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Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Peter Brötzmann Tribute (Day 2 of 3)

Peter Brötzmann. Photo by Peter Gannushkin

Day two of our tribute to saxophonist Peter Brötzmann. See day one here.

Peter Brötzmann, Toshinori Kondo, William Parker, Hamid Drake — Little Birds Have Fast Hearts, No. 1 & No. 2 (FMP, 1998 & 1999) 

These two albums, divided into six parts, were taken from performances by the Die Like a Dog quartet over 7, 8, and 9 November 1997 during the 30th Total Music Meeting at the Theater im Podewil in Berlin.

Just four years after the quartet’s debut it’s clear that things had moved on. There remains the combustible electro-acoustic mix of processed trumpet and reeds – at their peaks like a couple of dogs howling at the moon – swirling about the rooted, earthy patterns of Parker and Drake whose mesmeric pulse is shot through with African rhythms, providing not just momentum but the weave that binds the quartet together.

Yet there’s also greater diversity, time given to open out Kondo’s ricocheting lines and appreciate their melodic invention and grace: delicate, air-blown, ephemeral. Brötzmann’s dense accumulations contrast with his exploitation of nuances in tone and more song-like tendencies that were to come to the fore in later years. There’s genuine subtlety in the way he and Kondo linger over phrases in quieter passages, like calls and echoes across water, framed by the tracery of bass and drums.

Such are the variations in temper and intensity across the mammoth 45 minute ‘Part 1”, and the perfectly calibrated ensembles of ‘Part 2’, that they feel akin to tragic dramas – ancient stories are being told, furious and lyrical, which still resonate down the ages. All this is assisted by a vivid recording capturing the timbral tang of liquified trumpet set against scabrous blasts on tenor, sculpted bass figurations, and the flickering light of Drake’s percussion.

The second CD ranges over similar terrain, sinewy and savage. ‘Part 5” has the tread of a sombre procession, full of wails and lamentations, and the concluding ‘Part 6’ is an incandescent conflagration; after which there is nowhere left to go.

The later Hairy Bones quartet, with Massimo Pupillo and Paal Nilssen-Love replacing Parker and Drake, had a different though equally valid dynamic, but for music that seemed to unite so many strands – old and new, Western and non-Western – these discs are a testament to one of the most exhilarating (and emotionally draining) groups in the history of jazz, at the height of its powers.

- Colin Green


Peter Brötzmann -The Chicago Octet/Tentet (Okka Disc, 1998)  

A crucial release that broke ground for a major phase of Brötzmann's music, the Chicago Tentet. The lineup is mind-blowing, and the music completely knocked me sideways the first time I heard it. With compositions by Brötzmann, Gustafsson, Vandermark, Bishop, Lonberg-Holm, Drake, and Zerang, the range of Brötzmann's vision has, arguably, rarely reached the highs of this set. Considering the huge number of albums he recorded and contributed to, that feels like a bold statement, but, I'll defend it forever. The Chicago Octet/Tentet box broke several molds, including one that seemingly held Brötzmann himself. 

The Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet - Stone/Water (Okka Disc, 2000)

If pressed to recommend a single Chicago Tentet album this is the one I would choose. It may not be their best release but it’s definitely among them - and it’s also pretty concise, comparatively. There is so much action in the album’s 40 minutes that it’s like getting 10 lbs of skronk in a 5 lb sack - it’s bursting at the seams with inventiveness, contrast, and power. And again, what a lineup. Joining our hero on reeds are Ken Vandermark and Mats Gustafsson, with Jeb Bishop on trombone, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and violin, William Parker and Kent Kessler on bass, Michael Zerang and Hamid Drake on drums, and the great Toshinori Kondo on trumpet and electronics. Wild group chorus howls, growling free blown frenzies, and other collective insanities are interspersed among the racing, grunting strings. Stark peels of electric trumpet reverberate in silences so sudden they are as jarring as the blowouts. Tremendous emissions that flow from peak to valley and back again, as hinted at in the album title. Kondo is given plenty of room to stretch out and do his thing. Swirling electronic interference shrouds his candid lamentations, the reeds barking and nipping at his heels, lashing and flickering like flame. Things coalesce occasionally, and there is a segment where a steady/slight rhythm develops, which prompts a terrific set of solos from the horns. But this is short lived, and the floodgates cannot be held back for long. The Tentet is one of Brötzmann’s most important groups, the makeup and technical proficiency of the ensemble and the fire with which they played is not likely to be matched. Incredible music. 

