Peter Brotzmann: Vision Festival 16, June 8, 2011
Vandermark played solo tenor, with the other four gone silent (and Brötzmann reloading his tenor with yet another reed round). He seemed to talk in tongues, punctuating the slur of syllables with burning squeals. Just a few minutes in, Nilssen-Love was drenched in sweat. Williams picked up his tenor, and a moment later all three saxophonists were speaking on the same horn. There was a syncopated logic to it, howeverthis was not the tenor battle that one might expect. Together they seemed like three engines within the same machine, cranking out syncopated noise together.
From left: Ken Vandermark, Mars WIlliams, Peter Brötzmann
Then Brötzmann took over, and showed the rapport that he has developed with Kessler and Nilssen-Love. Playing free of strict time, but they instead seemed to build their own music through dialogue, texture, and sheer force of will. Nilssen-Love was particularly impressive throughout the set, a perpetual blur moving all over to accent and engage. He was also drenched with sweat a few minutes into the performance.
But from this opening salvo on, not all was fire and brimstone. A solo from Vandermark accented the tender touches of R&B lurking within his style. And there were remarkable displays of how tender dynamics can heighten the disruptive effect of the avant-garde as much as a well-placed scream. After one dense wall of sound for instance, where it was impossible to tell who was doing what, everyone suddenly went quiet but Williams on soprano and Kessler, who themselves dropped to a remarkable softness with gentle repeated figures that then crescendoed to a remarkable brilliance. And even Brötzmann uncorked his own gentle solo, after a furious exchange of bass and drums, with the air whistling out of his horn like wind over a dried-out plain.
It was when all three players were on tenors, though, that incredible things really seemed to happen. At one point, each of them was playing the same multiphonic, amplifying the tortured notes that the horn was just not meant to play to a swell of sound. Then they each branched off into their own thing, before finding their way back to pianissimo volume and launching into something like a ballad, with Brötzmann sounding frightfully close to Coleman Hawkins for a few truly bizarre moments, when reality really seemed to be coming undone.
Of course, the real fun was when all three saxophones just cut loose. Their screams and sighs seem ready to bust their instruments apart, and they truly seem to love playing this music together. Even better, the energy they got from one another clearly fueled them on, spurring new ideas and new joyous chaos. And what they poured into it all was truly astonishing. When Brötzmann closed the night by leaping up and landing on a downbeat after more than three hours of playing, the sound of those driven saxophones seemed to linger on in the wake of the applause. This was great music, challenging and important, and the Vision Festival paid fitting tribute by giving it the chance to be heard. More New York institutions should follow suit.