logo   The Chicago Octet/Tentet (OD12022)
Peter Brötzmann — sax/clarinet/tarogato
Mars Williams — tenor/alto sax/clarinet
Ken Vandermark — tenor sax/clarinet/bass clarinet
Jeb Bishop — trombone
Fred Lonberg-Holm — cello
Kent Kessler — bass
Michael Zerang — drums/percussion
Hamid Drake — drums/percussion
Peter Brötzmann — tenor sax/clarinet/tarogato
Mars Williams — tenor/alto/soprano sax/clarinet
Ken Vandermark — tenor sax/clarinet/bass clarinet
Mats Gustafsson — baritone sax/fluteophone
Joe McPhee — pocket cornet/valve trombone/soprano sax
Jeb Bishop — trombone
Fred Lonberg-Holm — cello
Kent Kessler — bass
Michael Zerang — drums/percussion
Hamid Drake — drums/percussion
Cover and Artwork cover

Design & Art by: Peter Brötzmann
Photos by: John Corbett
Additional Design & Production by: Louise Molnar


Disc 1
Brötzmann Chicago Octet (live): 

1. Burning Spirit (for Kazuka Shiraishi) 29:42 Peter Brötzmann (GEMA)
Brötzmann Chicago Tentet (live):

2. Other Brothers 24:39 Ken Vandermark (exploding music/BMI) 
3. Old Bottles, No Wine 9:46 Mats Gustafsson (STIM) 
4. Aziz 9:46 Michael Zerang (MUNIMULAMUSIC/BMI) 

Disc 2
Brötzmann Chicago Tentet (live):

1. Divide By Zero 12:53 Jeb Bishop (Harustex) 
2. Foolish Infinity 26:45 Peter Brötzmann (GEMA)
Brötzmann Chicago Tentet (studio): 
3. Immediate Music 13:49 Fred Lonberg-Holm (Jilmar Music) 
4. Makapoor 12:53 Michael Zerang (MUNIMULAMUSIC/BMI) & Hamid Drake (Smiling Forehead Music/BMI) 

Disc 3
Brötzmann Chicago Tentet (studio): 

1. Foolish Infinity 26:12 Peter Brötzmann (GEMA) 
2. Old Bottles, No Wine 9:20 Mats Gustafsson (STIM) 
3. Other Brothers 24:44 Ken Vandermark (exploding music/BMI) 
4. Divide By Zero 10:40 Jeb Bishop (Harustex)

©&®1998 Retained by the artists.

Recording Info

recorded at:
AirWave Studio (9/16/97)
Tentet & The Empty Bottle (1/29/97)
Octet & (9/17/97) Tentet.

engineer/mix: John McCortney
produced by: Peter Brötzmann, Bruno Johnson & John Corbett
Exec. Producer: Bruno Johnson

Liner Notes

Geometry is dry, and old. I’ve seen a line leap in a different way. A line that has leapt kills theories; all we have to do then is look for adventure in the life of lines. A personal work, a work that shuns the absolute. And lives. Escapes. — Tristan Tzara

Exactly thirty years ago, in May, 1968, Peter Brötzmann made a watershed octet recording for his own record label BRO Records amid the heat of the student uprising in the left-wing leaning city of Bremen. Machine Gun, which took its name from Don Cherry’s succinct description of Brötzmann, was the opening declaration of the Wuppertalian saxophonist’s love of bigger bands; in the first decade of European improvised music, his octets, nonets and tentets stormed the stage at festivals like the Holy Hill Jazz Meeting in Heidelberg (1969) and the German Jazz Festival in Frankfurt (1970). Different groups featured an international cast, including many of the key figures of the British, Dutch, German, Belgian and Swiss scenes. Quicker and more concentrated than a creative orchestra (with which Brötzmann had already had plenty of experience, dating back to the earliest Globe Unity date in 1966), with a knockout punch more devastating than any small combo and range greater than a duo or trio, these upper-midsize bands were the perfect vehicle for Brötzmann’s forays into the nexus of power and sound. Indeed, the notion of marshaling free music’s tensile strength forces into a concise, dynamic action-jazz ensemble is arguably one of his most far-reaching visions. 

