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Saturday, October 15, 2022

Oxbow feat. Peter Brötzmann - An Eternal Reminder Of Not Today: Live at Moers (Trost Records, 2022)

By Martin Schray

At first, Oxbow seem to have little to do with free jazz, but the band has been playing for more than three decades against all the rules, restrictions, and apparent certainties that the classic rock lineup with guitar, bass, drums and vocals should actually impose on them. They’ve always made use of noise, blues, new music, rock and, of all things, improvised music. After all, they don’t want to be pinned down. So the idea of playing with Peter Brötzmann is not as surprising as one might think, because of course it’s about bringing a new perspective to their music. And it’s fascinating how well Brötzmann fits into the context of Oxbow’s philosophy. In an interview before the gig at the Moers festival, where the album was recorded, the Wuppertal saxophone icon said that he had been enjoying playing songs lately (think of his solo album on which he plays classics). After many years of destroying them (his notorious “blowing-to-pieces“ era) coming back to clear structures represented a new, different challenge for him. He simply likes pushing against restrictions. Apart from that, there’s another common denominator with Oxbow. Like them he’s also a blues man. It’s always been the basis of his music, its essence.

“Angel“, the opening piece of An Eternal Reminder Of Not Today, is a perfect example of this. It’s a classic murder ballad about betrayal, disappointment, a man’s claim of ownership over a woman, in which Oxbow’s singer Eugene Robinson roars his lyrics into the microphone, yowling, screaming, whispering and barking against the musical storm of the band. His desperation is palpable in every second. Brötzmann backs this up with heartbreaking melancholic lines, the whole thing sounding as if Nick Cave’s blues project Grinderman had booked a crazed saxophonist to make the message of their music even clearer. Another example is the monolithic “Cat and Mouse“, which meanders and breaks off, it rebuilds, transforms and changes, yet always remaining monstrous. The sound of the band is vicious and virile, but also warm and human. Above all, it demonstrates what Oxbow’s music is about: the vibrant discrepancy between the organic pieces seemingly created in jam sessions and a systematic approach. Isolated ideas and small licks and phrases are picked up again and again, varied and developed further. However, in fact, the conceptual rigor can also be ignored, the music can be easily enjoyed without it. As to their project, Peter Brötzmann said that he was also interested in the energy they share, and although he considered himself the outsider in the whole thing he enjoyed listening to the band the days before their gig and liked what he heard - which finally won him over to join them. In the end this also makes sense, since he’s been looking for new challenges throughout his career - especially if it comes to rock (think of Last Exit , Black Bombaim , even Full Blast). For him music is mainly about not feeling comfortable. He literally mentioned that he was tired of playing that “free jazz bullshit.“

To cut a long story short, Oxbow and Brötzmann really let loose, they had enormous fun with what they were doing. It doesn’t matter whether it’s sluggish, furious, stomping blues rock (“Over“) or abstract free art rock (“Skin“), they stress the genres to the extreme. An Eternal Reminder Of Not Today is a welcome alternative in Brötzmann’s enormous oeuvre. Just the right thing for fans of Captain Beefheart and the like. A real killer.

Listen to “Cat and Mouse“ here:

An Eternal Reminder Of Not Today is available on vinyl (in a very limited red edition and in a regular black one), as a CD and as a download from bandcamp.