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Clip: Peter Brotzmann's sax is a titanic weapon

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  • Carl Z.
    Peter Brotzmann s sax is a titanic weapon By
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 6, 2007

      Peter Brotzmann's sax is a titanic weapon

      By Howard Reich
      Tribune arts critic
      Published April 6, 2007

      Ten years ago, one of the most volcanic bands in jazz threatened to
      weaken the beams holding up the Empty Bottle on North Western Avenue.

      Led by the protean German saxophonist Peter Brotzmann, the Chicago
      Tentet tore through an evening's worth of combustive improvisations,
      reaffirming this city's position as a nexus for new ideas in music.
      Certainly Brotzmann hardly could have been presented in a much more
      exciting context than this, his hyper-muscular, often hysterical solos
      set against bristling counterpoint from Chicago innovators such as
      saxophonist Ken Vandermark, bassist Kent Kessler, trombonist Jeb
      Bishop, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and percussionists Hamid Drake and
      Michael Zerang.

      Add to the mix Joe McPhee on valve trombone and Mats Gustafsson on
      reeds, and you had an all-star list of creative improvisers, if ever
      there were one. The performance ranked among the year's most

      Brotzmann has appeared in Chicago regularly since then, but when he
      returns to the Empty Bottle on Thursday, he'll be leading a less
      sizable, yet no less intriguing band. For although Brotzmann always
      has relished working in large ensembles -- the bigger, the better, he
      often says -- he more typically has flourished in a trio setting.

      This time, he'll share the stage with bassist Marino Pliakas and
      drummer Michael Wertmueller, in his first Empty Bottle show in nearly
      two years. Though an opportunity to hear Brotzmann is worth grabbing,
      the chance to catch him in a less familiar context is not to be

      Regardless of the musical setting, Brotzmann long has held an exalted
      position among European free improvisers, since the mid-1960s building
      on the post-bebop, "free jazz" breakthroughs of American models such
      as Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and, of
      course, late-period John Coltrane. Listen closely to Brotzmann, and
      you're hearing practically a summation of major developments in
      avant-garde jazz of the past four decades.

      Yet there's much more to this music than just high decibels and higher
      energy. At times, his music-making can be majestic, as it was when he
      fronted the Chicago Tentet Plus One at the Empty Bottle in May, 1999;
      or dramatically mercurial, as his Chicago Tentet Plus Two show proved
      at the Old Town School of Folk Music in July, 2000. On that occasion,
      the music-making changed course quickly and unpredictably, shifting
      from massive reed choirs to austere percussion solos, from sublimely
      lyrical bass duets to pointillistic saxophone statements from

      One of the most beguiling Brotzmann performances of the past decade,
      however, occurred when he shared the stage with a Chicago saxophonist
      of comparable stature, Fred Anderson, again at the Empty Bottle, in
      April, 2001. To hear Brotzmann's acidic, penetrating tone answered by
      Anderson's low, rumbling, crushed-velvet utterances was to understand
      anew the distinctiveness of Chicago's experimental scene.

      Yet not all of Brotzmann's local appearances have been comparably
      successful. A duet show he played with drummer Nasheet Waits at the
      Chicago Cultural Center in October, 2005, reminded listeners that it
      cannot be easy to share a stage with him. Try as he might, Waits
      barely could be heard above Brotzmann's eruptions.


      Essential Brotzmann

      For those who want to brush up on Brotzmann's work via CD, his copious
      discography includes several essentials, including:

      "For Adolphe Sax" (Atavistic), which marks Brotzmann's recording
      debut, leading a trio with longtime collaborator Peter Kowald on bass
      and Sven-Ake Johansson on drums.

      "Machine Gun" (FMP), its title not only a reference to the nickname
      that Don Cherry gave Brotzmann but, also, an apt description of the
      ferocious, explosive nature of Brotzmann's ensemble work of the late

      "Alarm" (Atavistic) an aptly named featuring a large ensemble, the
      Peter Brotzmann Group, with reedist Willem Breuker, pianist Alexander
      Schlippenbach and drummer Louis Moholo, among others.

      "From Valley to Valley" (Eremite), in which the Die Like a Dog Quartet
      features Brotzmann going head-to-head with trumpeter Roy Campbell.

      "Stone/Water" (OkkaDisk), a seminal recording of Brotzmann and the
      aforementioned Chicago Tentet.

      -- H.R.

      Peter Brotzmann

      A mighty sound

      When: 9:30 p.m. Thursday

      Where: The Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave.

      Price: $10-$12; 773-276-3600
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