PETER BRöTZMANN CHICAGO TENTET performing two sets as part of VtO5 at the Rivoli (332 Queen West), Saturday (May 21), 6 pm doors. $20. www.roughidea.ca Rating: NNNNN
There is, of course, a simple geographical explanation for why iconoclastic German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann calls his current project the Chicago Tentet - he formed his hard-honking all-star jazz juggernaut in the Windy City eight years ago.
However, his concept of assembling an improvising ensemble out of creative musicians who direct their own groups - including the reed-ripping front line of Ken Vandermark, Mats Gustafsson and Joe McPhee - seems to be a nod to historic Chi-town supergroups like Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
In fact, if you could squeeze together Satchmo's forward-looking combo with Johnny Dodds and Kid Ory with the classic early Art Ensemble lineup, the resulting screech and squawk would be just the sort of cataclysmic crunch Brötzmann's boys have been creating on their current club swing.
"It's interesting that you mention the Hot Five," chuckles Vandermark, acting as spokesperson since Brötzmann would much rather smoke a cigar than talk to a journalist.
"Peter actually has a huge interest in that era of improvisational music, and he's particularly knowledgeable about the recordings of Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet. So it makes sense that some of that would come through in what we're doing. Certainly, the power of that early Armstrong stuff is there in Brötzmann's playing."
That Brötzmann has surrounded himself in the Tentet with fellow composers means the ensemble will never be short of challenging new material.
Yet although they've just followed up the one-two wallop of the Signs and Images live recordings for Okka Disc with the introspective Be Music, Night (Okka Disc) set - inspired by the beatific poetry of Kenneth Patchen - they won't be revisiting any of that music at their highly anticipated Rivoli show as part of VTO5 - Victoriaville Toronto Overdrive 2005.
"When we arrived for two days of rehearsals prior to playing the first show in Buffalo, we were all under the impression that we'd be performing new compositions. A bunch of people brought new pieces and we practised them, and then Peter said he thought the group should work entirely improvisationally for this tour - no compositions, no predetermined structures.
"It turned out to be a good idea, because we're working with two new players from Sweden, trumpeter Magnus Broo and Per Ake Holmlander on tuba, and performing without any planned music has given us a chance to get our bearings as a unit."
Playing without a net every night is a risky proposition, but speaking to Vandermark, you can tell he's genuinely excited about these shows. He lives for this kind of challenge.
"Everyone in this group regularly plays improvisationally, but it's typically in trios or quartets. To play that way with 10 people onstage where everyone's doing his own thing really forces people to consider every little thing they do and when. One small action multiplied by 10 is a lot of sound information.
"You have to push yourself even harder to ensure that every statement you make is clear and relates to everything else going on. It is a high-risk situation, but when it all comes together it's very rewarding."