Sparrow Nights offers the most comprehensive overview of the turbulent, chaotic and complex love relationship of German reeds titan Peter Brötzmann and American pedal steel guitar player Heather Leigh. Any one who have experienced this duo performs live or have listened to the duo previous three live recordings from the last three years must have sensed the strong, sensual essence of this collaboration, different from any other collaboration from Brötzmann. The duo with Leigh is one of the most active outfits of Brötzmann in recent years, often sharing the stage with other long-standing colleagues of Brötzmann - Japanese trumpeter Toshinori Kondo, guitarist Keiji Haino and drummer Sabu Toyozumi.
The live recordings, naturally, focused on the more furious, physical and even provocative sides of Brötzmann-Leigh collaboration, best captured on the explicit Sex Tape (Trost, 2017), Sparrow Nights allows both to take their intriguing relationship a step further. The studio environment enables Brötzmann to offer more sides of his strong personality, and Brötzmann has used wisely the generous studio time - spread over 78 minutes, in a six-track vinyl or ten-track disc - and explored more tonal and timbral nuances, adding the alto and bass saxophones and the b-flat, bass and contra-alto clarinets to his familiar tenor sax. Martin Siewert (of Radian) captured and mastered brilliantly at his studio in Vienna the complex dynamics of Brötzmann and Leigh. Brötzmann, as usual, did the artwork, more implicit this time than the cover of Sex Tape.
Brötzmann playing with Leigh has always suggested a gentle, touching side behind the rough and tough demeanor. The angry and aggressive blues ballads of previous live recordings have transformed now into more subtle and coherent expressions of a vulnerable and painful, but also protective and compassionate, relationship, reflecting his immense experience and one-of-a-kind wisdom. Brötzmann sounds softer than ever on the opening, straight ahead and emotional ballad “Summer Rain”. Leigh deepens gently this seductive vein with minimalist, resonating lines on “The Word Love”, answered by fragile, poetic cries of Brötzmann on the clarinet.
There is a strong sense of openness and fluidity in the Brötzmann and Leigh interplay, as in a relationship of a mature couple who have experienced few excruciating emotional storms. Even when the interaction becomes confrontational and melancholic as on “It’s Almost Dark”, dark and chaotic on the following title-piece and immediately afterwards openly brutal and bold on the “This Time Around”, both still rely on their intimate kinship throughout these section.
“River of Sorrows” reaffirms that Brötzmann and Leigh reconcile, following the previous, heated confrontation, and is sweeter than expected. Both do not need more than few, simple gestures to re-establish their rare intimacy. Brötzmann alternates here between singing melodious lines on the bass clarinet and dense yet poetic cries while Leigh mirrors his emotional upheavals with raging waves of her own. “At First Sight” and “All Of Us” emphasize again and again the ecstatic, essential passion that cements this collaboration.
But, eventually, Brötzmann and Leigh are fully aware and have no illusions about the prospects of their relationship - the personal and the musical - as the aching, concluding ballad “My Empty Heart” and the intense “The Longer We’re Apart” hint. Brötzmann and Leigh cry their hearts out - literally - him in his familiar ferocious mode and her in a more reserved manner. But both sound as have not said all there is to be said about this precious, stormy collaboration.