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Sunday, July 30, 2017

Peter Brötzmann, Steve Swell & Paal Nilssen-Love - Live in Tel Aviv (2017) ****

By Derek Stone

If ever a group deserved the title of “free jazz power trio,” it would be this one. Legendary reedist Brötzmann, American trombonist Steve Swell, and the mighty Nilssen-Love have been playing together since early 2015, and have two masterful live sets under their belt, Krakow Nights and Live in Copenhagen. Both of those recordings boast a dense, muscular, yet occasionally free-wheeling sound that, in many ways, perfectly encapsulates just what these three players are all about - namely, raw power and fierce creativity. Live in Tel Aviv, which documents an October ‘16 performance by the trio, is the perfect entry-point for those who might be intimidated by the relatively long lengths of those prior albums - at only three-quarters of an hour, it is a thrilling condensation of the group’s strengths.

The set opens forcefully, with a wild call from Brötzmann heralding a half-hour of exhilarating, unbroken improvisation. In the first few minutes of the opening piece, called “The Greasy Grind,” we are shown the group’s wilder, more high-octane side, with Nilssen-Love’s martial, rock-tinged rhythms, Swell’s molten lines that stream out in a feverish rush, and Brötzmann’s ever-potent squawks and bellows all coming together to form a potent brew. As things stretch on, however, a taste is given of the trio’s versatility and range - at one point, for instance, Brötzmann and Swell engage in a tantalizingly brief tango of sorts, dropping their typically harsh tones in favor of rich, full-bodied lines that hint at romance. Later, Brötzmann squeaks out a series of knotty, exotic shapes that serve to ratchet down the overall intensity. Meanwhile, Nilssen-Love is constantly shape-shifting and exploring new rhythmic terrain, moving from powerful pummeled beats to rolling, intricate measures that showcase his control and restraint. On the second piece here, the wonderfully titled “Ticklish Pickle,” Swell’s rubbery sputters and odd permutations open things up and (in the process) remind me that the trombone is severely underutilized in most free jazz groups - its liquid textures and good-natured bounce make for a hell of a listening experience! Around the midpoint, Brötzmann uses and abuses the clarinet to great effect, producing both warm, rich lines and tortured shrieks in the span of a minute.

Live in Tel Aviv is the perfect addition to this trio’s steadily growing discography - it’s a lean, compact distillation of their sound, but it never sacrifices the exploratory spirit found on previous outings. Here’s to hoping for many more releases from these three in the near future.