It was not the sort of a company one would expect a cross-generational jazz duo to keep.
In his list of the finest concert events of 2011, New York Times music critic Nate Chinen included a completely improvised June performance by vanguard German saxophonist Peter Brotzmann and Chicago vibraphone innovator Jason Adasiewicz alongside performances by such marquee pop names as Radiohead, Paul Simon, My Morning Jacket and Beyoncé.
"Beginning in anxious clangor — alto saxophone blare, wood mallets jack-hammered sideways along metal bars — their duologue gradually softened and ripened, occasionally flirting with outright beauty," Chinen wrote in a separate review.
Those kinds of accolades suggest Brotzmann and Adasiewicz are longtime performance mates. But that New York concert, part of the acclaimed cutting-edge Vision Festival, was their first onstage meeting.
"That really is kind of weird," Adasiewicz said by phone from Chicago. "But someone's got to be on the list. There's got to be a wild card."
Separately, the players represent two generations and two varied approaches to what many view as underground jazz. Brotzmann, 71, is a sometimes volcanic improviser who has been a champion of the European avant garde for more than 45 years. Adasiewicz, 34, who often relies more on composition, has become one of the most critically acclaimed young players to emerge recently in Chicago, a city known for its fertile jazz community.
Brotzmann knows the city well. He has collaborated regularly with some of its foremost players in ensembles like the Chicago Tentet. That ensemble kicked off Lexington's long-running Outside the Spotlight Series a decade ago. Since then, nearly all of the group's members have performed here in separate shows by smaller spinoff groups.
Brotzmann credits the Tentet for a new awareness of improvised music, but smaller duo presentations like Monday's concert with Adasiewicz at Embrace Church, sponsored by OTS/WRFL-88.1 FM, address more immediate logistical and economical concerns.
"The duo configuration follows the economics in your country," Brotzmann said by phone from Berlin. "For this music, there is not very much money around. So if you want to travel in your country and want to play, you can't do it with a big band or even a quartet. It's difficult. So that is one reason for the duo concerts. But the other reason is about music.
"Not so long ago, I met Jason in Chicago, of course, where he was playing with a quite nice quartet. I liked him very much, the way he treated the instrument. It's not one of my favorites, but I liked the way he played it. I liked the way he was really torturing this instrument. He really has a good understanding for rhythm."
But Brotzmann wasn't fully on Adasiewicz's radar until recently. He came across Brotzmann's music while working at Chicago's famed indie music store, the Jazz Record Mart, then became fascinated with Brotzmann's playing after seeing him perform.
"I didn't really know who Peter was until I was 24 or something," Adasiewicz said. "So I can't say that he influenced me when I was young. Seeing him play was what really blew me away. That's what made me realize what this man has accomplished.
"I mean, Peter is a master. ... To share a concert with Peter is just fantastic."
Brotzmann said he finds a similar spark working with younger players but doesn't dwell overly on age or generational differences.
"I must say I don't look at it in this kind of sense. But I'm always curious to find what drives younger and older people," he said. "For example, one of the pleasures of my life was to play with (Chicago drummer) Walter Perkins, the old bebop player. But in the short time I had the chance to know him, I learned so much. So it's always giving and taking. And I learn a lot from a guy like Jason as a human being and in the way he is playing this very difficult and dangerous instrument."