It is a privilege for me to experience the performances of musicians who are unmistakably committed to what they do musicians who live and breathe the music musicians whose acquaintance with newness leads to an outpouring of fearlessness in how to build music from seeming nothingness, starting with one note.
And the note came from Peter Brõtzmann’s bass clarinet----the note seared the air to open wide a field of possibilities. The note was dark .the drums, Nasheet Waits lightly brushed. The wind was blowing.
Brõtzmann took an immediate turn; the demeanor of the music changed. With wailing surges up and down the register of the horn, Brõtzmann initiated an endless stream of phrasing, which went as far as the horn’s limits could be pushed. And this was only the beginning of the music.
Brõtzmann’s body internalized the sound. He did not move wildly; he kept his stance contained and controlled (although he did do a two-step at times and he also wiggled his head like he was shaking the music out of the horn he happened to be playing). You could see tension wind up in him like a spring to be released when he blew through the reeds and arched his back, raising his instrument to sonically penetrate the atmosphere. Brõtzmann constructed his music through repeated phrases of many notes. The phrases seemed to be the same every time he played them on every instrument he used, but that proved false when you recognized that as the repetitions continued, you were being subtly transported to different starting and ending places within the delineation of each phrase, tremolos and all. There were no crescendos, only bearing down and lifting up on the intensity of the blowing and valving, valving and blowing---those indivisible verbs that portend the making of the music.
Brõtzmann swooped into each line of notes. His fingers moved with stunning command over the valves, unless he was simply holding the valves open and letting his embouchure do the talking. Brõtzmann brought a variety of horns from which to select. This time, he played not only the bass clarinet, but also, his alto, his tenor and a metal clarinet. The taragato was missing.
It was with staggering energy that Brõtzmann deployed his breath through the instruments. He could and most often did create an impenetrable wall with the music. He dug deeper and deeper into the tight tone ranges he established. Yet, he also lengthened the spaces between the notes, changed the tempo and, oh, my gosh, inserted a blues run into the storm. And at this concert, the melody of "Happy Birthday" actually emanated from high-pitched, piercing shrieks from the saxophone.
The lack of extravagance in Waits’s drumset as well as in the way he managed his playing fit brilliantly with how Brõtzmann performed. Waits maintained his musical space tightly. It was as if he were in a box when he manipulated his sticks and mallets and brushes. He stayed almost completely in the center of his medium. His hands never crossed over each other. His hands often brought the implements he was using to a motion of wonderfully booming unison strikes on the tom and the snare; that motion integrated itself into a well-choreographed dance of major abstraction that was balanced with a versatile flipping of the sticks (so that he used both ends), a tiptoe of pulse on the bass drum, rhythmic tours of the dampened skins and accentual swishes of the cymbals. He adjusted his timbre and pace so well to Brõtzmann’s often relentless fury that Waits carved himself more profoundly into the unit of the duo. Yet, also as Brõtzmann snuck in a seemingly atypical lyrical melody, so did Waits move smoothly into a delicate swooshing on the snare.
When the two players stopped the music with a sharp close, they were finished. No more music. Not even was awaited the end to resonance because there was none. Such a cut and dry statement brought attention to the utter taking of my ears between the beginning and the end of the concert. How it was in between was internally, non-sensuously ecstatic. It made my heart jump and skip a few beats.
(Reminding the public of innovation in the creative improvised music world requires that the musicians and the public are exposed to one another. It is the self-imposed responsibility of those few believers, who have access to a place for bringing musicians and audience together, to keep the music alive and real. The program managers at UMass Amherst, particularly associated with the jazz blocks on the university radio station, should be given a standing ovation for their continual input into the process of the organization that it takes to reinforce this reminder.)