Essential New Music: Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet’s “Ultraman Vs. Alien Metron”

While musicians moved in and out of the Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet throughout its existence, the ensemble’s 14-year run can really be divided into two phases. Early on, it was predominantly rooted in the city after which it was named, and many of the participating musicians contributed compositions. Later, the group included a variable complement of European players besides its titular leader, and they ditched the tunes in favor of total improvisation.

Ultraman Vs. Alien Metron dates from the early days. It was written by saxophonist Mars Williams (NRG Ensemble, Waitresses, Psychedelic Furs, Liquid Soul, Extraordinary Popular Delusions), and the fact it was put on a shelf for two decades after it was recorded in July 2002 says more about the amount of material that the Chicago Tentet had to pick from than the quality of this piece.

It opens swaggering, but it shifts moods several times over its not-quite-20-minute duration, setting up one smoking solo statement after another by everyone in the band (besides Brötzmann and Williams, it included Kent Kessler, Hamid Drake, Mats Gustafsson, Ken Vandermark, Joe McPhee, Jeb Bishop, Michael Zerang and Fred Lonberg-Holm). There’s a bit of steamrolling funk in Ultraman Vs. Alien Metron’s grooves, and the tightly negotiated ensemble passages fairly burst with brassy energy. Still, you can see why Brötzmann switched things up; he sounds more like a featured soloist in a late-20th-century, Midwestern big band than the group’s leader.

Lovers of vinyl as an art object will want to track down this limited-to-1,000-copies LP. The music is on one side, and the flip bears a silk-screened image by Brötzmann.

—Bill Meyer