German reedist Peter Brötzmann, forever looking forward | Bleader

German reedist Peter Brötzmann, forever looking forward


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Last November the powerhouse German reedist Peter Brötzmann announced that he was dissolving his long-running Chicago Tentet, the raucous yet deadly accurate free-jazz orchestra he formed here 14 years earlier. The band had experienced some personnel shifts during that time, but its core—which included reedists Ken Vandermark and Mats Gustafsson, trombonist Jeb Bishop, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, bassist Kent Kessler, and drummer Michael Zerang—had largely remained intact all along. In a Wire interview last year Brötzmann commented, "For the audience even the routine is a kind of show, and they like that. But it comes to a point where the band starts to fulfill expectations, and I think I hate that."

Brötzmann's music is built on challenges to himself. He's been finding something new to say for nearly 50 years of music making, and it's something he endeavors with deadly seriousness. Still, last year's double CD, Walk, Love, Sleep (Smalltown Superjazz), recorded at an April 2011 concert in his hometown of Wuppertal, proves that the ensemble—which also included multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee, trombonist Johannes Bauer, and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love—was at the peak of its powers as he neared his decision to disband. There are evident patterns that probably came to be unconscious strategies—instrumental combinations, mood shifts, contrapuntal action—which worked very well but for better or worse lacked true spontaneity, something anathema to Brötzmann. Few improvisers are less sentimental than he, a guy who values forward motion, rigor, and fresh expression above all else, so while it's sad that the group is gone, it's hard not to respect his choice.

That same lack of sentimentality marked a mind-blowing four-day festival in celebration of his 70th birthday, Wels Unlimited, in Austria in November of 2011. Forty of Brötzmann's cohorts convened for the fete, playing in regular configurations like the Tentet, Sonore, and Hairy Bones, but just as often in ad hoc groupings. While most veteran musicians would've used the event to revisit past victories or reunite old bands, Brötzmann looked ahead. Earlier this year Trost Records released Long Story Short, a stunning five-CD set packed with highlights of the festival, including many performances with the celebrant on the sidelines. It functions marvelously as a great homage, not only capturing the reedist going full-bore, but including work from a dazzling range of players he seriously influenced, among them cellist Okkyung Lee, drummer Nasheet Waits, vibist Jason Adasiewicz, Japanese shaman Keiji Haino, and Austrian turntable artist Dieb13. Most of the participants have forged their own paths, but those were often blazed first by the ethos and uncompromising fury of Brötzmann.

On Saturday Brötzmann and McPhee will play duets at Constellation, part of a short American tour. McPhee, of course, is a contemporary of Brötzmann, another fearless explorer who's stuck to his aesthetic guns for decades. Oddly, it wasn't until Vandermark brought the two masters together in the late 90s that they worked together with any regularity, but they've been genuine colleagues ever since. For Saturday's second set the duo will be joined by Kessler and drummer Hamid Drake—an original member of the Tentet, and perhaps Brötzmann's most consistent drum foil for the last couple of decades. The pair turns up on a new, typically fine double LP called Solid and Spirit (Nero's Neptune), featuring a New York performance from April 2010 that consistently explains why the musicians are drawn together like magnets: as different as they are in temperament and style, they understand and perpetually complement one another, each bringing out the best in the other.

Today's playlist:

Biosphere, Substrata/Man With a Movie Camera (Touch)
Norah Jones, Little Broken Hearts (Blue Note)
Mold, Voodoo Down Dump (ILK)
Luciano Cilio, Dell'Universo Assente (Die Schachtel)
Bill Frisell, Sign of Life (Savoy Jazz)


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