Uncommon music criticized by the common man. (Or, exercises in futility masquerading as critical thought.)

Monday, May 16, 2005

So, I caught the Brotzmann Chicago Tentet last night. I went in there with no expectations, with only Brotzmann's reputation as a foundation for the possibilities, but nothing more. The performance was at once everything I might have anticipated and nothing like it at all.

First off, I must say I was impressed by the turnout. I thought there might only be a couple of dozen people showing up, considering it was a Sunday night and that this sort of music has a small audience to begin with. The Backstage was pretty packed. Unfortunately for me, since I got there a bit late, I got stuck behind a column in the middle of the room. Luckily, I was able to get a much better spot after the first set.

As for the performance, it was fantastic. Sadly, I lack the knowledge and vocabulary to describe what was going on in any intelligent manner. I will, as a result, merely run down some of the highlights of the performance, which was completely improvised, according to tentet member (and merch vendor) Ken Vandermark.

-From an individual performance standpoint, I cannot say enough about the playing of drummer Paal Nilssen-Love. I'd forgotten that I've actually heard him play before, on The Scorch Trio's Luggumt. He was just tremendous last night, completely filling in the spaces with his high energy playing. A couple of times, he locked into this swinging groove that tightened the bands rhythmic foundation while also urging them into greater freedom. It was really remarkable. Even when he would lay the sticks down and was using shakers and other smaller percussion, he seemed to be hitting everything just right.

-My one question going into last night was, how does a tuba fit into a free jazz context? Now I know. While he didn't figure into the proceedings as much as some of the others, Per Ake Holmlander used his instrument to both punctuate the others, as well as laying down a low-end rumble upon which the group could play. I'd definitely like to check out more.

-I could have used more Magnus Broo. The Swedish trumpeter really had a great sound going, especially during the night's final piece. Another player for me to check out.

-On the same note, I could have used, and was expecting, more Joe McPhee.

-Aside from the drummers (Nilssen-Love and Michael Zerang), I think the most fascinating player to watch was bassist Kent Kessler. It was quite a sight to see his hands flying up and down his bass in a way that made it look slightly inhuman. It completely erased the stereotypical image of the jazz bassist just effortlessly plunk-plunk-plunking away.

-As for Mr. Brotzmann himself, his playing was powerful and yet, not as "overblown" as I was expecting. That statement may very well show my ignorance of the Tentet and his role within it, but his reputation (and my few experiences with his recordings) is always of the fiery, blowout variety. And while he gave his lungs a workout, it never really reached reed-splintering proportions. Honestly, at times, his playing even came off as (relatively) subdued. Perhaps it is all in seeing the live performance and seeing how much command each player has over his instrument, where the sound might betray otherwise. It reminds me of an anecdote I read about Japanese speed-freak trio, High Rise, who apparently are bolted in place live, yet play with the power and ferocity of an exploding sun. Watching and listening to Brotzmann play really drove home that old Minutemen point: there is power in economy.

-My favorite part was during the finale, after they went through the solos, they roared into a full band workout. I was amazed at how completely locked into each other they were. It never once sounded like they were playing over their fellow bandmates. And the finish, where Brotzmann, McPhee, Vandermark, Mats Gustafsson, and Broo kind of leaned into each other, forming a semi-circle, really drove home the point of how together they are. Their sound became singular without becoming slight.

All told, it was an excellent show and I'm glad I went, after spending the few hours I was awake debating whether or not I should go. Hopefully, more groups like this will come through this area in the future.

(Note: Please do not interpret my lack of detail as far as the playing of Vandermark, Gustafsson, or Fred Lonberg-Holm as a negative criticism.)

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Show Alert

The Peter Brotzmann Chicago Tentet will be playing at the Black Cat next Sunday. This will be my first live free-jazz experience. I'm trying not to over-anticipate the concert, which is difficult considering Brotzmann's stature in the jazz world and the playing I've heard from some of the other members of the tentet outside of this context (Gustafsson, Lonberg-Holm, McPhee, Vandermark).

Thursday, May 05, 2005

A Case For Downloading

This track is part of the most recent Z-Trip album I purchased (not his new one; the live from L.A. album). Only part of it plays (not even the entire first verse), but it is hilarious. It's set to Barry White's "I'm Gonna Love You Just A Little More, Baby". The image of Cookie Monster as seducer is funny in ways that shouldn't need explaining, but I don't think I could even if I tried.

"Hey baby...me dig you sweater puppets."

The track, by the by, is from this album, which probably isn't very good on the whole. Hence, a case for downloading.