Peter Brötzmann, Jason Adasiewicz, John Edwards & Steve Noble - Mental Shake (Otoroku, 2014) ****
I have had the very real pleasure of attending performances at London's Cafe Oto on a semi regular basis over the last 5 years (I say semi regular as I've never lived closer than 200 km from the venue). I have also had the pleasure of reliving many of these fine concerts, as I was fortunate enough to have been present at the recording of 5 of the 9 releases on Otoroku (Cafe Oto's in house record label) to date. Man, how I wish I'd been there for the 10th. Having initially played together in 2010 (immortalised on inaugural Otoroku release 'The Worse The Better') as part of his first residency at the venue, Mental Shake, Otoroku's newest offering, reprises Broetzmann's UK trio with John Edwards (Bass) & Steve Noble (Drums), with the addition of Jason Adasiewicz on vibraphone.
Whilst anyone with even a passing interest in English Free Improvised music can't help but be aware of omnipresent Edwards and Noble, I'll admit to being slow on the uptake with Adasiewicz. Initially hearing him on Harris Eisenstadt's fine 2006 sextet recording 'The Soul and Gone', followed swiftly by his inclusion in Rob Mazurek's world(s) beating Exploding Star Orchestra, it wasn't until the relative space afforded him by 2011's Mazurek helmed Starlicker trio that I truly grasped his approach to the vibes. The larger group settings had demonstrated his melodic and rhythmic sophistication (he started life as a drummer), but couldn't do justice to the total commitment with which he attacks the instrument. The vibes are often struck hard as possible, eliciting overtones which are usually considered "undesirable" and dampened by those seeking to articulate "correctly". To that end, his recent association with Broetzmann seems a natural fit, both men forcing sounds from their instruments through sheer strength of will.
Given that Broetzmann and Adasiewicz have played extensively as a duo in the last year or so, it’s interesting that the most intimate dialogue throughout is between Noble and Adasiewicz, the vibes quickly finding space amongst the percussion's off kilter swing. Time and again Adasiewicz dances in the pockets of the groove, or sustains gong-like tones, realising Taylor''s "eighty-eight tuned drums" approach albeit for only thirty-seven 'drums' of the vibraphone. Edwards is endlessly inventive with impeccable decision making, his choices are always the most obliquely correct answer to whatever questions are asked of him, exploring the full range of musical and timbral possibilities of his instrument.
Broetzmann is lyrical and incendiary throughout, dividing his time between saxes, clarinet and taragoto. Derek Bailey once claimed Broetzmann is one of only three musicians who "can play free jazz…. When you play with those guys you know you're playing free jazz. It's free and it's jazz", and much of the feel of this record is of the trio playing behind Broetzmann, lending an almost classically 'leader and side-men' sensation to the date. The saxophonist is one of the most singular voices in improvised music and the engagement feels largely on his terms, rather than any of the trio going toe-to-toe with him. It’s not until 25 minutes in that he chooses to relate to the trio from their position, inviting himself into a relatively delicate moment with carefully selected gravelly clusters, before turning the music on its head and launching into patented Broetzmann wax-melting flight. The heights he soars to are rarely witnessed from a ground take-off, the juxtaposition with the moments prior only serving to demonstrate just how rarified the air is up there.
Finally, the quartet fall into the misshapen elliptical swing Noble & Adasiewicz have been flirting with throughout, only to pull the tune apart from within, until the traces that remain are finally allowed to come to rest. To quote Bailey again, "Don't ask me to explain it. I don't know how. All I know is it just fucking feels like free jazz."
Peter Brötzmann, Jason Adasiewicz, John Edwards & Steve Noble - Mental Shake (Otoroku, 2014) ****½
Last year Paul and I visited the Á L’arme festival in Berlin, where Peter Brötzmann (saxes, clarinet, tárogató), Jason Adasiewicz (vibes), John Edwards (bass) and Steve Noble (drums) were the top act of the first day. And hell yeah – the first 20 minutes belong to some of the greatest free jazz moments I have ever seen! Brötzmann, who started on tenor, played as if he had eaten John Coltrane for dinner, never have I heard him with so much spirituality in his tone. Additionally, Adasiewicz, who looked like a young Evan Parker acting like Edward Scissorhands gone mad, was twitching spastically before he came up with reverberating structures which were like a spider’s web for the notes the others were ejecting. It gave me goosebumps.
A few days later the quartet played London’s Café Oto and everything was quite different. The idea with which they came up was to turn the Berlin set upside down - like a Baselitz painting. Brötzmann decides to hurl out his typical wake-up call on the tárogató, which clearly creates a more disrupted atmosphere. Edwards and Noble display a jungle rhythm, while Adasiewicz adds sparse chords, into which Brötzmann sinks his teeth like a shark into a seal. It is an almost reluctant but also very concentrated beginning for which the tension is built up by Noble and Edwards.
Like in the Berlin gig there is sheer breathlessness in the first eleven minutes, albeit totally different; again it’s Noble and Edwards who decide where to go then - with Noble being a drummer who seems to be able to challenge Brötzmann like no other at the moment. Only in the last part - when Brötzmann is back on tenor and where he spits, squeals, yells, roars, and overblows in his typical manner - the band is in total trance like in the first part of the Berlin concert, totally free, like a wave shortly before it breaks.
As if this isn’t enough the last five minutes are some of the most beautiful moments I have ever heard of a Brötzmann band - and he lets this beauty shine (usually he likes to destroy it). All of a sudden the Berlin spirituality shines through, Noble holding a steady beat which he puts to the edge as if he was tempted to drop it (but he doesn’t). At the very end they enjoy pure ecstasy with Adasiewicz providing the stuff to get high, it is him who gives this great trio the extra tone color that makes this recording exceptional. He is the one who builds cathedrals of sounds, and although he is a hard vibraphonist (Matthew is right here) he can also play beautifully, tender, and even melodic.
I listened to this album a lot and if you do this very concentrated, it is absolutely entertaining and can give you pure joy - there are parts to which you could even dance (the first and the last seven minutes). Brötzmann, the old snake charmer on acid, sometimes sounds as if he was 30 again.
You can listen to it here.
Available from Instantjazz.