One good thing about regret is it is often imagined. Linear time doesn’t allow for real assessment of what could have been. Who knows, if I had the courage to ask Melissa Friedman out 23 years ago, whether it would have been the magical romance I anticipated. So we can live with regret. But that is why the release of these two boxed sets (technically one comes in a box, the other is five CDs in an LP sleeve) is so distressing. I mulled going to both of these festivals but didn’t, never expecting to have my regret stamped onto plastic discs to haunt me forever.
Long Story Short is five CDs from the Unlimited Festival in Wels, Austria (Nov. 3rd-6th, 2011). The central performers are Peter Bro?tzmann and the Chicago Tentet (Ken Vandermark, Mats Gustafsson: reeds; Joe McPhee: trumpet; Per-A?ke Holmlander: tuba; Jeb Bishop, Johannes Bauer: trombones; Fred Lonberg-Holm: cello; Kent Kessler: bass; Michael Zerang, Paal Nilssen-Love: drums) but with a slew of guests: John Tchicai, Keiji Heino, Okkyung Lee, Xu Fengxia, Michiyo Yagi, Masahiko Satoh, Takeo Moriyama, Maalem Mokhtar Gania, Tamaya Honda, Jason Adasiewicz, Sabu Toyozumi, Dieb 13, Martin Siewert, Bill Laswell, Hamid Drake, Mars Williams, Toshinori Kondo, Massimo Pupillo, Otomo Yoshihide, Akira Sakata, Eric Revis, Nasheet Waits, Marino Pliakas, Michael Wertmu?ller and Caspar Bro?tzmann’s Massaker. It hurts just to type the list.
A belated 70th birthday party for Bro?tzmann, the festival presented the celebrant with groups of long-standing like the Tentet with guests, Sonore, Hairy Bones and Full Blast. But there were trios with Satoh and Moriyama, Revis and Waits and Adasiewicz and Toyozumi as well as a quartet with Laswell, Gania and Drake. And when Bro?tzmann took a break, the partygoers picked up the slack, whether it be a trio of Lee, Fengxia and Yagi, Heino or Satoh solo, DKV Trio with guests or various ad hoc improvisational formations.
Clearly not all of this made it into Long Story Short and what did is often just highlights of the highlights (the DVD Concert for Fukushima – the Tentet with Yoshihide, Yagi, Sakata and Kondo in a concert to benefit the recovery after the Japanese earthquake of several months earlier – supplements the set, which only includes the Yagi portion; see review on pg. 37).
Even if this is the best of the best of the festival, certain parts are standouts among standouts. The nearly 26 minutes of the sadly departed Tchicai with the Tentet is a delicious maelstrom, complete with the saxophonist’s penchant for chanting. A meeting between Bro?tzmann and two seminal figures of Japanese avant garde jazz, pianist Satoh and drummer Moriyama, bubbles with the tension of a new partnership. In a trio of Bro?tzmann, koto player Yagi and drummer Honda, Yagi’s frenetic approach exists midway between earlier Bro?tzmann partners Derek Bailey and Fred Van Hove. Laswell’s swimmy electric bass provides textural contrast to the shrill
bleats of Bro?tzmann in a quartet with Hamid Drake’s drums and Gania’s (sometimes inaudible) guembri. A Bishop/McPhee/Williams/Adasiewicz/Kessler/ Honda sextet provides the brash peak-and-valley improv no self-respecting free jazz festival can do without. Satoh, in an 11-minute solo recital, should make listeners ask themselves why they haven’t been listening to this guy for years. Bro?tzmann’s trio with bassist Revis and drummer Waits is wonderfully reminiscent of the 1979-80 group with Harry Miller and Louis Moholo. With four days of this level of music, one wonders how the town of Wels is still standing.
Barry Guy New Orchestra (BGNO) is a 21st-century extension of the bassist’s London Jazz Composers Orchestra, the mighty large ensemble that celebrated its 40th anniversary last year. There are few shared members (Evan Parker, Paul Lytton, Trevor Watts) but the BGNO is a more international affair, adding pianist Agusti? Ferna?ndez (Spain), saxophonists Mats Gustafsson (Sweden) and Hans Koch (Switzerland), trumpeter Herb Robertson (New Jersey), trombonist Johannes Bauer (Germany), tuba player Per-A?ke Holmlander (Sweden) and drummer Raymond Strid (Sweden).
At the 5th Krakow Jazz Autumn Festival (Nov. 16th-19th, 2010), the BGNO appeared en masse on the final day at the Manggha Centre, the first four featuring the orchestra fragmenting into orchestralettes of various sizes at the Alchemia club. The five CDs of Small Formations partially document those latter events: solo pieces; unusual horn duos and trios; three different ‘traditional’ saxophone trios; one low-horns-plus-double-drum quartet; the seminal Parker/Guy/Lytton trio alone and with Ferna?ndez; Parker and Lytton in duo, recalling their early ‘70s partnership; and closing pieces from the BGNO minus its leader, Parker and Koch.
If seeing the BGNO is an impressive affair, new insight into its impact is achieved by digging into the substrata. Of course it would have been nice to hear the entire ensemble performing at least one of Guy’s ambitious and far-ranging pieces but there is more than enough quality spread across the five CDs to compensate. Ferna?ndez’ solo exposition cements his place among a younger generation of improvising pianists, 11 minutes of otherworldly preparations. The triumvirate of Bauer, Holmlander and Koch moves from puckish to alarming to lugubrious while Koch alongside Watts and Robertson in a separate set is more of a subversive fanfare. Parker/Guy/ Lytton take up the entire second disc, becoming the group’s ninth pure trio recording since 1983; this is probably the most unfettered these three gentlemen get, assured of mutual support (the set with Ferna?ndez was a rambunctiously dense revisitation of 2006’s Topos). Watts and Guy (who’ve known each other as long as they’ve both known Parker) make an appealingly martial threesome with Strid. Gustafsson and Ferna?ndez, two of the younger group members, luxuriate across their 24-minute track (a? la 2004’s Critical Mass), squalls birthing insectile scratches that themselves explode, but the saxophonist wastes no time with the TARFALA Trio (with Guy and Strid), scorching earth in his wake.
Bro?tzmann and Guy began their careers in the mid ‘60s cauldron of European avant garde jazz. Separately, they have – often with the same partners – come through improvisational fire in the intervening decades. These sets are tributes to their musical commitment. But they are also a testament to the questing that brings together musicians from different continents and eras for those ephemeral moments, which, sometimes, maddeningly, are preserved so a guy like me can kick himself daily.
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By Andrey Henkin
Originally published in New York City Jazz Record, September 2013 issue, page 38
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