Near the end of a second set that saw cello and reed duets lock horns with almost meditative resolve before blowing up into bits of blues, boppish frenzy and pure improvisational fire, Fred Lonberg-Holm thanked a packed and happily attentive crowd at Gumbo Ya-Ya in Bar Lexington for “supporting live music, corny as that sounds.”
His duet partner, European avant garde patriarch Peter Brotzmann echoed the sentiment succinctly: “Yah.” It was pretty much the only word the immensely prolific German born saxophonist uttered all night. As it turned out, it was all that was needed.
Over the course of the performance, Brotzmann and cellist Lonberg-Holm created dialogues rich in conversational fluency even though they seldom stayed anchored in one tempo, tone or temperament for long. Brotzmann opened both sets with abrupt, siren-like outbursts on alto sax that amounted to bangs on the proverbial gavel that called (and, later, reconvened) the performance to order.
Well, order may not be the right word. The five extended improvisations that made up the concert seemed to work largely off instinct. After indulging in electronic enhanced static that served as one of the primary augmentations for his cello playing in the second set, Lonberg-Holm opted for a more organic sound made by playing the underside of the strings with a bow before sticking it between the strings and the instrument’s neck, allowing him to create a brittle, percussive picking sound.
Brotzmann, meanwhile, shifted between tenor-like ferocity on the alto sax and runs on the clarinet-like tarogato that offered a level of intensity that wasn’t always measured by volume. Most the improvs, in fact, were brought home not with abstract tradeoffs or blood-boiling solos but with hushed conversations where single notes dictated how and when conclusions were reached.
The entire concert, in fact, drew to a close when Brotzmann offered a mere puff of air into the reed as a coda. It was a gorgeous moment. That the crowd was quiet and attentive enough for the finale to resonate was even better.