Peter Brötzmann

January 2, 2006

Be Music, Night
OkkaDisk OD 12059

This CD may ruin saxophonist Peter Brötzmann’s long-held reputation as the ferocious, hard-hearted wild man of Free Jazz.

For the entire hour-plus CD by the German reedman’s mostly Chicago-based band is designed as homage to American poet Kenneth Patchen (1911-1972). Additionally, the longest – more than 42 minutes – of the three tracks features mellifluous-voiced Welsh poet Mike Pearson integrated into the ensemble reading selections from Patchen’s work that are, for all intents and purposes, love poems.

Patchen, an Ohio-born versifier who lived all over the United States, was a Beat fellow traveler, with a musical quality in some of his poetry. Even before similar experiments by Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Alan Ginsberg, in the late 1950s he recorded LPs reading his verse accompanied by improvising jazz combos. In a way this CD is an extension of those experiments.

Framed by an all-instrumental prelude and even shorter postlude, BE MUSIC, NIGHT unfurls like a tone poem for chamber orchestra. Of course with the massed talent on display – three reeds, two brasses, two strings and two percussionists – the layering provide more than interludes. Mixing brass slurs and pedal tones, expressive reed continuo and stop-time percussion forays, the framing instrumental passages manage to be both lyrical and polyphonic.

Furthermore, to put to rest another Free Jazz myth, the German reedist’s playing has never been as coarse as his detractors insist. As long ago as 1984 he recorded a solo CD, since reissued as 14 LOVE POEMS PLUS 10 MORE (FMP CD 125), which featured improvisations inspired by Patchen’s “14 Love Poems”.

Multiplying the interpretations of the poet’s lyrics nine-fold here, much of the instrumental elucidation depends on tutti passages or impetuous and unexpected fortissimo ejaculations. Besides the horn brays and slurs, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm is particularly effective in transforming his four strings into an electric guitar spraying discordant effects pedal timbres.

Almost deliberately old-fashioned at times, as if Pearson was reading Elizabethan sonnets, the verse is mixed with tender nocturne-like pitches that are almost as honeyed as the poet/actor’s near whispered tones. But romantic language doesn’t have to bring forth banal responses. Among the textures advanced by the saxophonists – most obviously Brötzmann, though Mats Gustafsson and Ken Vandermark clarinet passages are noticeable as well – are tongue slaps, vibrating key clicks and pops and slurred cries. Also especially effective are the grace notes buzzed by trombonist Jeb Bishop, whose valve-and-bell expansion often partners Pearson’s recitation.

An unexpected pleasure all around, BE MUSIC, NIGHT should appeal to those interested in dramatically recited poetry, those fascinated by the admixture of words and music, and those whose understanding of emotionalism encompasses sound and silences as well as lyrics.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Be Music, Night Part 1 2. Be Music, Night Part 2 3. Be Music, Night Part 3

Personnel: Joe McPhee (trumpet and alto saxophone); Jeb Bishop (trombone); Peter Brötzmann (alto and saxophones, bass clarinet and b-flat clarinet); Mats Gustafsson (baritone saxophone and bass clarinet); Ken Vandermark (baritone saxophone and b-flat-clarinet); Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello); Kent Kessler (bass); Paal Nilssen-Love and Michael Zerang (drums); Mike Pearson (voice)