Peter Brotzmann Chicago Tentet: Bridging the Future with the Past

Lloyd N. Peterson Jr. By

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We do it for the moment, and the moment leads us to tomorrow. Once it's done, I'm ready to move on. —Peter Brotzmann
There may not be a more creative group of artists anywhere within the boundaries of any art form than those within the Peter Brotzmann Chicago Tentet. These are individuals that comprehensively understand their responsibility to art and it is only through this level of integrity and creativity that art can, and will continue to move forward. Thus, it is completely mystifying and disheartening that this group of brilliant artists from Germany, Sweden, Norway, Chicago and New York remain relatively unknown outside of avant-garde circles. They have created their own dimensions of sound, their own sonority of power and intensity, with shapes of silence that collide and separate at varying levels of speed and measurements of time. They have not introduced a new language as much as they invent new universes within fields of time and space through intellect, passion and importantly, attitude.

I attended my first performance of the Tentet in Chicago in 2005 and not for a moment did I expect to be moved on so many emotional and intellectual levels. But I wasn't the only one. Not one member of the audience moved when the performance had ended.

The following morning, with the intensity of the previous night's performance still in the air, five of the performers (Peter Brötzmann, Ken Vandermark, Joe McPhee, Paal Nilssen-Love and Mats Gustafsson) of the Tentet came together for a round table discussion to talk music, creativity and the many facets influencing society and culture today. But what made this occasion and discussion unique, is that for the most part, all five of these creative artists impersonate diversity originating from different cultures. Like their music, the discussion was driven and intense, and reflected the compassion that each of these fascinating individuals brings to their lives and their music, each and every moment.

Lloyd Peterson: A group of musicians from Chicago came together in the mid 1960's and formed the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). Are there parallels in what all of you are trying to do but on an international level?

Peter Brotzmann: That's a question for you (Ken). I'm too old for that.

Ken Vandermark: The members of the AACM came from a different period and community along with a different set of politics, but I do feel a kinship with their self determination in organizing situations where they could perform within the context of what they chose for themselves. And my understanding is that the AACM was very, very organized and while I am trying to connect with the musicians and find a way for the music to work, they were very devoted to the community in a way that was exceptional. Part of my own personal interest is in trying to work in situations that are not just devoted to jazz, but it's also about being active in the process of trying to find the audience that is interested in the kind of music that we are doing.

PB: I first met the guys in the AACM about 1969 at a festival in Frankfurt, Germany and from the very beginning; their primary objective was in getting work. They built up a community thatwas able to take care of all social aspects of life and as Europeans; we didn't have to worry about that. And I don't think the white middle class American had to but I'm sure that the Black guy, besides getting work; had to worry about making life a little bit more comfortable and a bit more secure for all of the members of the community. That was my impression from the very beginning and it has always come back to getting work. If there is work, then all of the other questions can be resolved.

LP: I sense a very strong passionate commitment and a certain attitude towards the music from all of you when you perform. I also sense a bond. Musicians talk about playing as if there is no tomorrow but you guys play like your life depends on it. Is this ever discussed?

Mats Gustafsson: We don't ever discuss it. (laughs)

PB: We do it for the moment, and the moment leads us to tomorrow. You have to do it with respect for yourself and for the guys you are working with but you also need to develop your ideas. I'm always trying to be realistic but without a vision for the future, it's useless to look beyond last night's concert.

MG: The commitment for the music has to be 100%, otherwise you might as well stay home. Even in rehearsals, people are playing their brains out. It's not something that is discussed; it's just the way it is and could not be any other way.

PB: When I was younger, I remember visiting the rehearsals of professional musicians and it seemed to be cool for them to play with only half a commitment. It was completely different. And I think for all of us sitting here, if you touch the horn, you play it with all you have. It doesn't matter whether it's a rehearsal or a performance and that's the only way for us.

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