- Nick Metzger

Peter Brötzmann, William Parker, Hamid Drake - Never Too Late But Always Too Early (Eremite, 2003) (originally published Coda, 2003)

Homages to the late Peter Kowald grow more numerous, but few will match the searing, visceral pull of this two CD set etched by some of his closest friends & associates in Montreal's Casa Del Popolo in 2001 & dedicated to Kowald after his death in 2002. Peter Brötzmann is a specter of grim emotion & raw energy, whether he's playing tarogato, tenor, or a clarinet in A. He is one of the great existential improvisers of free jazz, in that his intensity does not seem to move toward transcendence but instead speaks of expanding passion. It is because of Brötzmann's emotional register that this epitaph in advance to Kowald is so fitting. Pain, loss, distance seem so central to the saxophonist's expression --witness the tenor dirge of part 4 of "Never Run, But Go" which seems to refer directly to 'taps'-- that the specific subject only awaits naming. William Parker & Hamid Drake support, structure & alleviate Brötzmann's testimony, adding & sustaining pulsing patterns that invoke African & Afro-Cuban ceremony. On the first segment of the title piece Brötzmann launches a bass clarinet solo in which human cries are seemingly muffled in the instrument's woolly depths until they break out into screams in the middle register. Parker & Drake seem to ground & share in this witnessing, until Parker begins an extended & especially powerful bowed solo. 

- Stuart Broomer

Sonore - Only the Devil has No Dreams (Jazzwerkstatt, 2007)

 Sonore's Only the Devil Has No Dreams was captured at the Philharmonie in Berlin on September 27, 2006 for Jazzwerkstatt's inaugural concert. The trio of uncompromising woodwindists, Peter Brötzmann, Ken Vandermark and Mats Gustafsson, produce music that is equal measure brutal and tender, and on this date, they perform it all. From the opening moments of the recording the intent is clear: Brötzmann's penetrating call and the persistent rhythm of a baritone sax lay the groundwork for an explosive start. Later, more lyrical lines intertwine, like on "First Feedback" and "Two Birds in a Feather" (which quietly flows, moans, and meanders). The final title track builds from the tender to the brutal and back in a patient, telepathic way.

- Paul Acquaro

Funny Rat/s 2 Peter Brötzmann & Shoji Hano (Kootown Records, 2008)

 Over the years Peter Brötzmann made regular trips to Japan, though many of his collaborations with Japanese musicians were actually recorded in Europe. We do have however, three duo albums with drummer Shoji Hano made during Brötzmann’s visits, of which this is the second recorded in 2007 at Candy, Chiba in the intimate acoustic of a small club.

Saxophone and drums are a staple format in free jazz and there are many fine examples in Brötzmann’s discography. This one stands out as an especially empathetic meeting, perhaps reflecting the strong lineage the combination has in Japan. There’s an incision and a precision to Hano’s playing, with an emphasis on cross-rhythms and pacing rather than metre. Hano is pulled into Brötzmann’s creative orbit, matching his different moods and emotional temperatures, from full-throttle agglomerations to simple, tender ballads. ‘A Jiggle Snaps the Lock’, ‘An Essential Dream’, and ‘Special Delivery’, with Brötzmann on gnarled tárogató, tenor, and ear-scouring alto respectively, display the epic sweep and extremes of dark and light that typified so much of his mature work, what he once referred to as the love and desperation he found in Ayler’s music.

Not all the exchanges take place in a tumescent fever. ‘Frog Fuck’ features the emberous glow of Brötzmann’s clarinet as it moves through pools of introspection, punctuated by occasional squalls and balanced by Hano’s whispered counterpoint with brushes.

All three of the duo’s recordings are strongly recommended. Here they are going hell-for-leather at the same venue the following year:


- Colin Green