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Peter BrŲtzmann Tentet and Quartet

Clifford Allen By

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Peter Brötzmann is probably more famous (or infamous) for his lung power and ability to break a rib blowing a bass saxophone than for his ability to direct a truly cooperative group and extend a multitude of concepts over several bands. A contemporary of and heir to Frank Wright, power is not out of the question (Brötz did make appearances in the Center of the World group, after all), but if one traces the lineage of his music from caterwauling solos on Alex von Schlippenbach's Globe Unity through his own Ayler-esque trio (heard on For Adolphe Sax and Usable Past ) and a neo-dada cooperative with Han Bennink and Fred Van Hove, to the highly structured big band projects of the last twenty years, it is plain to see that Brötzmann's art is a far-ranging and complex project.

Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet
Images
Signs
Okka Disk
2004

The Brötzmann Chicago Tentet is one of the few avant-garde big bands in recent memory to be called a truly vital working group, in any sense. Formed in 1997, the group is a cooperative, using as its core the cream of the Chicago free jazz scene (four of the Vandermark Five, Hamid Drake and Michael Zerang on percussion and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm) plus the Swedish reedman Mats Gustafsson and trumpeter/saxophonist Joe McPhee. Compositions come from several members of the group. Like the Globe Unity Orchestra, the fact that several composers of varying stripes are present makes this a highly versatile beast. Vandermark's contrapuntal R&B penchant marks the opening of the colorful suite "All Things Being Equal," in itself probably one of the most brilliant pieces of music ever to come out of the contemporary Chicago scene, with thematic elements referencing composers as diverse as Clifford Thornton, Willem Breuker and Gyorgy Ligeti across its 37-minute spread. Brötzmann's own "Images" is a sparse, moody piece featuring his taragot and Vandermark's clarinet over rustling percussion and stewy reed and brass chords. Gustafsson's "Bird Notes" (a saxophonist and record collector's homage to Bengt "Frippe" Nordstrom's underground label) opens Signs, a much freer companion to Images, the introductory piece a moody yet vicious explication of the unseen parallels between Albert Ayler and Lennie Tristano. Lonberg-Holm should not be overlooked as an integral component of the group; in addition to one of his own compositions making it into the set ("Six Gun Territory"), his cello holds a great deal of the rhythm on "All Things" and, amplified, approximates Ray Russell's guitar on Brötzmann's frenetic composition "Signs."

Brötzmann/McPhee/Kessler/Zerang
Tales out of Time
Hatology
2004

In hearing the Tales Out of Time quartet culled from the Chicago Tentet, with McPhee on tenor and trumpet, bassist Kent Kessler and percussionist Michael Zerang, one experiences an altogether different sensibility, a crack unit engaging much shorter pieces. As McPhee's essential style is a strongly bluesy one, Brötzmann is able to get more deeply into his own blues roots and that of his instrument, and it is interesting to hear him (as on the Tentet discs) playing the music of another compositional mind. Granted, in the '60s and '70s he made sideman appearances in the large ensembles of Manfred Schoof and Kees Hazevoet (as well as Globe Unity), but was undeniably playing his own brand of high energy music. As the pace slows down to McPhee's rootsy conception, another side emerges—that of the downtrodden traveler, as heard on the introductory tenor duet "Stone Poem No. 1" (which could be, in feel, excised from McPhee's own classic Tenor on hatHUT). As the two tenors commingle, something else happens that doesn't when McPhee's trumpet is in the mix. "Master of a Small House" is Brötzmann's gorgeous take on a blues, his squalling tenor sounding more gutbucket than it ever has been in this context. There are certainly the barnstormers—the trio piece "From Now Till Doomsday," for example—but the moody ballads like "Alto Lightning in a Violin Sky," "In Anticipation of the Next," the aforementioned "Stone Poem," and "Small House" are of a bit more import. Of course, as this quartet is a part of the tentet, certain strains common to both emerge in the improvising—an affirmation of the plasticity of both ensembles.

With the Chicagoans (and the Swedes and Poughkeepsians), Peter Brötzmann has once again found like-minded improvisers to continue both his own evolutionary process as player and composer, and the evolution of improvised music, of structure and of freedom. For the connoisseur, the vast amount of Brötzmann recordings available, both early and recent, offer a truly kaleidoscopic vision of the saxophonist-composer's art.


Images

Tracks: 1. All Things Being Equal (for Robert Rauschenberg) (37:05); 2. Images (24:11).
Personnel: Joe McPhee: trumpet; Jeb Bishop: trombone; Ken Vandermark: tenor, baritone sax, b-flat-clarinet; Mats Gustafsson: tenor, baritone sax; Mars Williams: alto, tenor, sopranino sax; Peter Brötzmann: alto, tenor sax, a-clarinet, tarogato; Fred Lonberg-Holm: cello; Kent Kessler: bass; Michael Zerang: drums; Hamid Drake: drums.

Signs

Tracks: 1. Bird Notes (for Bengt Nordstrom) (19:02); 2. Six Gun Territory (14:08); 3. Signs (17:02).
Personnel: Joe McPhee: trumpet; Jeb Bishop: trombone; Ken Vandermark: tenor, baritone sax, b-flat-clarinet; Mats Gustafsson: tenor, baritone sax; Mars Williams: alto, tenor, sopranino sax; Peter Brötzmann: alto, tenor sax, a-clarinet, tarogato; Fred Lonberg-Holm: cello; Kent Kessler: bass; Michael Zerang: drums; Hamid Drake: drums.

Tales out of Time

Tracks: 1. Stone Poem, No. 1 (3:15); 2. Something There Is That Doesn't Love (6:01); 3. Master of a Small House (7:22); 4. Cymbalism (5:54); 5. Alto Lightning in a Violin Sky (5:53); 6. From Now Till Doomsday (6:46); 7. Do You Still Love Me/Did I Ever? (12:07); 8. In Anticipation of the Next (6:09); 9. Blessed Assurance (4:11); 10. Pieces of Red, Green, and Blue (8:01); 11. Stone Poem, No. 2 (2:24).
Personnel: Peter Brötzmann: Alto and Tenor Saxophone; Kent Kessler: Double Bass; Joe McPhee: Trumpet, Tenor Saxophone, Pocket Cornet; Michael Zerang: Percussion, Drums.


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