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Monday, September 3, 2018

Peter Brötzmann/Heather Leigh - Crowmoon (self-released, 2018) ***½

By Martin Schray

Peter Brötzmann’s collaboration with pedal steel guitarist Heather Leigh is often like a box of chocolates - you never know what you’re gonna get. Colin has seen a very good gig at Salford’s Islington Mill, while I witnessed a very mediocre one at the A’Larmé! IV festival in 2016 and a botched performance at the Enjoy Jazz festival the same year (admittedly also due to sound problems). The reedman and Leigh have released two albums so far: Ears Are Filled With Wonder , which I liked a lot when it came out, and Sex Tape, which in my eyes is one of Brötzmann’s weaker albums in recent years. Considering all this, I had no expectations for Crowmoon - and was pleasantly surprised.

Lately, Brötzmann is at his best when he is playing with first class musicians. His collaboration with Paal Nilssen-Love and Steve Swell resulted in three great releases, his live gigs with Full Blast and his duo with drummer Steve Noble were always superb (at least the ones I saw). At the age of 77 he needs a break here and there and can hardly play two sets in a row, his famous lung-busting attacks need to be well-measured. That’s why it helps when his collaborators can take over, which has sometimes been a problem with Heather Leigh. Her playing is often reserved, reduced, and even a bit simple, she just seems to accompany him. Then again, one might rather evaluate her contributions as the ones of bands like Black Bombain or Defibrillator - from a rock/noise perspective. Her textures are like a tapestry of sound to which Brötzmann can add dramatic, passionate outpourings, smeared fanfares with a certain melancholic touch, and lyrical, just beautiful melodies. Leigh’s playing on this album is very crispy and shimmering, more trenchant and less convenient, yet minimal and riff-orientated. There’s a moment which even reminded me of AC/DC (which is meant as a compliment). Brötzmann uses this circumstance to play shapely, lush lines in the great late phase Brötz style. The Wuppertal dragon is in tremendous form, especially at the beginning of the gig.

This is what happens on Crowmoon - on the one hand. On the other hand, the album is a celebration of Brötzmann’s qualities as a balladeer. He processes his “Master of a Small House“ theme, one of five or six motives he’s been using constantly in duo or solo outfits these days. Brötzmann introduces it twice, always after Leigh has dropped out. When he plays solo, his vibrato-laden style is put to the fore, producing singing harmonics, which is a real pleasure to listen to and worthwhile the purchase alone.

Crowmoon was recorded in Auckland/New Zealand in 2017. It’s available as a hand numbered limited edition of 300 copies. Brötzmann sells it at live shows. You can also get it if you write him an e-mail.