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Sunday, October 16, 2022

Peter Brötzmann with Old and New Comrades

When writing about such seminal and iconic musicians like Peter Brötzmann you almost unconsciously refer to testosterone-laden adjectives like fiery, muscular and manic. But these one-dimensional terms miss the complex musical personality of this titan (another expected adjective) of free music, as well as his shift to playing more structured pieces, often influenced by blues and jazz songs. His own kind of angry ballads.

Peter Brötzmann / Keiji Haino Duo - The intellect given birth to here (eternity) is too young (Black Editions/Purple Trap, 2022)

This 4-album box-set, The intellect given birth to here (eternity), is too young, from Brötzmann and his old polymath comrade Haino, proves remarkably the above mentioned point. Haino, who is 12 years younger than Brötzmann, is still a wild card, and the tension between these great free improvisers makes their music so unique.

This box documents two live performances of Brötzmann and Haino, the first one took place at Zebulon in Los Angeles in August 2018 and the second one was four days later at The Chapel in San Francisco. These live setting exhaust not only the alchemical dynamics of Brötzmann and Haino, but also their extensive experience and the wisdom of their playing, and, as can be expected, it defies easy categorization. Brötzmann and Haino have been collaborating consistently since 1996, first as a duo (進化してゆく恥じらい 或いは加速する原罪 = Evolving Blush Or Driving Original Sin, P.S.F., 1996), then with Brötzmann joining Haino’s Fushitsusha (Nothing Changes No One Can Change Anything, I Am Ever-Changing Only You Can Change Yourself, Utech, 2014), as a trio with drummer Shoji Hano (Shadows = 影, DIW, 2000), Brötzmann’s Full Blast trio hosting Haino (Crumbling Brain, Okka Disk, 2010), and with as a trio with guitarist Jim O’Rourke (Two City Blues 1 & 2, Trost, 2015), and again as a duo (Houston 09 X 2013, BRÖ/Black Editions, 2018), and recently in live performances, again as a trio with pedal steel player Heather Leigh.

Brötzmann and Haino did not follow familiar, stormy courses. The first performance begins with “Begging your pardon, Master Sokushinbutsu” (Sokushinbutsu - 即身仏 - is a kind of Buddhist mummy. In Japan, the term refers to the practice of Buddhist monks observing asceticism to the point of death and entering mummification while alive), an irreverent ritual with Haino banging wildly on a drum-set and its cymbals and Brötzmann wailing on the tarogato. Both sound possessed by higher powers and totally at the moment, determined to exorcize all evil spirits, then and now, but expressing gentle compassion that briefly translates into an intoxicating melody and groove. This gentle spirit charges also the following piece, a lyrical and sparse one (you can check Haino’s enigmatic titles in the Bandcamp link below), with Haino hitting gongs and cymbals and later strumming sparse and distorted, bluesy notes on the electric guitar while Brötzmann singing on the clarinet. This piece anticipates inevitable catalytic attacks and they do explode more frequently on the third piece. Still, Brötzmann and Haino alternate between manic, noisy storms and a twisted jazz ballad. The last piece avoids, again, the expected turbulent freak-out and suggests a spiritual blues, obviously, in the raw and intense vocabularies of Brötzmann and Haino, with Haino’s wordless vocals adding a vulnerable aroma.

The second performance radiates a melancholic, lyrical atmosphere. Brötzmann focuses most of the time on the tenor sax, and this set begins with Haino screaming, shouting, whispering and chanting and later hitting wildly his drum-set cymbals and banging the drums in a ritualist manner. At the same time, Brötzmann charges these emotional cries with thoughtful and poetic depth. The following piece gravitates toward a free jazz piece with strong bluesy overtones as a sax-drums duet that shifts into an electric guitar-sax duet that patiently gains more power and volume. These strong bluesy veins continue to inform the lyrical third piece, but mid-piece it incarnates into a free-associative electric guitar solo of Haino that triggers a brutal and manic dialog with Brötzmann. The last piece colors again these fiery cries with a comforting and, emotional bluesy ballad that suddenly erupts briefly into a cathartic coda. But Brötzmann and Haino added an encore, another lyrical, ritualist ballad. Almost three hours of sublime music.

OXBOW & Peter Brötzmann - An Eternal Reminder Of Not Today: Live at Moers (Trost/SGG, 2022)

“Once you go on stage, it's political. In a very broad sense. It's a declaration. And it's a political statement too,” Brötzmann says about his collaboration with American experimental band OXBOW (vocalist Eugen S. Robinson, guitarist-pianist Niko Wenner, bassist Dan Adams and drummer Greg Davis), known for its mix of noise and metal, free jazz, spoken word, musique concrète and blues, and has been operating since the late eighties. Brötzmann (who plays here only the tenor sax) joined OXBOW for a live set at the Moers Festival in May 2018.

Brötzmann and OXBOW do share a similar kind of raw and uncompromising, up-in-your-face energy and a constant need to challenge themselves, but more in the political sense of the music and its direct messages. Brötzmann, like OXBOW, confesses (in the attached you-tube clip) how he gravitated in recent years from wild and sometimes chaotic, free improvised onslaughts into song structures, often melodic ones. The opening piece, the bluesy “Angel”, proves his point. Brötzmann intensifies naturally and immediately the charismatic, totally possessed delivery of vocalist Robinson, with his authoritative, charismatic sax voice. Later, Brötzmann charges guitarist Wenner playing with thorny, fierce power on the following “Cat and Mouse” and “Skin”, and owns completely the latter song with his lava-like power.

Brötzmann, as Wenner later states, instilled a sense of necessary “discomfort” into OXBOW dynamics and pushed this band into freer regions. He feels completely at home with the nervous energy of OXBOW, whether it plays rock anthems like “A Gentleman’s Gentleman” and “Host”, the dramatic and stormy “Over” or the last song, the high-octane blues “The Finished Line”, and feels a great affinity with the apocalyptic paranoia of Robinson’s texts. The encore, one of the early songs of OXBOW, “The Valley”, highlights the organic and wise way Brötzmann’s singing phrasing integrated into this legendary band's free-wheeling aesthetics and bringing them to even greater climaxes.

KonstruKt & Peter Brötzmann - Dolunay (Karlrecords, 2022)

Dolunay ('full moon' in Turkish) is a remastered edition for a double vinyl reissue of 2008, the first meeting of Brötzmann with the Turkish, Istanbul-based free-form meets free jazz quartet KonstruKt - sax player Korhan Futacı, guitarist Umut Çağlar (who also plays in the Middle-Eastern supergroup Karkhana), percussionist Özün Usta and drummer Korhan Argüden (the album was originally released as limited edition disc on KonstruKt’s Re:konstruKt in 2011). Since that meeting at the Deneyevi Studio in Istanbul Brötzmann recorded again with KonstruKt, Eklisia Sunday (NotTwo, 2013) and The Message: Live At Kargart (Holidays, 2016) and KonstruKt released a bootleg recording Live At Babylon (2019) with Brötzmann and Joe McPhee, captured at Babylon music venue in Istanbul in 2015.

Brötzmann, who plays here the alto and tenor saxes and clarinet, adds turbulent energy and fury to the loose but massive grooves that KonstruKt cooks. He often channels this studio meeting into a tough and muscular freak-out and shifts KonstruKt Middle-Eastern overtones into explosive, distorted regions. But somehow his wild clarinet and sax wailings fit perfectly the exotic, snaky tones of KonstruKt (not so surprising given that Brötzmann already played with Yemenite musicians traditional songs on Berg-Und Talfahrt - A Night In Sana'a, ARM, 2009), but he also knows how to inject raw, emotional vibrations within the distorted, rhythmic mayhem, as on “Makinalı” and “Nokta”.


Anonymous said...

You say that "you almost unconsciously refer to testosterone-laden adjectives like fiery, muscular and manic. But these one-dimensional terms miss the complex musical personality of this titan". But you still use those adjectives in your reviews here. Just asking.

Anonymous said...

None of those terms are inherently masculine.