Monday, October 16, 2006

Peter Brötzmann at MN Sur Seine 2006

What a night of music.

It was the second evening of the Minnesota Sur Seine Festival 2006. We were treated to two acts; first was the trio of Dominique Pifarely, from Paris, and Craig Taborn and Dave King of the Twin Cities. Taborn gained fame playing in James Carter's band for some time, and has recent garnered my devotion as a part of Tim Berne's groups. King has enjoyed wide press exposure with his involvement in the internationally-known piano trio The Bad Plus. Happy Apple, a sax / bass / drums trio from the Twin Cities occupies his time as well.

This gathering yielded much in the way of knotty improvisations. Taborn's piano stylings point to a varied approach; not just jazz, not just modern improvisation, not just classical. How refreshing to hear a pianist with wide open ears willing to take a lead or follow the group without cliche ridden licks dumbing down the proceedings. Pifarely's violin, played through three pedals and a 30-watt Peavy amp, showed the same informed thought process. Eschewing a hard, sawing aesthetic for more refined approach, Pifarely played quick figures and phrases, matching wits with Taborn.

Here is a clip of the group in a decidedly 20th Century mode:

King is a fine player, but a bit distracting at times, playing in affected manners. A couple of the tactics were beyond me -- at several times he would bear down on the floor tom drum head with his hand, making not discernable sound but creating a visual distraction from the proceedings. I think it was Chet Baker that said, "It takes a great drummer to be better than no drummer at all."

I do not have the same criticism of Mark Sanders. His playing in the grouping of German reed giant Peter Brötzmann and bassist Anthony Cox from the Twin Cities was marvelous. Unorthodox at times, most certainly, his playing in this context seemed to exhibit a total willingness to let the music come first. An impeccably tasteful player, Sanders is. His kit accoutrements added much to the discourse. A smallish drum and cymbal next to his rach tom were used often to great effect. His collection of bells and other percussion were employed in bold manners that offered logical ideas and soul.

Cox was a man of economic expression on this evening, favoring drone textures rather than copious amounts of busy figures that one might play in order to keep up with the torrent of notes put forth by Herr Brötzmann. He spent the evening playing a heavily mic'ed acoustic bass for a room-filling sound, especially when playing arco.

The pieces that this trio offered were really endless. Brötzmann would lay out at times to switch between instruments or to change reeds. He changed reeds on the clarinet and tenor at least once. As when I saw him last year, part of the way through the performance he stepped to side, produced a shockingly large folding pocketknife, and proceeded to whittle the reed to his specifications. How he gets that through customs I'll never know.

The first portion was performed with intensity right out of the gate, with Brötzmann on Tarogato. After the show, he told me that he bought the instrument in a Hungarian pawn shop many years ago. It was crafted in 1830 or 1840. Here is that first improvisation in its 8 minute entirety:

Improvistaions followed on clarinet and tenor. In discussing the other instruments, there were equally interesting stories to be had. His tenor is a King brand, which he now prefers over the Selmer Mark VI he played for 30 years. It has a silver neck which Brötzmann had "reinforced" to "stabilize" it. When one plays with the ferocity of this reed-whittling man, reinforcing the instrument comes as no surprise. [This can be seen in the photo to the right.] Also in the photo are the Tarogato and the clarinet. The clarinet was purchased for $100 in a Buffalo, NY pawn shop. His technician took the tarnished item and examined it, only to discover that it was crafted out of solid silver.

Here are clips of portions of two of the tenor improvisations. The first was possibly one of the most intense moments of the evening, and the second shows the band in a more subdued mode:

After the show, I spoke with Brötzmann about his upcoming endeavors. He is working with John Corbett on a compendium of his graphic designs that will cover the 40 years after the "Inexplicable Flyswatter" book of a few years ago. We look forward to that, for sure.

No comments: