Hamid Drake / Peter Brötzmann / William Parker / Toshinoro Kondo

March 29, 2002

Aoyama Crows
FMP CD 118

Bearing in mind that these four busy musicians have been playing together irregularly for a little less than a decade, they’ve coalesced into one of reedist Peter Brötzmann’s most accomplished units. That’s some achievement for a part time combo, considering that past Brötz bands have included some genre definers as saxophonists Frank Wright and Evan Parker, trombonist Paul Rutherford, bassist Peter Kowald and drummers Han Bennink and Louis Moholo.

Singly or together, rhythm section alchemists — bassist William Parker, linchpin of a dozen bands in New York’s Lower East Side, and drummer Hamid Drake, Chicago’s most in-demand percussionist — can apparently move any playing situation onto the gold standard. But the wild card here is Japanese trumpeter Toshinori Kondo, whose electronic treatments add an unusual found sound texture not found in the saxophonist’s other projects, not to mention being the first trumpeter with whom the saxophonist has had a long term relationship.

Of course Brötz is no slouch either in the creative department either. Vigorous or exhausted — as he apparently was on this date — the 61-year-old road warrior is still as capable of boundless energy and gut-shredding intensity as he was on his first LP, FOR ADOLPHE SAX, in 1967. What has changed over the years — and which is now demonstrated when the saxophonist picks up his clarinet or tarogato — is the unsentimental lyricism that has crept into some of his playing.

Although the music is more-or-less continuous, track three gives you some idea of how it operates. Quieter than anything you would imagine from Wuppertal’s most strident citizen, Brötzmann’s renal cry on the tarogato is first seconded by Parker’s speedy arco bass licks and Drake’s palming of a few percussive sounds. Then Kondo gradually appears through a sort of electronic fog, trilling and chirping in such a way that it seems as if he’s playing a melodica rather than a trumpet.

Manipulating the sound source as much as his instrument, the trumpeter’s Daffy Duck-like squawk is soon overruled by fluid clarinet tones that climb into higher and higher registers. By the conclusion, as Parker elaborates a steady bass pulse and Drake sizzles his cymbals, Kondo spits out twin tones that could as easily come from a toy trumpet or a PVC tube as his brass axe.

Even ignoring electronics, Kondo, who has labored in the avant-trenches for decades with the likes of British pianist Steve Beresford, possesses an inimitable sound. On the first track, for example, his distinctive half-valve growls and muted triple tonguing arrive long before the kilowatts. Then when he really plugs in, at times his brass flurries appear to bounce off the stage lights. Still later his squeal and horse whinnies create a unique vibration that sounds as if he’s blowing through a comb and tissue paper. Finally he ends his mouthy excursion with impulses that may remind many of a rock/funk guitarist exercising his wah wah pedals rather than a brass tone.

Ceding no ground, Brötzmann sans electronics lets loose on tenor saxophone with the kind of exploding, lung-bruising multiphonics that have defined his identity from the beginning. Just before the coda, though, the saxman yanks out his clarinet. Sticking mostly to the lowest register, he devises some dissonant double timed runs to pair with the muted brass.

While all this is going on upfront, the bassist is rhythmically prodding the piece forward, steady as a pilot directing a dreadnought through a stormy sea. Here he’s usually aided and abetted by the drummer, who decorates Parker’s undivided time keeping with frills and fills, sometimes turning the beat around.

In the past Brötzmann has been part of memorable combos that for all intent and purposes defined EuroImprov. Now in his authoritative maturity he’s recruited three exceptional non-Europeans to illustrate with him the shape of global improv.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. 27’46” 2. 15’ 51” 3. 22’40” 4. 3’52”

Personnel: Toshinori Kondo (trumpet, electronics); Peter Brötzmann (tarogato, alto clarinet, tenor saxophone); William Parker (bass); Hamid Drake (drums)