June 17, 2000
Okka Disk OD 12032
Peter Brötzmann is no stranger to bombast.
The German multi-reedist first goose-stepped his way into world jazz consciousness in 1968 with MACHINE GUN on FMP. From its first extended blats of pure noise emanating from a (very) mixed platoon of Dutch, Flemish, British and German improvisers, it gave lusty notice that Continental jazzers had to be judged on their own merits rather than in comparison to North American musicians.
Over the years, except for the odd one/off project, economic necessity has forced Brötzmann to work with smaller bands — usually trios and quartets and some commentators have even posited that the wildman has mellowed.
As this fine session, attests, nothing could be further from the truth. It's just with a veteran's maturity, the saxophonist now knows exactly when to let 'er rip and when to keep things on a quieter level. Also, unlike some of his more dogmatic colleagues, he's never missed an opportunity to collaborate with many other musicians, be they Americans or Moroccans.
That's the genesis of this disc — recorded at last year's Festival International de Musique International in Victoriaville, Que. A couple of years before this, Brötzmann, on tour in Chicago, organized a crew of like-minded improvisers from the simmering improv scene there — first as an octet then a tentet. This band is a road show version of that aggregation which was captured on 1997's superb three-CD Okka disc set. Besides Brötzmann, the group now includes a Swede (Gustafson); a Japanese (Kondo); and a Manhattenite (Parker) as well six musicians from the Windy City.
While the gang of 10 seems to throw everything it can into the one, almost 39 minute, composition, its extreme length leads to an uneven outcome. Sure there's the unparalleled power of MACHINE GUN-style unison horn work — especially right the beginning and end — but there are time marking valleys as well as peaks. With nearly everyone allowed solo space, focus is sometimes lost. Kondo's muted trumpet and electronic washes, for instance, seem to go on a bit too long. And the ominous sub theme propelled by the cello may have been better on its own. Still, Bishop's half-gutbucket/half modern trombone proves convincing, as do the eight string acrobatics of Parker and Kessler.
However with the soloists not identified —and all reedists playing tenor saxophone and Brötzmann and Vandermark both playing clarinets — it's hard to ascribe individual woodwind honors. One would suppose that the most ferocious blowing comes from the German, but whoever plays each part certainly knows his way around a mouthpiece.
Another complaint is that nowhere are the first names of the performers (listed blow) supplied. That may be OK for a Miles Davis session, but these less famous musicians deserve as much acknowledgement as possible. The last name of the cellist is also misspelled.
While STONE/WATER builds up to a multifaceted climax, all the parts don't add up to a masterwork like the three-CD THE CHICAGO OCTET/TENTET. Perhaps it was the live situation or the new personalities in the band.
Still if you liked the earlier session, you'll probably favor this one as well. And if you don't own the limited-edition three-CD set this can be an admirable substitute, especially if you follow the work of any of the horn men.
Track Listing: 1. Stone/Water
Personnel: Toshinoro Kondo (tbrumpet, electronics); Jeb Bishop (trombone); Peter Brötzmann (tenor saxophone, clarinet); Mats Gustafsson (tenor saxophone, flutophone); Ken Vandermark (tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet); Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello, violin); Kent Kessler, William Parker (basses); Hamid Drake, Michael Zerang (drums)