Fred Lonberg-Holm / Hamid Drake / Joe McPhee / Mats Gustafsson / Michael Zerang / Peter Brötzmann / Jeb Bishop / Kent Kessler / Mars Williams

December 6, 2004

Okkadisk OD 12048



Okkadisk OD 12047

More than five years after it was first organized, German reedist Peter Brötzmann’s mostly Chicago-populated Tentet has become a welcomed presence on the international improv scene.

In the tradition of the Globe Unity Orchestra — of which Brötzmann was also a member — the reed-heavy band plays long, involved compositions more concerned with spur of the moment interpretation than elaborate arrangements. Yet, as this matched set of live and studio material demonstrates, the 10-piece band actually sounds best when organized patterns and section work are added to the massed firepower.

Overall, the tentet is most impressive as a full-fledged band. Yet only Ken Vandermark takes full advantage of its varied colors on his more than 37-minute “All Things Being Equal” on IMAGES. Most ambitious and the longest tune on either disc, its overture is made up of gathered horn cadenzas, resonating hand drumming from Hamid Drake and a walking bass line from Kent Kessler. Soon second drummer Michael Zerang pounds out a counter rhythm and, in sections, the brass and reeds pile on top of one another polytonally.

Irregular backing figures from the band, give Joe McPhee’s trumpet the space to push out higher notes with flutter tongue ornamentation. Next up, saxist Mars Williams sprays a circular set of splayed, staccato notes before the theme is reprised for the first time. The split tone sopranino solo continues abstractly — falling from pinched altissimo to unrefined low timbres — as the dual drummer pitter-patter and pop behind him. Then, from among the polyphonic harmonies appear sul tasto tremolos from cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, muted wah-wah trumpet counterpoint, and a gentle pastoral eclogue from the others.

Trombonist Jeb Bishop introduces rubato slurs that bounce off trumpet trills and spiccato sweeps from the strings. Blowing harshly, he gets most of his individualism from echoes. Following is a series of tongue slaps plus key percussion and glottal punctuation from Swede Mats Gustafsson or Vandermark on baritone. Adding lip-smacking verbal tones to ponticello bass movements and hand drumming, this orchestral formation adds up to the DKV trio writ large. Then, trilled slurs from the trumpeter, snaky chalumeau lines from Brötzmann’s clarinet and ride cymbal patter from Zerang are added.

The clarinet’s spittle squeaks soon meet up with baritone snorts and staccato interpolations from the brass. Pushed to a quicker tempo by two drum kits’ rough smears and irregular flutter-tonguing invigorate the reeds as Bishop’s slide ranges over the thematic variations. The climax refreshes all concerned, as horns, percussion and strings meld into a miasmic legato howl, with an Ornette Coleman-like folksy finale arriving with polyphonic counterpoint.

Inspirational in their own way, the other tunes pale in comparison to this one, with the exception of Brötzmann’s title track on SIGNS. But even here, the piece that’s almost exactly half the length of “All Things Being Equal” is most convincing because most of the players get to strut their stuff. With polyharmonic and polytonal passages reminiscent of John Coltrane’s “Ascension” or Brötzmann’s “Machine Gun”, there are instances of the band members improvising every which way as their dissonant textures mass then explode — a musical foliage of smears, burrs, cries, hoots and snorts. Electrified — but playing acoustically — Lonberg-Holm rampages out flat-picked notes as the horns join for hocketing, squealing pantonality.

A double-tongued alto solo from Williams vibrates its way into R&B territory, trailed by battering percussion and stentorian runs from the two baritone saxists. Finally, after Brötzmann snakes out some nasal tarogato notes complete with glissandi, chesty-toned fortissimo reeds circle back to riff counterthemes and the cellist scrapes his strings as if he was severing them at the bridge.

Individual passages stand out elsewhere, but all the other tunes are made up of little more than isolated passages from different instruments with no attempt to bond them into a whole. Impressive they may be, but when soloists are heard a cappella or as duos in isolation, they raise the question of what the other band members were doing — and why they were present at all. The other glaring oversight here is proper identification of soloists. Much of the description above is based on knowledge and guesswork.

Followers of any of the musicians may rate these sessions more highly — and there’s certainly nothing second-rate or offensive about them. It merely seems that with the massed talents on display from Chicago and Europe — not to mention upstate New York’s McPhee — much more could have been done in terms of arrangements and organization.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Signs: 1. Bird notes (for Bengt Nordström) 2. Six Gun Territory 3. Signs

Track Listing: Images: 1. All Things Being Equal 2. Images

Personnel: Signs and Images: Joe McPhee (trumpet); Jeb Bishop (trombone); Peter Brötzmann (alto and tenor saxophones, A clarinet, tarogato); Mars Williams (sopranino, alto and tenor saxophones); Ken Vandermark(tenor and baritone saxophones, Bb clarinet); Mats Gustafsson (tenor and baritone saxophones); Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello); Kent Kessler (bass); Michael Zerang and Hamid Drake (drums)