If you already have the 1998 3-CD release by the Brötzmann Chicago Octet/Tentet on Okka Disk, then reading this review is a waste of time: what more could be said? On the other hand, if you don't yet have that mammoth document of free jazz: life is short-what are you waiting for?
Actually, this tentet is slightly different than the one that dropped thousands of jaws worldwide via the 1998 set. Joe McPhee's sublime pocket cornet/valve trombone/soprano sax playing is absent, as well as Mars Williams' powerful reed playing. The brass duties are picked up by Toshinori Kondo, a Japanese musician who apparently has been an irregular participant in the avant-garde music world, devoting his time to other activities like commercial music and male modelling. Nevertheless, he is known for his association with Derek Bailey and other noteworthy improvisers over the past twenty years or so. The other new face here hardly needs any introduction, the esteemed William Parker, the engine that's driven a great deal of important 'universal music' over the years. It goes without saying that Parker fits the ensemble like a glove.
Vandermark, Bishop, Lomberg-Holm, Zerang, and Drake are all vital figures in the contemporary Chicago improvised music world. There would hardly be space here to discuss their extensive discographies. Gustafsson hails from Sweden and has surely already confounded your senses by now with his outrageous reed explosions. Seeing him stomp his feet while playing a saxophone like you would never imagine in your wildest dreams was certainly a highlight of the Tentet's recent New York performances. Peter Brötzmann is, well, Peter Brötzmann. What can one say? Actually, I could say that Brötzmann's sensitive clarinet playing in tandem with Hamid Drake's passionate frame drum playing was another highlight of the shows I caught.
This disc contains a single continuous piece performed on May 23, 1998 as part of the 16th annual Festival De Musique De Actuelle' in Victoriaville, Canada. Composer credits are not given, but it sounds like a collective improvisation with sections for solos and different groupings planned in advance, perhaps by Brötzmann. Kondo is given a good deal of solo space, providing some spacy and tasteful trumpet+electronics. Bishop also has a long solo section with bass and drums really urging him to make some lucid statements on his trombone. We are also treated to Vandermark's characteristically superb clarinet work.
The whole thing starts off in full gear, with the reeds joined in a scream that could wake the dead. It is worth noting that this music reaches points of terrifying intensity at times, although it also balanced by a great deal of more subdued exploration. It seems to alternate between these extremes every few minutes or so, making for a very satisfying experience. Overall, this work is probably most similar to "Burning Spirit", the sole example of the Brötzmann Chicago Octet (minus McPhee and Gustafsson) on the 3-CD set.
Perhaps the simplest observation one could make about this recording is that we have ten deeply experienced improvisers, most of whom of have worked together in various combinations previous to this ensemble, and the fairly open format of the music allows them play in various groupings throughout the piece. Any one of these groupings would be an exciting event on its own, and so the Peter Brötzmann Tentet experience ultimately boils down to a whirlwind tour through a wide range of volatile combinations, each of which has its own internal logic and expressive potential. I certainly hope there is more yet to come.
This review appears courtesy of the Italian webmagazine ( Musicboom )