That format didn’t exactly vanish from the Brötz-oeuvre over the last 20 years on record alone there’s the nine-piece Alarm group of 1981, the eleven-piece clarinet project of ’84 and the MSrz Combo tentet of ’92. But the self-evident truth is that as a band gets bigger it becomes much more expensive to book and logistics become more difficult to coordinate; the threadbare ’80s forced Brötzmann most often to hunker down with his other preferred setting of trio-with-drummer or similarly economical groupings. As he began performing in the U.S. more frequently early in that decade, there were virtually no possibilities for larger ensembles once, in 1984, he led a big New York group through his piece “Alarm” with Charles Gayle, Frank Wright, Jemeel Moondoc, and David S. Ware in the sax section, but the vast majority of his American tours including half a dozen or so visits to Chicago have been with compact, fiscally feasible outfits. 

Nobody really knew it at the time, but the idea for the music on these three discs was spawned at the FMP Festival (official title: A Salute to Free Music Production) in 1995, a one-off event that brought ten major European improvisors (plus Shelley Hirsch from New York) to the Windy City for a three day series of concerts. Brötzmann had already made Chicagoan Hamid Drake a long-term partner, but the weekend gave him a bird’s eye on other facets of the city’s active scene he played with Drake and Michael Zerang in an off-site concert at Lunar Cabaret, saw the NRG Ensemble rip through a set at the now-defunct Bop Shop, and enjoyed a brief, white-hot duet with Mars Williams so promising that it obliged a follow-up. The experience left a very positive impression, plans for future collaboration were quickly exchanged, and a special relationship between Brötzmann and Chicago was deepened. 

Preparing for a Brötz visit in January, ’97, I suggested that he come for a little longer than usual and that we put together, rehearse and record something different, maybe a larger group along the lines of his legendary octet. A lineup was almost instantly produced, calls were made, and suddenly a new band was formed. In addition to a new composition by the band’s leader, other members were encouraged to contribute material, and initially four of them Zerang, Ken Vandermark, Jeb Bishop, and Fred Lonberg-Holm did so. On January 22nd, Brstzmann played a concert of duet and trio improvisations with Drake and Williams (making good on the earlier promise), and a week later the Brötzmann Chicago Octet performed twice, raising Frank Lloyd Wright’s roof on a snowy Superbowl Sunday at Unity Temple in Oak Park and finally bringing it all back home to a near-capacity crowd at the Empty Bottle. 

The results were so overwhelmingly strong as you can hear on “Burning Spirit” that vows were made to do it again. I don’t think anyone believed the opportunity would come knocking so quickly, but just a few months later, flush from the kill, Brötzmann organized a visit for September. Given how successful the maiden voyage was, it was decided that the band should hit the studio as well as the stage. Furthermore, two more members were recruited Mats Gustafsson from Sweden, whose ears were set aflame by Machine Gun when he was a teenager in Umeâ, and Joe McPhee from Poughkeepsie, New York, musical citizen of the world. Orchestrally,,the idea was to beef up the brass section (McPhee’s one of the very,few trumpet players who could cut it in this context) and add more bottom,to the already terrifying woodwind section. But of course, in this music,it’s the personal sound of the musicians that’s paramount, and Gustafsson and McPhee each brought something unique and complementary to the group. 

Brötzmann contributed another piece and once again invited the others to compose. I will restrain myself from the urge to gush, since the music is here for you to judge, but what was so exciting and surprising to me was the range that the group could cover. The Tentet touches on a number of the most significant strategies that have been developed for coordinating larger ensemble improvising. Brötzmann’s five-foot-long score for “Foolish Infinity” uses the same graphic method for structuring free play that he’s been investigating for decades; the narrative, episodic unfolding monolith integrates fragments of a remembered theme from Charles Ives (the circus-like clarinet motif) and a variety of block groupings of players that divide the band into different sized subgroups, providing textural and timbral juxtaposition and allowing for massive power-cluster build-up and breakdowns. 

Vandermark’s “Other Brothers” and Bishop’s “Divide By Zero” are also sectional, episodic, but utilize more specific directives with thoroughly written-out charts, arranged themes, backdrops and lines, as well as open improvisation and featured soloing. Lonberg-Holm’s “Immediate Music” also has scripted thematic material, but is closer in spirit to a New York style game piece; movement through the score (which contains directives concerning instrumental groupings, dynamic level, activity level, etc) is prompted by a large clock, controlled by Lonberg-Holm, who in effect conducts the free play. Gustafsson’s “Old Bottles, No Wine” is also a conduction, the band’s sounds steered by movements of the composer/conductor’s body, which is divided into an X-Y axis and interpreted in relation to a set of predetermined variables. Perhaps the most startling for Brötz fans will be Zerang’s anthemic “Aziz” and Zerang and Drake’s “Makapoor”, both vamp-based tunes with funky grooves and plenty of blowing space. Brötzmann meets Niyabingi drum choir in free jazz back alley needless to say, in concert these were barnburners. 

