Part Two: The Concerts (Brötzmann plus …)
By Martin Schray
On the occasion of the exhibition Free Music Production / FMP: The Living Music
, Haus der Kunst, in collaboration with Peter Brötzmann, planned two evenings with concerts trying to recall the spirit of the legendary Total Music Meeting and the Workshop Freie Musik. Over the course of three decades, Jost Gebers and the musicians continually developed new formats with surprising combinations of line-ups, structures, and durations, especially for the Workshop Freie Musik.
On May 5 and 6, 2017, the parameters were at least similar. In the run-up to the shows only the musicians were published: Brötzmann (saxes, clarinet, tárogató), Alexander von Schlippenbach (piano), Toshinori Kondo (trumpet), Joe McPhee (tenor sax, pocket trumpet), Heather Leigh (pedal steel), Marino Pliakas (electric bass), Michael Wertmüller and Han Bennink (drums), the actual line-ups were chosen ad hoc.
|Brötzmann, Kondo, Schlippenbach and Bennink|
The intriguing questions were if the concerts could evoke the magic of the old days and if the chosen collaborations would match, especially whether a rather rock-orientated rhythm section fits with the free jazz warhorses. The answer to both questions is: partly. Veterans in the audience who regularly attended the Berlin concerts agreed that the atmosphere and the podium reminded them of the 1980s and 90s, although the line-ups were already fixed then. Here, curator Markus Müller announced the program of the evening. When the first band - Brötzmann, Kondo, Schlippenbach and Bennink - hit the bandstand in the dim light, they appeared like ghosts from the past. Having played together in various combinations, this could have been a rather experienced set but it turned out to be a really adventurous and exciting tour-de-force. Schlippenbach rejected playing his beloved Monk phrases and used propulsive clusters instead, which were chopped by Brötzmann’s outbursts and Bennink’s rolls. This was topped by Toshinori Kondo, whose distorted trumpet contributions seemed to come directly from outer space.
|Peter Brötzmann and Heather Leigh|
That Peter Brötzmann and Heather Leigh would play a duo set was no surprise. However, at last year’s A’Larmé festival
in Berlin and at the Enjoy Jazz Festival in Heidelberg they could not convince the audience for various reasons. But in Munich they did a good job. In general, they seem to work through an established set of themes, things they know will work together, varying their order from performance to performance. That night Leigh alternated between echoey tones, sustained notes, and distorted parts, while Brötzmann concentrated on insistent howls close to the threshold of pain.
|Joe McPhee (mainly on pocket-trumpet), Toshinori Kondo,|
Marino Pliakas and Michael Wertmüller
The sensation of the first day was a quartet of Joe McPhee (mainly on pocket-trumpet), Toshinori Kondo, Marino Pliakas and Michael Wertmüller, the latter known as Brötzmann’s backing band in Full Blast. Pliakas and Wertmüller had no intention to swing, instead they delivered gloomy drones and extremely loud walls of sound, and McPhee (with The Thing) and Kondo (with IMO) have proved that they can cope with such contexts. The set was an emotional rollercoaster ride with the two trumpets challenging each other in the first piece including a dramatic crescendo towards the end. When McPhee picked up his tenor, Kondo’s electronically-abetted Wah-Wah phrases contradicted and fleshed out his blues-drunk phrases in the slow part of the second track. Kondo built on McPhee’s multiphonics in icy, propelling punches before the band drowned in an electronic maelstrom.
The second day started with Brötzmann/Leigh/Pliakas/Wertmüller, a band picking up the thread from the night before. Pliakas, Wertmüller, and Leigh were weaving a dense sound carpet that allowed Brötzmann to concentrate on concise contributions. When he dropped out in the middle of the first piece, Pliakas set his electric bass thrumming at speed metal velocity, immersing into a dark drone - clearly in the tradition of Bill Laswell. The second piece was actually just Brötzmann on tárogató, sparsely accompanied by Leigh. It unfolded a subtlety in his presentation, a beautiful monochrome aspect that he tends to display in his solo performances. Here Pliakas and Wertmüller just listened - only to return even more forceful, since the set ended with a classic Full Blast speed metal piece, a study in increasing tension and density, collapsing and re-building.
Notwithstanding the fine performance, some people in the audience complained that a real jazz bassist, who was also able to swing, was missing.
|Han Bennink and Alexander von Schlippenbach|
They were partly compensated with the next collaboration - a duo of Alexander von Schlippenbach and Han Bennink (since there was no swinging bassist at hand). Schlippenbach saluted Monk and Ellington, culling the feel and melodic shapes of the music but also using it for free rides (mainly around Monk’s “Green Chimneys“ theme). Bennink enjoyed this a lot, swinging, pushing and - at the end of the set - indulging in his typical clownery. He, Schlippenbach, and the audience had their fun.
|Heather Leigh and Toshinori Kondo|
|Kondo and Brötzmann|
The second part of the evening was reserved for surprises. It was only announced that Heather Leigh and Toshinori Kondo were to start, a very organic combination, their similar approaches created ambient soundscapes. In its spaciousness, the set could apply for an ECM album. Then they were joined by Joe McPhee and Pliakas/Wertmüller - and here there were the first obvious friction losses. Leigh and Kondo continued with their concept and the rest of the quintet couldn’t fully adapt. Only when Kondo and Leigh left the stage, McPhee, Pliakas and Wertmüller managed to create a bluesy version of the Full Blast approach, with McPhee’s typical voice contorted with pain. The next to come was a drum-and-bass-less trio with McPhee, Kondo and Brötzmann, another proof how well Brötzmann’s variations of themes he often uses (“Master of a Small House“ again), Kondo’s aloof lines and McPhee’s blues exegeses go together. Like wise zen masters, they were singing almost forgotten tunes, telling from old times, however, especially Kondo’s effect orgies offered a solution to combine these tunes with contemporary approaches. The 17 minutes were at least the highlight of the day, if not the whole festival.
After this set, a quintet with Alexander von Schlippenbach, Joe McPhee, Toshinori Kondo, Marino Pliakas and Michael Wertmüller was announced, and here it became difficult. Schlippenbach decided not to leave the jazzy paths and Pliakas and Wertmüller couldn’t find a suitable answer - although they really tried. Wertmüller played much more silent and even used a jazz pattern here and there but Pliakas seemed to be really lost. Joe McPhee once shook his head, obviously realizing that this band doesn’t work.
The festival was concluded by a short set of Brötzmann, Bennink and Schlippenbach, a natural way to end the evening. Again, Schlippenbach consequently played his Monk phrases and Brötzmann tried to respond, but one could see that he had his difficulties with it.
|Brötzmann, Bennink and Schlippenbach|
All in all, it was a very fine festival. The organizers managed to bring back at least an echo of the Workshop Freie Musik feeling, nostalgia was all around and the audience was grateful. When the exhibition will be presented in Berlin next year, there are rumors of a larger festival (maybe three days) and at the old homestead the spirit might be even more alive than in Munich.
Most enjoyable, Martin. A nicely considered set of reviews.
Martin, any talk of these concerts being recorded as a potential release in the future?
Unfortunately not, Jeff. But there were recording microphones on stage. And I saw people in the audience recording the shows. If you check out inconstantsol or other usual suspects, you might be lucky.
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