London Jazz Festival Review: Peter Brötzmann Tentet at Cafe Oto, 9th November


Peter Brötzmann, Café Oto, 9 November 2012
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2012. All Rights Reserved.


Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet
at Café (Oto, 9 November 2012 Day one of two-day residency; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)


They could have called it 'Peter Brötzmann's Rolling Thunder Review', as they rolled back into town after their memorable London debut season at Café Oto last year!

All eleven members of the Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet were shuffling edgily, huddled on Cafe Oto's tiny stage and then suddenly, as one they let loose an awesome volcanic cacophony. A thunderous eruption, directed with a glance and a nod by Brötzmann, wielding a lustrous copper tenor sax, blazed in to the evening, carved through the air with the power of a tunnel borer. The twin drums drove the machine out with resounding, synchronised force. Michael Zerang laid out the beats with deceptive aplomb, Paal Nilssen-Love added complex artillery rolls, Ken Vandermark wailed and trilled on clarinet, and the wild trombones of Jeb Bishop and Johannes Bauer made life hazardous for anybody within reach - and Brötzmann quietly smiled as the ship set sail.

This was an ensemble that revelled in states of flux and in u-turns of mood, tremendous individual talents who gave each other space and which coalesced in duets which gathered pace as trios and quartets and then reverted to solos before breaking down in to other perpetually evolving groupings. There was no pinning them down - and that's what kept it so fresh. One minute they were all battling the elements to tie down a single note, then they morphed to become a beautiful, traditionally harmonic brass band, always with that slow volcanic energy rumbling under the surface.

The Peter Brötzmann Tentet at Café Oto, 9 November 2012
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2012. All Rights Reserved.


The sharp, sustained clarity held by Brötzmann's alto resonated with a plaintive melancholy. Holmander's blooping, humpy tuba grew out of Kessler's careful, punctilious bass lines. Joe McPhee, a sensitive presence, focused and composed, used a plastic cup as mute on his pocket trumpet to bring out its softer tones. A Brookmeyer-esque trombone solo, partnered by McPhee and Vandermark on clarinets ushered in a loosely flowing township swing passage.

There was only so much millpond calm that the Tenet could take. A feverish blast from Brötzmann brought the ensemble up short and initiated a ferocious duet with Fred Lonberg-Holm, scratching, scraping and electronically distorting in a madcap roller-coaster chase around and off the registers. Mats Gustafsson and Vandermark took up the reins alongside Brötzmann, each taking up the baritone sax with muscular and frenzied determination, exchanging for tenors as it suited.

In full flight the Tentet had the mass and unstoppable momentum of one of O. Winston Link's trains roaring through the night - and the way they held it all together and kept it on the tracks was by pure feel. As a result you, in the audience, just felt the music, pulsing through the atmosphere in waves - thunderous waves. Joe McPhee's smiles after the finale, and those of the others, were testimony to the concentration and effort that were demanded by this uncompromising format and by its motivating genius, Peter Brötzmann. A formidable and fulfilling experience - ignore at your peril!

Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet:

Johannes Bauer: trombone
Jeb Bishop: trombone
Peter Brötzmann: reeds
Mats Gustafsson: reeds
Per Åke Holmlander: tuba
Kent Kessler: bass
Fred Lonberg-Holm: cello, electronics
Joe McPhee: pocket trumpet, reeds
Paal Nilssen-Love: drums, percussion
Ken Vandermark: reeds
Michael Zerang: drums, percussion


The Peter Brötzmann Tentet at Café Oto, 9 November 2012
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2012. All Rights Reserved.

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