Avenue X
Ninth World Music NWM 029 CD

The Darkest River
Ninth World Music NWM 027 CD

Difficult to imagine, but there are times during AVENUE X when the consolidated sounds of the Capote quartet are so harsh and brutal that in comparison the Wild Mans Band (WMB)’s output appears as restrained and serene as that of the Modern Jazz Quartet.

Not meant as a criticism, this state of affairs merely points out how effectively the vocabulary of pioneering fire-breathers like WMB’s reedman Peter Brötzmann and guest guitarist Pierre Dørge has permeated the fabric of modern improv. From the 1960s on, in the German saxophonist’s case and from the 1970s for the Danish guitarist, they and others proved that noise, speed and volume could just as easily be adapted to jazz as rock music.

The challenge then was having the taste and skill to deal with these add-ons. Subtlety may be lacking from both bands, but both make a go of not burying the improvisations under heavy metal.

A co-op effort between Brötzmann and Danes Peter Friis Nielsen on electric bass and Peter Ole Jørgensen on drums, WMB has a guest on each of its previous releases. Dørge, known for leading the New Jungle Orchestra is featured on this, the band’s third CD, but he played individually with the other three in concerts as early as 1989. His fiery lines and attainable effects mix with the saxman’s nephritic outbursts in the front line, while the bassist and drummer contribute what they can.

Reminding listeners that more Black Metal bands than jazzbos come from Scandinavia, Capote’s molten output could at times be termed Punk Improv or Heavy Metal Jazz, How does No Wave Improv sound?

Intimal to its sound is twin guitars of Copenhagen’s Jørgen Teller and Englishman Rex Casswell. Teller’s background includes what he terms “electroacoustics, black rock, free-form, improvisation, African guitar and rhythm, computer-music, drone-guitar and microtonality”. Casswell has been part of improv rock bands like Bark! and Stock, Hausen & Walkman.

Rounding out the quartet is American freeform alto saxophonist Jeffrey Morgan whose improv associates have included Britons, guitarist Keith Rowe and drummer Paul Lytton as well as German synthesizer manipulator Joker Nies. Drumming is handled by P.O. Jørgens, a member of Cockpit Music, a local band that plays in a similar style. Jørgens uses the name Jørgensen in WMB and seems to revel in the confusion this creates.

There’s nothing refined about Capote. With almost the same instrumentation as the Dave Clark 5, the four race through nine tunes in less than 44 minutes, with no more pauses or downtime than the Ramones brought to their oeuvre. Although there are some intimation of turntable scratching and vinyl hisses on the first and some subsequent numbers, this above all is a guitar band the same way as Wishbone Ash was.

Overall, the most common licks are the irregular pulsation of feedback-laden strings and amplifiers. There’s enough shrieking guitar feedback to impress Merzbow followers, including noisy, buzzing textures and echoes coupled with phaser drones and buzzes that jump from axe to axe. With the drummer’s power pushing right behind them, the two fretmen strum, drone or cascade distorted guitar lines. Without pausing they apply metal bars, capos, e-bows and other implements to the strings to produce acicular tones — and don’t forget the circuit-breaking buzzes that come from the amps — plus judicious use of the delay pedal.

One person who does have to pause for breath, though, is saxist Morgan, Most of the time his growling obbligatos, traffic horn squeaks, snaky sax trills, smears and flattement are much closer to Albert Ayler than say, Paul Desmond. Less so-called jazzy than most of his other sessions, at points here his work seems to fit in the mold of No Waver James Chance — if Chance had more technique and command of his instrument. Among techniques on show are reed chomping and note retching plus inchoate screams. Throughout, his tones are as jagged as barbed wire and as piercing as if they’re being pushed through a strainer.

Jørgens hold up his end with noisy textures that include internal squeaks, heavy press rolls, smashed cymbals and general beat mongering. But true to his improv origins there’s never the mindless pounding you associate with rock music.

On THE DARKEST RIVER, he under his homonymic percussion name — offers drags, wiggle ratamacues, bounces and rebounds. There are ride cymbal shivers on show and sometimes he almost produces a Native American pow-wow beat. Meanwhile Nielsen maintains the shifting pulse with some rumbling pulsation, buzzes, double stops or thumb pops as needed.

Dørge moves from speedy jazz-rock licks, a fuzztone buzz reminiscent of the beginning of “Day Tripper” and guitar hero histrionics to strategies that would more comfortably fit in the improv world. He creates refractive textures with his phaser and often colors the tunes with polyphonic smears. He strokes high up on the fret board and under the bridge for maximum spikiness and in the penultimate minutes of one tune unleashes some sliding blues-based licks.

Showpiece for the CD is the more than 19-minute “Bioluminescence”. Slower-moving, almost balladic, it centres on the saxman’s snaky ney-like alto playing and slurred, shivering guitar chords that could easily come from an oud. Here Brötzmann snakes his way around the others’ parts, intersecting, but not colliding with the bassist’s steady pulse, the drummer’s thumping cross rhythms and the guitarist’s Arabic-sounding strums. True to form, he sounds out pitch vibrations — overblowing into the altissimo range — as well as a steady, renal tone which brings out polyrhythmic cross sticking from Jørgensen and finger picking from Dørge.

This is just a momentary respite, however. “Dead Water,” the almost nine-minute blow-out that follows, has Brötzmann, on woody taragot, double-tonguing, slurring, crying and overblowing as per usual, expelling sound as much from his belly and bowels as his throat and lungs. Dørge too turns up his volume knobs and pedals to meet the saxman’s ejaculations with broken counterpoint of jarring pulse, finally downshifting to feedback drones.

Overall, Longtime Brötzmann followers may link this version of WMB to the co-op Last Exit of the 1980s. Nielsen may be a better bassist than Bill Laswell, but Dørge and Jørgensen, respectively, aren’t the individualists the late Sonny Sharrock and Ronald Shannon were.

In truth, when bands such as Capote have cornered the market on aggression, Brötzmann’s playing with the WMB is more engaging than it was in the 1980s.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Avenue: 1. Exigency 2. Somatization 3. Antenna 4. Heavy pitch 5. Radar 6. Zita 7. Tolerance 8.Gletscher 9. Ataxia

Personnel: Avenue: Jeffrey Morgan (tenor saxophone); Rex Casswell and Jørgen Teller (guitars); P.O. Jørgens (drums)

Track Listing Darkest: 1. Eastern Messenger 2. Old Mens Pleasure 3. The Darkest River 4. Aeolus 5. Nostromo 6. Bioluminescence 7. Dead Water 8. Rafting

Personnel: Darkest: Peter Brötzmann (alto and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet and taragot); Pierre Dørge (guitar); Peter Friis Nielsen (electric bass); Peter Ole Jørgensen (drums)