Click here to [close]

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Brötzmann/Leigh - South Moon Under (s/r, 2019) ****½

By Sammy Stein

Heather Leigh is an originally from West Virginia but now lives in Scotland. She is a steel guitar player with an increasing reputation for furthering the unexplored reaches of pedal steel guitar. She combines a physical presence with a playing style which is as spontaneous as it is based on solid musicianship. She is known as a player who combines strength and sensitivity. She has received great reviews from The Wire Magazine, MOJO, Uncut, The Guardian, The New York Times, Magnet, Rolling Stone, and many more and has collaborated with many musicians, including Peter Brotzmann, with whom she teamed up once more for this album. Heather Leigh has performed across the world and at many festivals.

Peter Brotzmann needs little introduction and I make no apology for saying he is far and away one of my favourite players and interviewees. He has on occasion sent me books, vinyl and CDs he has found or released and always remembers the projects I am involved in and we catch up readily when we meet. On this album, these two players have produced, again, something exceptional and different. Just two tracks - but two tracks of more joyful noise you will be pushed to find.

The CD's first track is 'South Moon Under' which opens with Peter's almost trademark ferocious attack with sweeping, rising lines and grace notes aplenty. The attack is spirited and immediate. Into this pour the echoed tones of the steel guitar of Heather Leigh and the result if that joyful noise mentioned above. The track features oft-repeated riffs from Peter and it is the guitar which sets the atmosphere for the larger part. After the energy of the introduction there is then a softer time, the sax fades and there is a space created into which the guitar allows notes to trickle and echo before Peter enters again, the sax driving its insistent message higher, fuller, with increasing dexterity and resulting texture as the track evolves. People often talk of players who make their instrument 'talk' but with Peter the effect is genuine. Screeching, squealing, responding, questioning, ramping the energy up and up, the voice is full of character and wonderful, emotive noise. The guitar works changes and provides a solid backdrop against which the fire of the sax is tempered just a little.

The intuitive alteration in tempo and key between the two musicians is a delight to hear and there are moments when the guitar drops away to leave the sax talking away , whilst at others, the guitar is allowed to implode the atmosphere and change it. Peter plays at times as if trying to empty the air of the surrounding space but the guitar remains unrelenting, unphased and solid as a rock. Towards the end there is a lovely falling section as the sax travels down in fours to the lower register and then up again before once again being persuaded by the gentler guitar to calm, slow and eventually stop , allowing Leigh to solo on the steel guitar with a beautifully atmospheric solo. When Peter enters, now on tarogato, there is a harsher, eastern- influenced feel but there is no less insistence, no less drive and the range is fully explored in a series of riffs which at times sound like Peter is just seeing exactly what the instrument can do. Buzzy, sharp at times, the solo is emotive and delivered at full pelt. The track comes to a close with both instruments fading, sounding as if they are simply wondering off out of earshot.

'These Dark Waters' starts as an atmospheric steel guitar solo in which Heather Leigh pours many differing techniques, from pulled string slurs to held resonating echoes and chords to create a sound which fills space and reverberates. At one point she introduces a theme of descending notes over a background sound sheet and it is almost half way through the track before the sax enters, plying under the chords of the guitar initially but then ascending over the top and splurging on the fast played riffs before it is suddenly left, the guitar fades and the sax sings a melody out. Each phrase begins with a forced note and many phrases include fast-fingered scale ascensions and descents , something Peter does almost automatically. Right to the end there is a swapping of roles, an interpretation of the other's next move and an uncanny knack for hitting the harmonies.

Heather Leigh continues to develop and explore the steel guitar, making huge use of the instrument's capabilities and sound possibilities. Against Peter Brotzmann's style of playing, whether on sax, tarogato or B flat clarinet, which seemingly heads towards oblivion at times, yet is always so musically clever, the harmonics hit you suddenly and from unexpected places. I saw Peter recently at cafe Oto on the last night of his residency and his warmth and character shone through as usual. There is, with Peter, always a poignancy in his demeanor and playing which seems to come through in spite of the frenetic and energetic delivery . Placed against the solidity and ,at times, gentleness of Heather Leigh's playing, it works a treat on the ears. A partnership which has seen several recordings, this is a thing of joy and celebration. A great album containing a lot of clever working of the themes and phrases and a pair of musicians who delight in each other's playing.

Heather Leigh / 
pedal steel guitar
Peter Brötzmann / 
tenor sax, tarogato
, b-flat clarinet


Lee said...

Excellent writing, as always, Sammy. This has been one of the most captivating partnerships in Brötzmann's long career. I only hope they come to California at some point soon, so I can see them perform live.

To note, for readers, Trost has already sold out of this release, you can still buy it direct from Heather Leigh:

Captain Hate said...

The two part interview in The Wire of Brötzmann, Last Man Standing, was one of the most compelling artist's statements I've ever read. Talking with him about it, coincidentally after a concert with Leigh, he was very pleased that by staying with him over a number of days the interviewer was able to capture what he's all about. He also has a *very* firm handshake. That he's so friendly and generous to the reviewer adds to the mystique.

Some of my fellow Brötz fans are less than enamoured with his musical partnership with Heather Leigh. To them I say the same thing as I did to Steve Lacy fans put off by Irene Aebi's singing: it's part of what he does.