Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet: 5/14/99, 1/29/97

1999 | 1997


May 14, 1999
Section Three
Critic’s Choice
By Neil Tesser

The pioneering, domineering, and often breathtaking German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann deserves a key to the city. He’s forged strong ties with Chicago’s new-music community during a series of visits over the last five years–most significantly with reedist Ken Vandermark, bassist Kent Kessler, and drummer Hamid Drake, who’ve proved exceptionally responsive to Brötzmann’S careening, guttural bluster. Those relationships provide the grid for this ever-expanding band, the most exciting of his Chicago projects. In January 1997 Brötzmann put together an octet with Vandermark, Kessler, Drake, saxist Mars Williams, trombonist Jeb Bishop, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, and drummer Michael Zerang; he returned later that year to make it a ten-piece, adding Swedish reed man Mats Gustafsson and east-coast multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee to the mix. This time around Japanese trumpeter, electronics maven, and former model Toshinori Kondo will make his Chicago debut in McPhee’s place; hyper expressive New York bassist and bandleader William Parker will appear in the role of “plus one,” expanding the string section of Brötzmann’s brouhaha to three players. It’s worth considering this crowded ensemble in terms of “sections,” too, because despite the forceful leadership and formal structures Brötzmann brings, the music’s real resonance arises from interactions between and within small subsets of the group. Vandermark and Williams have worked together in so many varied bands this decade that even their wildest flights are still clearly dialogues; Lonberg-Holm’s switch-hitting cello can leave the strings to team up with saxes or brass, Drake and Zerang, who perform as a percussion duo several times a year, employ rhythmic approaches that fit together like yin and yang. This performance, which caps off the third annual Empty Bottle Festival of Jazz & Improvised Music, should also warm up the tentet for its trip to Quebec the following weekend for the renowned Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville. Sunday, 5 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600.

© Chicago Reader


Wednesday, January 29, 1997
Section: Tempo
Column: Arts Watch, Jazz review
By Howard Reich, Tribune Arts Critic

Chicago always has been a focal point for new ideas in music, but this season seems particularly rich in avant-garde offerings.

In addition to the exceptional new Traffic series at Steppenwolf Theatre, a Creative and Improvised Music series has sprung up at Unity Temple in Oak Park. Like Traffic, the Unity Temple series has emerged almost fully formed, with a season long lineup of top-notch artists.

Over the weekend, Unity Temple’s series attained a new high point, with a striking performance by the Peter Brötzmann Octet. If the name of the ensemble doesn’t sound familiar, that’s understandable, because the veteran German experimenter was collaborating with several of Chicago’s most daring improvisers for the first time.

Nevertheless, it was not a conceit to call this newly conceived group an octet, since the players genuinely cohered as a bona fide band. Considering the personnel involved, that’s not surprising. Surely any ensemble staffed by Brötzmann, reed firebrands Ken Vandermark and Mars Williams, trombonist Jeb Bishop, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, bassist Ken Kessler and percussionists Hamid Drake and Michael Zerang is likely to achieve remarkable things.

Most of the Chicago players, after all, have worked with one another and know how to anticipate each other’s ideas. Add to the mix a soloist/bandleader with an apparently bottomless well of ideas and musical vocabularies at his command, and you have the makings of a volatile performance.

Nevertheless, listeners expecting to hear free-ranging, loosely conceived improvisations would have been surprised, for Brötzmann presided over a tightly disciplined concert in which form, structure and meticulous balances among instruments were of primary importance.

Throughout, Brötzmann and friends drew on a broad range of musical sources, from pre-swing march rhythms and European chorale-like settings to unmetered group improvisation and unabashedly classical thematic development. All of this sound and color was carefully organized, with Brötzmann building some compositions on concerto principles, others on particular instrumental ostinatos.

Here’s hoping the performance will be released as a recording–it could be a fascinating document.

The program will be repeated at 9 p.m. Wednesday at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave.; phone773-276-3600.

PHOTO: Peter Brötzmann directed an octet containing many notable Chicago musicians through a variety of styles at Unity Temple in Oak Park. Tribune photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo.

© Chicago Tribune