A stunning evening of molten free jazz and way-out Improv from the ever reliable Brötzmann and his largest, most diverse configuration. Over two hour-long sets, the saxophonist led his group down a maze of glorious soloing and bravura ensemble interplay. Never letting up, always reaching for higher and more dangerous territory, these guys took your breath away.
Without any need for prior planning, the ten gifted musicians knew instinctively when to come together and when to step back to let in other members of the troupe. This is the magic of group improvisation – that wonderful blend of intuition, togetherness and respect.
Brötzmann’s co-stars, for me, were his regular collaborators Ken Vandermark and Mats Gustafsson (both on saxes) and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love. The two reedsmen proved themselves the German’s equal with their ferocious blowing; Vandermark took a particularly fiery solo with no-one but Nilssen-Love for company, while Gustafsson’s relentlessly physical approach was perhaps underexposed. As for the Norwegian percussionist himself, his face told a story of formidable effort that was reflected time and again in the awesome power of his playing, including a fierce double-headed drum interlude with the more undulant approach of Michael Zerang.
It wasn’t all plain sailing; I could certainly have done without the irritating presence of trombonist Johannes Bauer, whose entire demeanour radiated smugness and self-satisfaction. But his solo interventions were thankfully brief. Other than that Bauer was part of a brass section that, when it was not tussling spiritedly with the reeds, laid down a slew of brisk and imaginative patterns, bolstered by Fred Lonberg-Holm’s whizzy, effects-heavy cello work.
Now twelve years into its existence, the Chicago Tentet is a group at the height of its powers. Brötzmann may be the nominal bandleader, but there was precious little evidence on Saturday night of him shaping and controlling the music to any great extent. Which is as it should be, of course. In the mysterious, elemental world of free improvisation, meaning and inspiration come not from individuals but from the spaces and the traces between them.