Maâlem Moukhtar Gania / Hamid Drake / Peter Brötzmann

February 21, 2021

The Catch of a Ghost

Angelica IDA039IDA041

Peter Brötzmann/Paul Smyth

Tongue in a Bell

Weekertoft 12

Proving once again that age doesn’t diminish creativity –or curiosity – German multi-reedist Peter Brötzmann continues participating in new and provocative sessions. While Irish pianist Paul Smyth joins illustrious predecessor including Fred Van Hove or duo improvisations with Brötzmann, The Catch of a Ghost is something else again. Evolving without false exoticism of non-Western sounds or the equivalent of musical neo-colonialism, the selections match Brötzmann’s tenor saxophone, tarogato and clarinet with the guembri or three-string lute and vocals of Gnawa music master Maâlem Moukhtar Gania, aided by the German’s frequent collaborator American percussionist Hamid Drake.

In sync from when the first stirrings of Brötzmann’s harsh reed vibrations are heard, Tongue in a Bell works three variations on the form. As the saxophonist arches and spears textures scooped from the deepest reaches of his horn’s s-curve or dissected into altissimo and higher-pitched split tones, the pianist counters with arpeggio-rich responses. These include pinpointed single key clips and cascading waves of repeated note clusters, building up to glissandi emphasized with pedal power. At the same time, even as the two exude almost ceaseless sonic tension encompassing nephritic reed cries and tremolo keyboard plinking, surprising lyricism is also fleetingly revealed. There’s even a point during the concluding “Eyes Wide” where Smyth’s staccato key slaps are met by a near balladic interface from the saxophonist that’s spiky but neatly skirts unevenness.

Recorded about 4½ years later in another concert setting, Drake and Brötzmann are assured enough to properly feature Gania’s unique traditional scenarios, but advanced enough in to forestall a pseudo World Music encounter. Since the ritual poetry of Gania’s melismatic Essaouira chanting is unclear in a non-Maghrebian interaction, the others react to it as they would to Jazz vocalese, but with a rhythmic fillip – imagine King Curtis and Pretty Purdie backing Aretha Franklin. But especially on the extended title tune, connection is made to the strumming bass guitar equivalent of Gania’s guembri. Overall the three almost attain a swing groove, cannily propelled by Drake bearing down on backbeat paradiddles and ruffs, while Brötzmann pushes timbral variations skywards with screaming yelps and glissandi, although a slower section allows for some terse a capella note and tone examinations.

Like the Smyth duet, intensity is at a premium during the trio’s four selections, with the saxophonist’s glossolalia especially prominent and Gania’s rubber-band-like twangs adding to the pressurized sound layers. But individual sequences allow for some release. The most unexpected recasting of the program is during “Sound that Shimmers”, which matches bugle-like tarogato tonguing with hand-thumps and tabla-like cadences from Drake as the string player creates an unvarying ostinato.

On the evidence here, as he approaches 80, Brötzmann’s skill and ardor in playing remain absolute. Associates who contribute to his improvisational buoyancy are a bonus, as these CDs attest.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Tongue: 1. Tongue In A Bell 2. Falling Out Of All the Towers of Space 3. Eyes Wide

Personnel: Tongue: Peter Brötzmann (tenor saxophone, tarogato, clarinet) and Paul Smyth (piano)

Track Listing: Catch: 1. The Catch Of A Ghost 2. Almost With the Sun 3. Sound that Shimmers 4. Dip and Dive

Personnel: Catch: Peter Brötzmann (tenor saxophone and tarogato); Maâlem Moukhtar Gania (guembri and voice) and Hamid Drake (percussion)