But everyone had ample opportunity for expression. Trombonist Johannes Bauer
's finest juncture came in a garrulous solo which left him red-faced with effort, where he muttered and chuntered, his voice and instrument blending in delightful symbiosis. The trombonist even continued with the vocal noises when he playfully took the mouthpiece away from his mouth. On cello, Lonberg-Holm veered back and forth across the divide between accompaniment and adventure, plucking with the bow threaded through the strings to produce a sound like a thumb piano, as well as using his massed electronics to manipulate and repeat a cello line, manufacturing a careering backdrop.
For its Saturday night performance, the group seemed even more energized. Vandermark, center stageand sonically as well as physically prominentset the tone with a tenor outpouring ending with the rumbustious encouragement of the entire assemblage in a cathartic exhibition. But he also showed himself willing to subsume his ego to the greater good, often providing the glue to hold collectives together with his repeated motifs on baritone or tenor forging an abstracted R&B thread.
Like an ice sheet calving icebergs, the Tentet has spawned many smaller groupings. One of the most distinguished, the reed trio Sonore, surfaced at one point as the twin baritones of Gustafsson and Vandermark flanked the leader's bristling tenor, with the Chicagoan again filling the anchor role, and Per Ake Holmlander's supple tuba harrumphing support.
When all eleven were in full spate, fueled by the powerhouse percussion pairing of Michael Zerang
and Nilssen-Love, they generated one of the most exciting hard-driving sounds around. It resulted in a glorious anthemic ending to its first set, with Brötzmann's alto soaring over a horn chorale. Of course, there were more poetic moments too: almost as a prologue to the second set, McPhee and Vandermark conjoined in delicate clarinet colloquy, accompanied by Lonberg-Holm's cello on its best behavior, to fashion a trio worthy of the most refined chamber. And later, McPhee's pocket trumpet answered Brötzmann's clarion burst and a lyrical duet ensued, made all the more poignant by the contrast with which the mayhem framed it.
A short encore followed the rapturous applause to round out two exceptional evenings of music.
Subsequent news from the last gig of the tour in Strasbourg was that this was to be the Tentet's last-ever appearance. In retrospect, some clues where perhaps discernible: a general weariness of demeanor (which nonetheless fell away once the group took to the stand), and an incident of dissatisfaction when, in the last set, Brötzmann growled an imprecation at Bishop to stop after the trombonist crossed the imperceptible boundary between having his say and allowing someone else theirs. If Brötzmann has finally called time on the band, then the only thing left to say is: thanks for 15 fantastic years.Photo CreditJohn Sharpe