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Monday, December 14, 2009

Joe McPhee, Peter Brötzmann, Ken Kessler, Michael Zerang - The Damage Is Done (Not Two, 2009) ****

The reason why Joe McPhee and Peter Brötzmann form a great horn section is because their styles are linked and still quite different. McPhee can be violent and fierce, but he has that touch of sentimentality - in the good sense of the word - and spirituality that is entirely lacking with Brötzmann. The latter is a force of nature, all power and energy, but he has his poetic side too. Besides the violence, they share technical skills, musical vision and first and foremost instruments that are a direct conduit to their feelings, unaltered, without embellishment, without unnecessary ornaments or fake feelings. They deliver directly : raw, authentic, true to themselves. Ken Kessler on bass and Michael Zerang on drums feed the hurricane that is blowing in front of them, relentlessly.

But the hurricane can become a light breeze too. And that is to a certain extent largely to be ascribed to both McPhee and Kessler, who add more nuance and subtlety, melodic elaboration and lyricism, but don't get mistaken about Brötzmann either: the slow and very beautiful melody that he develops in the quiet middle part of the thirty-minute title song is entirely his, almost sounding like McPhee. It is a real pleasure how the German manages to find the common ground, but don't worry either, it doesn't take long before he blows his lungs out again, so much so, that it almost becomes an entertainment by itself. The second track, "Alchemia Souls", is more free improv, a sound dialogue between the four musicians, and the title refers to the Alchemia Club, in Krakow, Poland were the performance took place on March 16, 2008.

The second disc is even better, with titles referring to the descent into the Greek underworld. Soft and poetic flowing passages alternate with gut-wrenching sound blasts and the most excruciating emotional explorations - after all: you are in hell, yet it all fits, it has coherence and purpose, indeed like Acheron, the river of pain, that flows through Hades. Anger, human misery, dissatisfaction with the world, yes. But also musical beauty and great artistic delivery, very balanced in a very varied performance.The only downside of the performance is that Brötzmann's sax comes across much louder than McPhee's, but whether that's a question of sound mixing or because of sheer decibels produced, remains unsolved.

© stef


Michael Campbell said...

Hey, stef, thanks again for the great reviews. You're filling an important role in the blogosphere.

Just a question about this particular review. What do you mean when you say Joe McPhee possesses a spirituality in his playing that you find lacking in Brotzmann's playing?

Stef said...

I mean that McPhee's playing is full of the Ayler tradition that infuses his playing with gospel and the American jazz and blues tradition. Brötzmann does not have that particular "spirituality" in his playing. It is a quality that is in my view almost absent in European jazz. Hard to put your finger on it. It has this sense of warmth and closeness while being expansive at the same time. Wadada Leo Smith has it too. So does William Parker.

Michael Campbell said...

That's an interesting point of view. McPhee and Brotzmann definitely come from different backgrounds, and Albert Ayler is one of his foremost influences.

Looking at Brotzmann's influences is also interesting. I once asked him about what music particularly inspired him, and he cited Kid Ory and Ellington, godfathers of American Jazz. It makes sense really. If you were to compare the thick bray and vibrato Brotzmann possesses to any player, it may well be someone like Ben Webster.

Are there any European players you can think of that even approach the feeling someone like a McPhee seems to put across?

Anonymous said...

thanks for your work