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Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet + 1 - 3 Nights in Oslo

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Artist: Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet + 1

Album: 3 Nights in Oslo

Label: Smalltown Superjazz

Review date: Sep. 2, 2010

The five-disc collection 3 Nights in Oslo makes good on a promise always inherent if unstated in the sturdy Brötzmann Chicago Tentet schematic: Given the diversity and versatility of its participants, it’s the perfect vehicle for a Festival program all by its lonesome. The 11 players (when you count reedist/brass player Joe McPhee properly as the invaluable plus-one) have long-standing associations within and without the larger group. Chicago has always been a signifier of geographical inception rather than membership, with half the Tentet’s constituents hailing from European compass points. Having formed under Brötzmann’s ostensible leadership early in the last decade, the ensemble is now very much an assemblage of collaborators. As with their inaugural project released by Okkadisk as a lavish three-disc box back in 1997, this set balances girth with greatness in documenting an early 2009 stand.

Touring with a group of these dimensions is rarely, if ever, an easy enterprise. Saxophonist Ken Vandermark’s blog dispatches of a few years back delineated in painful detail all the tribulations that visited the band on its European circuit, from gaffed guarantees to recurring travel snafus. Through it all, Brötzmann sustained his steadfast egalitarian mindset, refusing to accept fees in excess of his colleagues and taking the inevitable frustrations and vagaries in stride, built from more than a half-century spent as a frequent resident of the road. That veteran’s poise is evident on this set as well, though he’s only directly involved in three of the nine performances.

The set has a beautiful symmetry in its sequencing. Two Tentet performances bookend the scintillating work of seven sub-groupings, starting with the reeds trio Sonore. Brötzmann, Vandermark and Mats Gustafsson make for a massive display of saxophonic ordinance on paper and in practice, but as with their past meetings in the format, what’s often most impressive is how they temper that available intensity with a chamber-like contrapuntal intricacy of lines. Percussionists Michael Zerang and Paal-Nilssen-Love achieve an amped-up variant of the annual Solstice duos of Zerang and Tentet alum Hamid Drake through a soulful weave of polyrhythms that is at once tight, porous and vibrantly musical.

A low-end duo of trombonist Johannes Bauer and tubaist Per Ake Holmlander on a pair of pieces presages a larger trombone choir that adds McPhee and Jeb Bishop for an even grander, more resonant bottom-dwelling sound. McPhee and Vandermark also pair off in a deuce of comparatively lyrical tenor duets, and there’s another pair of improvisations by McPhee’s trio with Fred Lonberg-Holm and Zerang that contains some of Lonberg-Holm’s most unhinged, electronics-saturated sawing of the set. Bishop and Nilssen-Love also get a pair of conversations in, their striated play mixing muted brass modulations with finely attuned brush expositions.

Getting back to that heavy grain rye bread that surrounds the set’s tasty sandwich innards, the two Tentet performances make bold use of instrumental textures and colors while fraying logically into bustling fractional groupings of their own. Tellingly, the grist of the music echoes the trend in the Tentet’s directive toward a greater emphasis on collective improvisation over scripted composition. Only the full group pieces carry composer credits (those of the leader) and none of the tracks are named beyond numerals for distinction. A thick cardboard case and photo-rich booklet complete the package in high style.

The band now has a good dozen recordings to its name, but with plenty of opportunities (including this one) to recycle itself, it’s yet to fall into the trap of repertory repetition. This handsome set is a testament to that collective and individual ingenuity at discovering fresh patterns of discourse. Not quite the same as being under Oslo skies when and where these sounds were sparked, it’s still the next best thing.

By Derek Taylor

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