Schwarzwaldfahrt (Black or Dark Forest Ride in German) is an iconic and seminal free jazz meets free improvisation of Peter Brötzmann and Han Bennink, originally released by FMP in 1977. Brötzmann and Bennink already played together in the legendary trio with pianist Fred Van Hove, and this was their second recording as a duo (Ein halber hund kann nicht pinkeln, FMP, 1977, was recorded about two months earlier), out of six duo albums (the last one is In Amherst 2006, BRÖ, 2008, not including assorted tracks in compilations and other ad-hoc formats up until recently), and is part of their long-term, close music bond.
Schwarzwaldfahrt is still special due to the unique manner that it was deceived and recorded. Brötzmann and Bennink recorded the album in three days in June 1977, completely in the open air, at the mythic and gloomy German Black Forest, using a vintage Japanese, portable reel-to-reel Stellavox recorder. Bennink and Brötzmann were duetting with the birds, playing in the water, drumming on great natural xylophones made of logs and catching the sounds of airplanes strafing the skies. Their instruments list included e-flat clarinet, b-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, birdcalls, viola, banjo, cymbals, wood, trees, sand, land, water and air.
The re-release of this album - as a 120-page black and white photo book plus a disc - proves that these titans of free music, are Still Quite Popular After All These Years, if I would borrow the title of another duo album of theirs (BRÖ, 2004). Brötzmann supervised this re-release of the original recordings (a previous re-release of the album was issued in 2005 as an expanded double album by the now-defunct Atavistic label, produced by John Corbett), and he and Bennink contributed photos of themselves from this recording adventure. Scottish writer David Keenan (the partner of pedal steel player Heather Leigh, a recent collaborator of Brötzmann, who recorded with him five albums since 2015), contributed a poetic introduction.
Keenan claims that Brötzmann and Bennink became the mirror of the Dark Forest in a quest for timelessness. They decided to play in the forest after they were invited in 1976 by Joachim-Ernst Berendt to play in Free Jazz Meeting Baden-Baden, and then made their first exploration of the forest. “It sounded like music, like lamenting music, far off, or hopeful cries, in the distance, perhaps”. Berendt funded the recording trip. They were given a freezing, modest guest house, Gasthos Hirschen, (“Home, Sweet Home” in the book, and snow was falling during the time of the recording), and an old car to carry their instruments and recording equipment, but by day, “they sang the songs of the birds”, playing “like kids do, or lovers”.
Schwarzwaldfahrt is a great album, and still radiates an inspiring urgency and a unique sense of rare musical bond and resourceful invention. Brötzmann and Bennink play in a totally free and playful mode that can be replicated anywhere else. As Keenan writes, this is amusic of “endless expansion, and every improvisation is a sounding of a particular time and space, a song, once st in space, that goes on singing”. The many photos expand the listening experience from many angles, taking photos of each other, of their lodgings, of their ritual communions, and of their route into, and out of the forest. A timeless treasure.
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