series of tasters, the various small groups accomplished their intent, whetting the appetite to devour the entire banquet from the same plate. Ranging from the passionate lyricism to sheer bellowing, and touching on most points in between, they also graphically illustrated the breadth of approaches embodied within the larger aggregation.

It is hard to think of any large improvised music grouping which has sustained itself over such a prolonged period and toured so often. Perhaps the Tentet's nearest forbearer is the Globe Unity Orchestra, which also featured Brötzmann among its number—similarly multinational, but less consistently on the road. Since its initial release, The Chicago Octet/Tentet (Okka, 1998), the rump of the personnel has persisted with Brötzmann, McPhee, Vandermark, Zerang, Kessler, Bishop, Lonbeg-Holm and Gustafsson still aboard, and the benefits certainly show. Although the core remains constant, their working methods have evolved drastically. Originally a vehicle for the members' compositions, ever since a May 2005 North American tour Brötzmann has encouraged the Tentet to draw upon its collective savvy by foregoing charts. Unsurprisingly the band's excellent five-CD box set, Three Nights In Oslo (Smalltown Superjazz, 2010), furnishes the most up-to-date representation of what to expect, even down to sets by identical subgroups.

From left: Johannes Bauer, Kent Kessler, Jeb Bishop and Mats Gustafsson

One of the most compelling aspects of the Tentet's performances over the three nights was the degree of collaborative purpose achieved by a total improvising unit. Although the individual parts were stellar, with egos checked at the door, the marvelously flourishing group ethos was the real star of the show. In numerous instances the band moved together in freewheeling arrangements. Without either a conductor or sheet music, the only inference could be that its unity stemmed from the years of shared experience and practice. Individual's compositional sensibilities acted to magnify the cohesion: Vandermark belted out a saxophone riff as an accompaniment to a rocky segment for Nilssen-Love and Bishop before a lush horn chorus, while at other times Bauer orchestrated the horns to conjure punctuating figures.

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