Big Bad Brötzmann Quintet

June 15, 2022

Euphorium EUHPH 086

Existential Moments
NotTwo MW 1021

Could it be that part of creative music’s future will continue to be strongly propelled by a few designated individuals long int their golden age? The supposition may prove true when considering the most recent sessions headed by American saxophonist/trumpeter Joe McPhee and German woodwind player Peter Brötzmann. At 83 (McPhee) and 81 (Brötzmann) years old respectively show no sign of losing the power and individuality that they first individually displayed on records almost 60 years ago. With either also open to familiar or novel configurations, those preferences are prominently displayed on the dazzling and adventurous improvisations here.

Both combos include British bassist John Edwards, whose associates include Evan Parker. However others of the one extended and two shorter Existential Moments also come from one of McPhee’s regular cohorts: German drummer Klaus Kugel, who also works with Charles Gayle. Doubling the string bottom, Edwards shares bass duties on Bambule with Hamburg-based John Eckhardt, equally proficient in notated and improvised music. The unique ensemble, which performs one lengthy and one shorter improvisation is filled out by German drummer Christian Lillinger, in demand for many bands including his own; and pianist Oliver Schwerdt, whose organizational efforts in Leipzig have encompassed collaborations with Gunter “Baby” Sommer.

Beginning with the expected tsunami of hard and heavy textures stretched and augmented with overblowing, Brötzmann’s visceral forays are efficiently matched by quirky accelerated keyboard runs, forceful dual double bass thwacks and thumps, rolls and ruffs from the drummer. The tenor saxophonist’s emphasized reflux works its way across the scales with frenetic intensity, encompassing renal scoops and altissimo glissandi, confirming the narrative as spiccato and col legno string sawing and piano cross pulsing also contribute to its brute force. Yet there’s a point where clarinet trills indicate a segue to a secondary melodic motif which contrasts with the initial exposition, a detour confirmed by Schwerdt’s colorful dynamics, as the horizontal flow is cinched by tandem double bass crunches. That means the title track and the subsequent group regeneration have space for explorations that include strangled cries and progressive snorts from the reeds plus keyboard pounding, angled string sawing and cymbal whistles that balance speed and noise. Final sequences in each sequence slow down to suggest delicacy as well as dynamics.

There’s a similar strategy at work on the other CD’s three selection. But McPhee’s ascending half-valve and sharped trills from trumpet add the additional colors which are created by more hands in the Big Band quintet. Edwards’ sul tasto drones and walking thwacks define forward motion and balance, while Kugel’s ruffs and claps effectively accompany as well as exhibit percussion advances. When McPhee introduces flattement and doits with his saxophone the exposition becomes more pressurized as its stretched further along with f string pops and col legno stops from Edwards. Boosting the sequence even more, McPhee adds vocal yells along with reed honks so that the exposition alternates between lento finger-cymbal taps and delicate string slaps or staccato drum ruffs and string pumps. Returning to trumpet, McPhee’s thickened bursts gradually give way to a quieter, more lyrical sequence, that with cymbal swishes and light string strokes references both the tune’s head and the reed/brass transformation which makes it unique. While the set reaches a crescendo-climax with the concluding “Images in mind” the trio move into Free Jazz mode. Complete with Edwards’ thick plunks and scratches, Kugel’s ruffs and rebounds and McPhee bugling upsurge, the penultimate “Light beam (for Charles)” defines how McPhee has managed to be creative for so long. Encouraging an underlying swing groove from bass string stops, the horn player leads the band and audience through a few chants of “Charles Gayle”. Saluting another free form player who shares his age, McPhee further confirms his appreciation of other sound explorers as well as the linkage of Jazz and improvised music yesterday and today.

With the two saxophonists continuing to create such strong set as octogenarians, is it possible creative music’s future may in the coming years partially lie with the talents of centenarians?

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Bambule: 1. Bambule! 2. Bambule Again!

Personnel: Bambule: Peter Brötzmann (tenor saxophone, clarinet, tarogato); Oliver Schwerdt (piano, percussion, little instruments); John Edwards and John Eckhardt (bass) and Christian Lillinger (drums, cymbals, percussion)

Track Listing: Existential: 1. Existential moments 2. Light beam (for Charles) 3. Images in mind

Personnel: Existential: Joe McPhee (trumpet, tenor saxophone, voice); John Edwards (bass) and Klaus Kugel (drums)