Joe McPhee, Peter Brötzmann, Kent Kessler, Michael Zerang: The Damage Is Done

Recorded live at the Alchemia Club in Krakow, Poland, The Damage Is Done holds two uncut sets from four heavy-hitting improvisers: trumpeter and reedist Joe McPhee, multi-reedist Peter Brötzmann, bassist Kent Kessler and drummer Michael Zerang. Working as a quartet since 2004, this nameless group grew out of Brötzmann’s Tentet, which consists largely of Chicago-based musicians and sometimes includes Swedes. In either ensemble, McPhee is the single musician from Poughkeepsie, NY; Brötzmann, the only German. The Damage Is Done is the quartet’s third album.

Most of the applause from this two disc issue has been mastered out; only hints of it remain. Each disc has a distinct character. On the first, Brötzmann melts open the thirty-minute title cut; Zerang pumps up the tempo to bring in McPhee on pocket trumpet. Underlying the explosion of energy, detonated by Brötzmann, is the pizzicato of the bass. The lines remain remarkably distinguishable even when they converge into such a large sound that it could be mistaken for cacophonic chaos.

But, in fact, the sound describes a true meditation, which requires the galvanized focus of each member of the quartet.

On the second disc, it is easy to hear the character of the music changing as Brötzmann switches from tenor and alto to tarogato and B-flat clarinet, although not exclusively. Given the variations of leading instruments, which could also be the bass or drums, the seductiveness of the music unlocks a denser deeper story. McPhee, Kessler and Zerang often have the sole opportunity to escort the musical journey to another stage, through means no less dramatic, acerbically lyrical or exquisitely beautiful than aspects of the preceding multitudes of overlapping layers might have implied. To listen to this quartet necessitates commitment. Only an open mind can absorb the flow of the music. Interpretation can come later.