In Bernard Josse’s great documentary “Soldier of the Road” Evan Parker says about Peter Brötzmann: “I can still remember the first few notes I heard from him. It was – oh … okay – we’re gonna have to work on how to get more sound out of the tenor. It has to do with the proportions of the human body and the proportions of the tenor. It demands, it takes everything you’ve got. Tenor is saying: Okay, try your best. You will never know what I can really do. You think you are hard? Okay. Blow into me. That’s the great thing about Brötzmann. He takes the tenor and gives everything. Tenor is asking for that kind of relationship.” When you listen to “… The Worse the Better” you immediately know what Mr. Parker is talking about even if Brötzmann is playing the alto at the beginning of this set which was recorded at Café Oto in London in January 2010.
With the very first tone this gigantic wave comes over you, seizes you and pulls you under water. Brötzmann (reeds), John Edwards (double bass) and Steve Noble (drums) – all of them European free jazz royalty - kick off full speed, Brötzmann shrieking and bellowing as usual while Edwards starts by bowing a menacing drone that prepares us for the evil. All of a sudden Noble changes the rhythms and Edwards starts picking his bass and we are lost to the forces of nature. Finally, it is how the old man in Edgar Allen Poe’s story “A Descent into the Maelstrom” must have felt after he had fallen into the vortex. And as well as the old man we realize that on the one hand the maelstrom is a terrifying power but also a beautiful and awesome creation on the other hand. It is a natural phenomenon that makes us worship its creator as being greater than anything we can possibly imagine. Like the maelstrom in the story this piece of music is infused with musical pantheism.
After ten minutes of sheer breath-taking abrasiveness the trio almost relaxes and reduces the pace, with the click of a finger transforming the track into a swinging modern jazz piece (when he is asked about his musical influences Brötzmann never forgets to mention how he adores Lester Young, Sidney Bechet or Ben Webster) before the sax and the drums drop out just to leave Edwards alone, literally tearing at the strings of his instrument. But the whirlpool is taking up speed again with Edwards playing incredibly deep bass drones and Noble rolling on cymbals and toms, before Brötzmann joins the evil forces again, raging full-on. This is the magical moment every exceptional performance needs and where you can hear the beauty and the awe-inspiring harmony of the maelstrom.
The flipside of the LP starts less crazy with Edwards tuning down his bass and Noble having some room to use his prepared drum kit. But Brötzmann soon makes clear who sets the tone here, he creeps in with a beast-like longing whine that forces the others back on track: the Wuppertal Poseidon is sending out his sea monsters again - until the maelstrom comes to an abrupt end.
Peter Brötzmann has a long tradition with sax/bass/drums trios, from his early days with Peter Kowald and Sven-Ake Johansson to his trios with Harry Miller and Louis Moholo up to Full Blast. The man is 71 years old, he has released hundreds of records, and you might ask if we need yet another one. As long as they are as marvelous as “… The Worse the Better” there can only be one answer to the question.
“… The Worse the Better” is the first release on Café Oto’s own OTO roku label and it is available on vinyl and as a download.
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You can watch and listen to an excerpt of the concert here: