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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Peter Brötzmann Round-Up

By Martin Schray

When you go to a Brötzmann concert in Germany, they are not really crowded in general. The reason mainly is that he has been touring a lot and many people have seen him quite often. Recently when I spoke after a show with young German drummer Oliver Steidle, I asked him how Brötzmann was doing because at close range he looked a bit rough (on the other hand he had just turned 75 in March). He said that he was okay for his age but had problems with his lungs, blowing out was still alright but breathing in was a problem due to smoking a lot when he was younger. I was a bit worried hearing this but then again it was a very good show although he could only play a one-hour-set plus encore. He seems to have become a bit mellow with age, there is more melancholic bluesy stuff than harsh outbursts which fits his style perfectly, though. And if you have a look at his homepage, the spring is packed with tours and single dates all over Europe and Japan. On top of this there is a steady output of new releases, here is a short overview of the latest ones.

Brötzmann/Edwards/Noble – Soulfood Available (Clean Feed, 2014) ****

Soulfood Available is Brötzmann’s second album with this trio. His ties with Edwards go back a long time and Noble seems to be one of his favorite  drummers recently. When I said that Brötzmann’s tone was a bit mellower lately,  this album could prove me wrong, at least partly. Everything that has made his  latest work so great is presented here: his familiar call to arms (as Colin  calls it), the “Master of a Small House” theme (although barely recognizable  since it is alienated and overblown), the shivering notes, his aggressive  approach to his material. He is supported by Edwards’ and Noble’s city jungle  rhythms, which deliver a dark pulse for Brötzmann’s outbursts as well as for  the quieter moments. A rock solid free jazz album, you can’t go wrong with it.

Soulfood Available is available on CD and can be bought from the label:

Peter Brötzmann/Jason AdasiewiczMollie‘s in the Mood (BRÖ, 2014) ****

When Brötzmann worked  together with Jason Adasiewicz it was indeed his first collaboration with a  vibraphonist and since then (on Going  All Fancy in 2012) he has played with him several times, even in a  quartet with John Edwards and Steve Noble that also released the splendid Mental  Shake.

Mollie’s in the Mood rather shows the new Brötzmann, more placable, introspective, less angry – but still gripping. A perfect example is the  beginning of the title track, one of the most accessible tracks Brötzmann has  recorded in his career. It is a pure jazz ballad that could almost pass as free  cool jazz. Adasiewicz’s style is brittle and crystal clear again, as if his instrument was made of ice. He contrasts Brötzmann in a strange but perfect way, no matter if the old colossus of Wuppertal decides to play in an Ayler-esque or melancholic way.

The album is available in a limited vinyl pressing of 600 copies. You can buy it from or from the label:  

Peter Brötzmann/Peeter Uuskyla – Red Cloud on  Silver (Omlott, 2015) ****

Before we start talking about the music on this album, one thing which is hardly mention is the fact that Peter Brötzmann is also a great fine artist. Recently he had an exclusive exhibition of his art in China, I also saw one in Wuppertal once. Like his saxophone/clarinet sound, his visual artistic style is also unique and has a high recognition value. The covers of all the albums reviewed here are designed by Brötzmann himself. So, when you buy a Brötzmann album you get a piece of fine arts as a bonus.

As to the music: Brötzmann  has worked quite often with Swedish drummer Peeter Uuskyla (e.g. on Dead  and Useless) since 1997 and in general the reeds/drums line-up is something he feels very comfortable with. His duos with Han Bennink, Hamid Drake, Paal Nilssen-Love and Steve Noble belong to best releases in free jazz.  Uusklya cannot quite keep up with these drummers because they are able to challenge him. Uuskyla is more the supporting kind of a drummer on this album.

My favorite passage is on side B when Brötzmann plays a particularly tender version of the “Master of  a Small House” theme, one of three or four themes he likes to integrate especially in solo and duo performances, Brötzmann once told me. Uuskyla simply drops out here, then he adds a just a few sparse few sounds, which is just perfect. And then it is him who pulls Brötzmann back to rougher waters. In  general Red Cloud on Silver is a rather  rough, torn and bumpy album.

Red Cloud on Silver is available on double vinyl. It’s an edition of 300 only, so you better be quick.

You can buy it from

Peter Brötzmann/Keiji Haino/Jim O’Rourke – Two  City Blues 2 (Trost, 2015) **** 

Looking at Brötzmann’s career and at the people he played with you might think that he had played with  almost everybody who has a name in improvised music. In this context it’s interesting that he has chosen two guitars, an instrument he seems to have a  particular interest in lately (have a look at his website and you’ll see that he plays with this group in Japan in April and with pedal steel guitarist Heather Leigh in Glasgow). Haino is one of his long time companions, and here you find the Japanese madman on guitar and vocals, although he is rather barking than singing. As usual he is the good old thirsty animal you either love or hate. Jim O’Rourke adds some wonderful Ry Cooder-like slide guitar  riffs which make the whole brew sound like Captain Beefheart. It’s surprising how the three get along together, there are moments of immaculate intimacy. In the huge Brötzmann discography this is an interesting new color.

Two City Blues 2 is available on CD only. You can buy it from

Peter Brötzmann/Keiji Haino/Jim O’Rourke – Two  City Blues 1 (Trost, 2015) **** ½

Interestingly enough Two City Blues 1 was released after Two City Blues 2. The recordings were taken from the same tour but part 1 is even a bit more interesting than part 2. Keiji Haino is only on guitar here, there are no vocal eruptions, O’Rourke’s slide guitar is wilder and more ecstatic, it is rather contrasting Haino’s staccato style – including some high pitched frequencies that could make glass burst. Brötzmann seems to wrestle with the guitars, especially when they try to push the performance into calmer, more  melodic waters. Usually he doesn’t allow this, and he tries to undermine their  attempts relentlessly. Only at the very endings of the two tracks, the mood is more conciliable. In the title track Brötzmann leaves this part to the guitars,  in “Eyes Stay the Same” he joins them – vulnerable, crying, desperate.

Two City Blues 1 is available on vinyl only. You can buy both –  vinyl and CD – from or directly from the  label

Listen to it here:


Six weeks after the show with Olli Steidle I saw Brötzmann playing with Steve Swell (tb) and Paal Nilssen-Love at the Manufaktur in Schorndorf – and it was a fascinating performance. The trio played as if they had been together for  years (albeit it was only their fourth gig). Brötzmann was in perfect shape and after the show we sat together with some people and he was telling stories,  joking, he was witty – and he looked much better than some weeks before.

On our way home my friend Riccarda (who booked Brötz’s tour with Swell and PNL with her partner Ralf) checked her facebook account and somebody asked  her if she had some recommendations as to Brötzmann’s albums. The guy said that  he had seen him twice but he didn’t have any of his recordings. He could start with any of the albums mentioned above (or with one of the classics), he wouldn’t be disappointed.

Peter Brötzmann keeps on touring – and he keeps on releasing excellent stuff. I hope he will be able to continue for a long time.



Colin Green said...

Both the Two City Blues albums were recorded on the same day: 23 November 2010, presumably the first and second sets. I agree, the first is preferable.

Olivier said...

I always rejoice at reading you comment Brötzmann releases, Martin.
In Paris, we were lucky to see the Die like a dog trio in january (apparently the trio's first concert in France), and last year the Brötzmann and Noble duo. PB seems to be on a sort of never-ending tour, and has really been releasing a lot in the last years, I don't know how he does it.

Martin Schray said...

Thank you very much, Olivier.
Brötzmann has been the crucial figure in my love for free jazz (together with Cecil Taylor) and I have seen him lots of times in wonderful combinations (Chicago Tentet, März Combo, Die like a Dog Quartet - to name a few). Since he is 74 years old now I decided to watch him as often as possible - almost always he doesn't disappoint you.

Captain Hate said...

The extensive interview that The Wire did on Brotz a couple years ago, Last Man Standing, was one of the most impressive and revealing portrait of an artist I've ever read. He made it very clear that he doesn't expect the aging process to impede his musical performances which the subsequent output has very much borne out. A quintessential giant of the genre.

Unknown said...

"Two City Blues 1 is available on vinyl only."

What a nightmare. I don't do Vinyl, so I can't hear the "more interesting" part of the concert. Wow. I do CD's. I don't do digital downloads.

As it is I have lots of music I need to buy/ I love Brotzmann, I love Haino. The combination is exciting - but I'm going to skip both now. Either I can get the whole show, or not. Call it a protest at being denied an adequate choice. Sorry.