August 30, 2009
Okka Disk OD 12076
More than 40 years after Machine Gun, 1968’s seminal Free Jazz explosion on LP, and about 45 since he became a full-time improvising musician, the warp and woof is still present in saxophonist Peter Brötzmann’s playing.
Without resorting to hyperbole, one could make the argument that at 68, the Wuppertal-based reedist’s ideas and execution are as first-rate as they ever were. On two long tracks here, recorded at Amsterdam’s Bimhuis, Brötzmann directs an international combo that matches his invention and vigor, as well as being the musical equivalent of many of the saxophonist’s quartets of the past.
Brötzmann is joined by Japanese electric trumpeter Toshinori Kondo, seven years younger then the saxophonist, who worked with him in the 1980s and 1990s, plus two younger European musicians. Electric bassist Massimo Pupillo from Rome, is a member of the band Zu, and has worked with everyone from the Fantomas to Swedish saxophonist – and Brötz collaborator – Mats Gustafsson. One of the busiest of European drummers, Oslo-based Paal Nilssen-Love has backed musicians as disparate as British microtonal saxophonist John Butcher and Finnish jazz-rock guitarist Raoul Björkenheim as well as powering a Brötzmann’s tentet.
Putting aside the cacophony, stridency and bombast implicit in this session, it’s instructive to hear how in-the-tradition, the two 30-minute plus improvisations sound. Each is built on the conventional head-solo-solo-head format, which despite the glossolalia, rhythmic thrust and echoing electronic pulses here, in many respects comes across as an extension of the Hard Bop small combo formula. Brötzmann is no stranger to rock-styled electric instruments either, having worked with electric guitar and electric bass in Last Exit during the later 1980s.
Although the theme statement suggests that the title tune is the rhythm number and “Chain Dogs” the ballad – to use expected set list designations – by the time Brötzmann and company work up a whole head of steam, there’s enough power generated in both tracks to illuminate a mid-sized German city.
In “Hairy Bones” the drummer’s ricocheting strokes and the bass guitarist’s slides and stomps help separate sound shards into the multiphonic discord, as successive plunger washes from Kondo and braying snorts from Brötzmann add to the burbling and twittering voltage. As the differing tonal shades from the saxophonist’s glottal punctuation and reed bites mate with Kondo’s half-valve obbligatos and watery chunks, sul tasto string scrapes and finger pops from Pupillo also join the trumpeter’s electronic signal processing. The four eventually unite in rubato quadruple counterpoint, with a melodic inversion of the initial theme played by Brötzmann on tarogato serving as the finale. That is once Nilssen-Love has expresses himself with opposite sticking on the snares and toms, cymbal sizzle and temple bell-like rebounds.
Lengthier than the first tune “Chain Dogs” throws aside lyricism once ghostly and reflective brass timbres – a capella like Broötzmann’s intro – give way to thumping backbeat and string-shuffling scrapes. Soon strained trumpet chirps – doubled and redoubled with programming – are rubbing up against distorted bass guitar licks and renal reed textures. As Kondo’s broken-octave line crackles and peep, Brötzmann’s extended alto saxophone solo repeatedly bonds ragged pitches so that the resulting phrase clusters make it seem as if the saxman is playing “Open the Door, Richard” at different tempos and time signatures. Aided by Kondo’s fleet, fluid and iridescent vibrations, Brötzmann pushes the others to a full stop with ragged, split tones as the variants nearly overblow to infinity.
On the evidence of this CD alone, it’s obvious that Brötzmann hasn’t lost his Free Jazz mojo.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing 1. Hairy Bones 2. Chain Dogs
Personnel: Toshinori Kondo (electric trumpet); Peter Brötzmann (alto and tenor saxophones, Bb clarinet and tarogato); Massimo Pupillo (electric bass) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums)