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Portland Jazz Festival: A Celebration of ECM

Han Bennink

Having been a fan of both 65-year-old Brotzmann and 64-year-old Bennink for years-I’d seen Brotzmann quite a few times with Die Like a Dog and with his own Tentet, and Bennink once with the ICP Orchestra-I was especially thrilled to see them together for the first time, in a stripped-down format, two master musicians with extensive histories of innovation and collaboration. That this concert occurred at Baltimore’s An Die Musik-the avant-classical music store and performance space (recently voted as having the “best chairs” in Baltimore)-was an added bonus. Incredibly, the room wasn’t sold out, but it was close to full and the anticipation was palpable: It seemed everyone else was waiting to hear something new, different and otherworldly.

After a 20-minute wait, the pair finally sauntered onstage, Bennink wearing a powder-blue shirt and a red bandanna, like some Kung Fu warrior ready for battle, Brotzmann in a plain, workmanlike black jacket. Without any fanfare, the Dutch drummer, with manic energy, launched into the first piece, all four limbs coaxing polyrhythms from the vintage red four-piece kit. After a minute or so of continuous snare and tom rolls, Brotzmann, clarinet in hand, joined the percussive barrage squealing and screeching in the high register. Bennink countered by shifting into marching beats, albeit abstractly, and the duo exchanged this dialogue for roughly four minutes, grabbing the audience’s attention with nonstop intensity and activity, before gradually toning down into a quieter, introspective passage. Brotzmann changed course and opted for an Eastern feel with modal soloing. Bennink eventually left his drum seat and walked to the front of the stage, sticks clattering, only to start a swinging pattern on the wooden floor, his left foot tapping out the rhythm, punctuating the floor beat with bass drum thuds. They ended the introductory piece in this fashion, ten minutes of constant motion and fluidity and ideas.

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