Peter Brötzmann, Massimo Pupillo, Paal Nilssen-Love - Roma (Self-published, 2009)
Hairy Bones - Live At Fresnes (Self-published, 2010)
By Tony Medici
A cold night in Baltimore, Maryland; the opening act was done. Next was Brötzmann. Dressed in tough canvas and corduroy, suitable for the Gdansk shipyards or a logging foray into the Black Forest, Brötzmann worked through his collection of reeds, from clarinet to tenor to alto to soprano. He played with vigor and imagination, strength and craft. On occasion, he referenced Albert Ayler, and reminded us what a potent influence Ayler has been for post-war German jazz. As he probed ever deeper into the music, amassing tremendous physical and spiritual force, he was Wotan: mind and body, war and battle and death, but also creation, poetry and vision. If Bach refracted the currents of the Reformation, and Beethoven the forces of classicism and Romanticism, so too has Brötzmann refracted the tortured German legacy of world war and Holocaust, and the turbulent currents of the 1960s in which his music was catalyzed. Make no mistake: Brötzmann is in the deepest tradition of German music, a successor to Bach, Beethoven, Wagner and Strauss. Think that is an exaggeration? Consider his revolutionary importance to post-war jazz and improvised music and I think a very good case can certainly be made; as he approaches his seventieth year, it is a case that ought to be made.
The two disks at hand capture Brötzmann once again on the road in live performance: December 2008 in Rome and October 2009 at Fresnes-en-Woevre, France. The discs share some common traits: both are self-produced; come in extremely simple brown cardboard pockets, with red stamping; contain the barest performance information; and are designed for sale at concerts (although some record outlets have offered them for sale). Whether intentionally or by happenstance, they look amusingly like bootlegs. The 2008 performance consists of Brötzmann on alto and tenor saxophone, Massimo Pupillo on electric bass, and Paal Nilssen-Love (or PNL as he is often known) on drums. The 2009 performance presents the same line-up but with the critical addition of frequent Brotzmann collaborator Toshinori Kondo on electric trumpet.
The Fresnes concert starts with a sledgehammer blast of sound that could well serve as the opening chords for Armageddon. Pupillo's big, fat, bass sound provides a deep, dark, propulsive foundation for the music, while Kondo's keening electric trumpet could have done duty at the Walls of Jericho. PNL seems to be channeling Keith Moon, Ginger Baker, and Max Roach simultaneously. And then above all, there is Brötzmann, relentlessly driving the music forward, captain and commander of this frenzy, alive in his chosen element. Listen carefully and you can hear strains of the blues, of popular music, and of old folk songs distilled in Brötzmann's playing. This is loud music, power music, meant to be played loud. The long stretches of furious attack are broken by interludes that seem to suggest a Wagnerian twilight of the gods. By the end of this 55 minute performance, there can be nothing left to give; it has all been given.
The Rome performance is a bit tamer affair than the Fresnes performance. Although the line-up of Brötzmann, Pupillo and PNL parallels that of another Brötzmann group, Full Blast, with Marino Pliakas on electric bass and Michael Wertmüller on drums, the Rome group does not come close to the enormous energy generated by Full Blast. Pupillo's presence is much less pronounced, which allows PNL's drumming to come more to the fore. Are there many better drummers on the free jazz scene today than PNL? Once again Brötzmann carries the music forward on alto and tenor. By this stage of his 40-plus year career, it is seems rather beside the point to critique Brötzmann's playing. It's rather like critiquing the storm that blew through town last week. It is elemental, nearly a force of nature (although make no mistake, it is the product of years of craft). As he approaches his 70th birthday, Brötzmann shows no signs of slowing down, and certainly, thankfully, no signs of mellowing.