A new adventure in the life of lines. Many lines, leaping limpidly, joyously, violently, wildly, leading from different points of origin to a convergent spot in Chicago. A work that shuns the absolute and personally embraces the contingent, the transitional, the impermanent, the imminent-immediate music, an improvised work, in other words. “My dear Picabia,” wrote Tzara to his dada colleague, Francis. “To live without pretension, to dance on iron spikes, telegraphically, or to keep quiet on the equinoctial line, to know that at every instant — perpetua mobilia — it is today.
— John Corbett, Chicago, May 1998


Reviews **** (4 stars)

Should be fairly described as a landmark recording on several levels: a major documentation of Brötzmann on an American label, a rare instance of his large-group music, and a definitive meeting of himself with some of the many American masters — from McPhee to Vandermark — who’ve been influenced by him. (We should also remark that the simple elegance of the design and artwork, also by Brötzmann, makes a mockery of the elaborate and preposterous packaging which major labels such as Verve seem to be investing so much effort in.) There are one and a half discs each of live and studio material, with three compositions appearing in each incarnation. In fact, Brötz himself contributes only two pieces, “Burning Spirit” and “Foolish Infinity”; the others come from Bishop, Gustafsson, Zerang, Drake and Lonberg-Holm, so it can fairly be said to be a co-operative effort, even if the saxophonist’s name features on the marquee. Of course he plays a huge role as a performer, but so do the other reed players, besides the other participants. The sheer exhilaration of hearing Brötzmann, Williams, Vandermark, and Gustafsson piledriving along as a reed section is about as awesome as you’d expect, but there’s much else here to surprise and captivate: the wordly groove of “Makapoor”, the sombre granite-block textures of “Other Brothers” which explode into a fast shuffle. An affecting tribute to the great man and his influence on a world of improvising which is still evolving and expanding — but the players were clearly having too much of a good time to get all weepy and emotional about it. Rah! Rah! Rah!

— Richard Cook & Brian Morton, The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, fifth edition

Improvised music is invariably meant for live consumption, where the give-and-take between musicians is laid bare for all to hear and the ephemeral nature of the playing is intrinsically linked to that one moment that’s never to be repeated. In a way, recordings of improvised music negate the one arguably essential tenet of improv — namely, spontaneous composition: Even the most unusual and challenging music, once recorded, becomes permanent and obviously immutable. Though listening to records heavy on improvisation is rarely as exciting as hearing the music in a live setting, given the right combination of players, recorded improv sessions can be worth hearing multiple times, even if they’re only surprising once... Of course, free music isn’t always so casual [as the Haino/Cohen/Baron disc, also reviewed]: German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann has been playing free music for decades, yet he only recently discovered an enclave of like-minded musicians in Chicago. His new, massive triple-disc collection of studio recordings and their live counterparts, all recorded during a few days spread throughout 1997, features a real who’s-who of modern jazz, all of whom are based in or play regularly around Chicago: Ken Vandermark, Mars Williams, Hamid Drake, Kent Kessler, Michael Zerang, Jeb Bishop, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Joe McPhee, Mats Gustafsson. For anyone interested in the state of free jazz and out composition, The Chicago Octet/Tentet works well as one-stop shopping. Working in groups of both eight and ten players, Brötzmann and his companions make an impressive racket that is often as beautiful as it is boisterous. These recordings certainly illustrate how some of the power of 10 individuals can be lost on disc: There’s something to be said for the imposing Brötzmann blowing with all his might mere feet from your face and ears. But even though the sight of these powerhouses squeezed onto one stage, playing their hearts and lungs out, is missed, that doesn’t mean that some tracks sound any less impressive than an oncoming locomotive. With a creative rhythm section anchoring and coloring the compositions, these brass- and woodwind-heavy outfits are simply amazing and, in some cases, nearly essential for fans of modern jazz.

— Joshua Klein, The Onion, 4-10 March 1999