The last gig for a busy November took place the following night at Elastic, a quartet with myself, Per-Åke Holmlander, Jeb Bishop, and Paal; and a trio with Peter Brötzmann, Paal and Ingebrigt Håker Flaten- more good music, and the last set of small group performances before the full Tentet would play at the MCA on December 1st. The ensemble made it to the MCA load in on time, dragging along all the equipment necessary for one of our performances- two drum sets, amps and the bass and cello, a slew of horns: tuba, saxophones, clarinets, trombones- despite a late evening the night before where we celebrated Jeb Bishop’s marriage to Jaki Cellini, AND the major snowstorm that hit the city the day of our gig- bad Chicago winter luck. (You can plan ahead for more than a year but there are some things you simply can’t control.) Luckily, we had an incredible amount of help with our sound set up from Denis Oshea, who made at least those technical logistics at the MCA a piece of cake.
A number of things made this concert a special one in the group’s long history: it officially recognized the decade that the Tentet had been in existence (with most of its original members [Peter Brötzmann, Jeb Bishop, Mats Gustafsson, Kent Kessler, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Joe McPhee, myself, Michael Zerang] still sharing the stage) in the city where it all began; Jeb Bishop and Johannes Bauer would be performing together with the band for the first time on this side of the Atlantic; I’d be able to use all my horns, which hadn’t been possible since the last North American tour in 2004; and the concert would be recorded by Amos Scattergood and filmed by Paula Froehle for possible use as the group’s first concert film. With all this added to the “usual” performance issues, I was concerned that so many expectations might pressurize the situation, pushing musicians to overplay or try too hard in order to force the music to be “extraordinary” on such a special day. As usual, I should not have been worried- this was a collection of totally committed and disciplined artists who were ready to play.
The current complete lineup of eleven musicians (the Chicago Tentet is continues to be more a name than a number) took the stage after some pretty insane last minute lunacy with guest lists, merchandise, the sound check, meeting people… The only thing that gave me the chance to focus on the real reason I was there- to work together with the band and perform a concert of the best music we could play that night- was the small collection of Peter’s artwork that was on display in the MCA’s foyer (with help from the Corbett vs. Dempsey Gallery). Some moments to look and think, and then to head backstage to join the group; from Germany: Peter Brötzmann and Johannes Bauer; from Poughkeepsie: Joe McPhee; from Sweden: Mats Gustafsson and Per-Åke Holmlander; from Norway: Paal Nilssen-Love; and from Chicago: Jeb Bishop, Kent Kessler, Fred Lonberg-Holm, myself, and Michael Zerang- quite an assembly of contemporary improvising musicians. Despite the heavy snow, the concert hall was sold out. The ensemble responded by performing one seventy-minute suite, the longest single piece we’d ever played together. The music was totally cohesive, and something marvelous in its construction. The fact that eleven musicians could completely improvise such long form material was somehow incredible yet, through everyone’s collective effort, it was possible. To have this music and performance documented both on tape (thank you Amos Scattergood) and on film (thank you Paula Froehle) for future release was tremendous and fortuitous. The MCA gig was a beautiful way to celebrate the ten years of creative work the band has shared and the audience’s response was imperative- an encore must be played! The musicians walked back to the stage and Peter spoke eloquently of the importance the listeners have for us, and the place that the music has in our chaotic and problematic world. This spirit permeated all the music that night in Chicago.
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