2012 Tampere Jazz Happening: Tampere, Finland, November 1-4, 2012
Vying for prime position as one of the weekend's mightiest performances was Peter Brotzmann's Chicago Tentet. Further retro significance was imparted, as the German reedsman has recently announced the retirement of this longstanding formation. While some sets suffer from an almost unexplainable lacking of urgency, potency or crackle, this seething improvisation was the ultimate example of a show that was riddled with almost uncontainable invention, passion and expression, from beginning to conclusion. The Tentet has been working together for so long that its discipline makes the resulting music sound almost choreographed in places. This is part of the reason why Brötzmann feels that the group has now reached its peak, a peak which signals the end of its road agony. Despite these constant ongoing groupings of active players, the sudden intersections, stepping to the sides, ripping right to stage-front, duos emerging, full Tentet eruptions (it's 10 members besides the leader), every permutation always sounded vital, as if being essayed for the first time.
Ken Vandermark was in a more reserved state than usual, while Mats Gustafsson spent the entire set tensing for his rationed baritone saxophone explosions. It was all concerned with waiting in the wings. When one savage outburst was dispatched, another player was invariably ready to pounce. Fred Lonberg-Holm only unleashed his full amplified cello reserves at one lone stage, but was constantly there, decorating at lower volumes and responding at apt times. The twinned trombones of Johannes Bauer and Jeb Bishop also raspberried with blooded gobbets, both together and separately. Brötzmann was no laurel-resting leader, either; his solos were amongst the most energized of all. He, too, was biding his time to the side, coming forward with steely determination, then surreptitiously implying directions in the general ebb and flow. The symphony of smaller groupings gave way, a few times, to a fully coordinated crumpling of excess, not least at the very climax of the main extended piece. Surprisingly, the Tentet still had energy reserves for an encore that was almost as crucial as the dominant, sprawling body of the set.
Back to Klubi, for its 1am dance set. Ghanaian singer/guitarist Ebo Taylor was not too flashy, extroverted or overtly crowd-whipping, just relaxed and self-contained, emanating good waves of buoyant brightness. The Afrobeat Academy wasn't entirely as advertised, music being at least equally Highlife in style, or even soukous-soaked in places. He's fostered a pan-African style, almost inwardly performed with Taylor's calm interior confidence dominating by stealth. He was strongly supported by a ripping horn section and a bold percussion battery.
The Sunday selection once again commenced at 2pm, but had an earlier finishing time of around midnight. The day got off to a slow-immersion start with Danish guitarist Mark Solborg's trio, doubled by the presence of three guests. So, bassist Mats Eilertsen and drummer Peter Bruun were joined by previously collaborating trumpeter Herb Robertson and saxophonists Lotte Anker and Mikko Innanen. The resultant sounds were luminescent, carefully developed and often resonant with stasis, but the music didn't quite connect or arrest, lurking in the introspective zone without being magical. There were many instances of dropping in and dropping out, but rather than being compellingly dramatic, these had the effect of hampering momentum. It was, however, a suitably thoughtful set with which to ease into the day's proceedings.
The truly inspirational start came with the pairing of Japanese pianist Aki Takase and Dutch drummer Han Bennink. Takase imposed a vintage jazz vocabulary on the freedom, leaping from rolling boogie woogie to abstract splintering. Bennink likewise set up swinging cymbal and hi-hat rhythms, then detonated them with sudden breakdowns of free tumble. Yes, the impish sticksman was involved in many of his expected antics, but he was more extreme, inflated by the spirit of spontaneous extremity. His repertoire of physical communication leapt back to the days of his youth, in a more exaggerated manifestation. Bennink was in love with the stage floor, sitting or even lying down as he tattooed the boards, or rapped on the piano's underbelly. Takase's finger-strength was phenomenal, as she thundered out great cascades of train-rollin' phrases. Her humor wasn't as overt as Bennink's; instead, she was his ideal not-so-straight woman.