Peter Brötzmann and Fred Lonberg-Holm Credit: Kevin Reilly

German reeds player Peter Brötzmann turned 79 in March, so it would be developmentally appropriate for him to take a look back. But memories are a mixed blessing for a devoted practitioner of improvised music. While they can build up a shared understanding between partners, making it easier for them to come up with something that works in a pinch, they can also dilute or foreclose on the in-the-moment magic between players that makes the music so thrilling. Knowing this, Brötzmann has kept himself moving creatively by dissolving many productive relationships and putting others on ice for decades. The Chicago Octet/Tentet, which consisted of players living in or associated with this city, was one of his most productive ensembles between 1997 and 2011. But since Brötzmann disbanded it, he has rarely played with any of its members—until now. In 2019 Brötzmann reconnected with cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, a founding octet member and once a frequent duet partner, for this 62-minute studio session. (Lonberg-Holm moved from Chicago to Kingston, New York, in 2017.) Neither man’s playing has mellowed, but they pay close attention to each other’s musical choices—a sharpened focus that may have arisen from their time apart. The resulting improvisations are musically varied but consistent in their dark emotional tone. The coarse tenor-sax cries and arcing, feedback-sharpened bowing on “Salp” (all the tracks are named for marine invertebrates) sounds like a funeral keen. “Pyrosomes” feels even more tragic, with Brötzmann playing slow melodies on a Hungarian tárogató while Lonberg-Holm surrounds his lines with electronically distorted smears. And on the closing “Stolidobranchia,” delicate pizzicato figures give way to a bracing spray of electronically reversed notes while the saxophonist eases into a restrained, sorrowful blues. If you’re looking for a soundtrack to your opening-up party, you should look elsewhere, but if you need to hear something that takes the full measure of what it feels like when things end, this album is your companion.   v