Peter Brötzmann & Joe McPhee Quartet in Tel Aviv

Eyal Hareuveni By

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Peter Brötzmann & Joe McPhee Quartet
Levontin 7
Tel Aviv, Israel
May 15, 2007

Writers tend to describe the blowing of German reed player Peter Brötzmann in terms of meteorological abnormalities. There is some truth in such metaphors, but such writers miss a much broader spectrum of articulations in Brötzmann playing. This wide spectrum was featured in his first ever concert in Tel Aviv, beginning with a solo set, following an impressive solo demonstration by local sax hero Ariel Shibolet and preceding a later set with his quartet—McPhee on pocket trumpet, alto and tenor saxophones, Kent Kessler on double bass and Michael Zerang on percussion and drums.

This quartet was invited by the local label and shop Jazz Ear as part of its 20th anniversary celebration. Brötzmann began by saying that usually he does not speak "before work," but playing in Israel for him is "unlike other exotic places" that he is being sent to. He told the attentive audience that he was born in 1941, during WWII, as part of generation that addressed "a lot of questions to their fathers, but got very few answers." Thus his music reflects his anger towards his parents' generation and his wish, like that of fellow German musicians such as the late bassist Peter Kowald and pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, to cut loose from this generation, not only politically, but also from their artistic aesthetics. Brötzmann added that he hasn't lost his anger yet but finds some comfort in being able to bring his art to so many different places all over the world.

Then Brötzmann began an extended masterful improvisation on Albert Ayler's "Love Cry," using only his tenor sax, and for the first seconds I could understand the stormy clichés written about his playing. The intoxicating physicality of the huge sound filled the small underground hall, and his uncompromised determination grabs you instantly, and only when you surrender totally to this experience can you begin to explore the many layers in this raw and rough sound. Brötzmann's playing was full of compassion and sadness, but at the same time his ecstatic energy referenced the authoritative sound of the Father of the tenor saxophone, Coleman Hawkins, as well as the gentleness of the President, Lester Young. Still, filtered through all of his playing was his unmistakable resolute attitude.

After the triumphant solo set of Brötzmann the quartet began their set. All four members are cooperating within the Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet and have released two recordings as a quartet so far—the almost ballad-like collection, Tales Out Of Time (hatOLOGY, 2004), and the recent, Guts(Okka Disk, 2007)—and a duo album of Brötzmann and Zerang, Live In Beirut, 2005 (Al Maslakh, 2005). It was clear from the beginning of this set that this is a quartet of players who are constantly pushing envelopes of the possibilities open to four musicians. Sound, timbres, interplay and rhythm—all were up for exploration.

The first long improvisation began with Zerang playing an asymmetric rhythm on the darbouka and later caressing and squeezing his drum set with bows and other artifacts, with Brötzmann and McPhee letting their emphatic interplay percolate and boil, though showing patience and reserve and leaving enough space for Zerang and Kessler's expressive idiosyncratic contributions. There was a deep sense of generosity, commitment and humbleness in this piece, as if the manifestation of the music itself is much bigger than all the musicians' contributions together. The last three pieces—two as encores—were much shorter but again were testimony to the wise maturity of Brötzmann and McPhee and their common belief that art and music can make a real difference. I know that for me and many others, this unique experience will be cherished for many years.

Visit Joe McPhee, Michael Zerang, and Peter Brötzmann on the web.

Photo Credit
Baruch Diamant


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