Music News & Reviews

Critic's pick: Peter Brotzmann Chicago Tentet + 1, 3 Nights in Oslo

Critic's pick

Peter Brotzmann Chicago Tentet + 1

3 Nights in Oslo

Let's preface what we're about to explore here by saying that this won't be for everyone. On the table is a five-CD boxed set of avant garde jazz — a veritable killing field of potent, abstract improvisations that sells for about $42 — where melody has been all but banished.

Sounds like some serious summertime fun, doesn't it?

But there is a reason — even one with a vital local connection — for discussing music that might send even devout jazz fans for the Excedrin and casual fans for the door — outside of the fact that the leader of these recordings is Peter Brotzmann, an uncompromising leader of the European jazz avant garde for more than four decades.

For the past eight years, Brotzmann and at least eight of the players making up his Tentet + 1 have been regular visitors to Lexington thanks to the Outside the Spotlight Series. The Tentet, in fact, unofficially inaugurated the series eight summers ago at the University of Kentucky's Memorial Hall. Brotzmann himself has played here twice already this year, and four of the Tentet players have performed locally, in various groups, in the past six weeks. Obviously, Lexington has found a connection to this dissonant, physical, demanding and, at times, confrontational music.

So here we have a mountain of it. Five discs of performances cut over three nights for the Nasjonal Jazzscene in Norway last year. Two of them detail the Tentet specifically with huge ensemble exchanges that are pure thunder. The exchanges sound rich and almost violent at times, forming a torrent of brutal intensity that seems destined to implode on itself. Then the band gets crafty. On the fifth disc, a fascinating dialogue between Jeb Bishop and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm develops. Then Brotzmann, with sax giants Ken Vandermark and Mats Gustafsson, bring the music back to the boiling point.

But 3 Nights in Oslo also offers three discs that break down the music into splinter groups. Among the highlights: a brilliant saxophone duet of bluesy, boppish and percussive beauty by Vandermark and Joe McPhee; the sax trio Sonore (Brotzmann, Vandermark and Gustafsson), which builds the music from a playful hush to spacious improvisational collisions; and the wild interplay of Survival Unit III (McPhee, Lonberg-Holm and drummer Michael Zerang) which similarly explores textures that patiently build into a rhythmic storm.

Of course, 3 Nights in Oslo has no designs on mass appeal. But for fans who have helped to champion this music in Lexington over the past eight years, it's something of a vindication. It's a feast of a recording, an overview of the excitement created when you're willing to engage in music that adapts without compromise to the moment.

Walter Tunis, Contributing Music Critic