Peter Brötzmann

June 21, 2004

MP 130
Atavistic Unheard Music Series UMS/ALP 244 CD

The Revolutionary Ensemble
The Psyche
Mutable Music 17514-2

Reissues of two hard-to-find LPs from the mid-1970s point out the differences that had developed between European and American improvisers even at that early date. While both approaches are equally valid, it’s ironic to consider that at this point the Europeans were catapulting harsh, screaming textures reminiscent of the New Thing’s beginning, while it’s the Americans who were more concerned with form and structure in their compositions. Almost 30 years later, the situation is almost completely reversed, though the participants here are mostly committed to their original vision.

Recent reports have had German reedman Peter Brötzmann mellower then he was when this example of European powerhouse improv was released and quickly went out of print. There’s no sign of moderation on this disc, recorded by the saxman and his trio of Dutch drummer Han Bennink and Belgian pianist Fred Van Hove. Bennink too, when he’s not indulging in schtick, varies his playing a bit more nowadays — he doesn’t scream at the top of his lungs or bang every bit of junk percussion in sight as he did in 1973. Only Van Hove, who plays both piano and celeste here is as moderate and melodic as he is today, He left the trio, Van Hove says, after he realized he often couldn’t hear his own playing underneath Bennink’s percussion barrage. Still, his present-day, carefully focused projects undertaken with simpatico players like British saxist John Butcher and German trombonist Johannes Bauer, will never be confused with mainstream jazz — or Van Hove with Oscar Peterson.

On the other hand, the Revolutionary Ensemble was the progenitor of string-focused bands that would follow in its wake both in Europe and North American. True, viola/violist Leroy Jenkins now spends much of his time writing chamber music and in solo performances. But on his own or in groups with saxophonist Joseph Jarman, among others, he still brings the same fire to his playing as he did as an early members of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Music. Bassist Sirone, who is both sure-footed and unconventional in his soloing on this nearly lost 1975 session, works in post-bop groups, usually in Europe. Percussionist Jerome Cooper, who prefers playing solo, adds odd metre drumming and high frequency pianism to THE PSYCHE, utilizing the sort of rhythmic thrust that’s anathema to the more precious string-driven improv bands of today.

Ripping through 10 tunes in less than 40 minutes, the Brötzmann crew makes it clear that they’re ripping a hole in the jazz tradition, even if they figuratively have to do it with their bare hands. The three with others had already recorded LPs under Brötzmann’s name with such unlovely titles as Fuck De Boere, Nipples and Balls, and in this last gasp of 1960s radicalism were still going to épater les bourgeois.Take “Konzert für 2 klarinetten”, for instance. A series of off-putting yells rents the aural surface at times, as if the shrill, ear splitting variations in the clarinets’ highest register from Brötzmann and Bennink wasn’t enough of an aural affront. And “Paukenhändschen im blaubeerenwald” ends with a shout from the drummer and a blaring honk from the saxman. It begins with steady snorts from Brötzmann’s horn and Van Hove sounding an accompanying line on the celeste that morphs into a cousin of “Ain’t She Sweet”. Brötzmann holds low notes on his bass sax for such an extended period that he could be prefiguring late 1990s electronica. Meanwhile Bennink revels in his primitive percussionist, smashing all items in his roomful of percussion as hard as possible over and over again, so that even non-resonating surfaces resonate. On “Nr. 6”, which is the ninth track — go figure — Brötzmann’s initial reed figure appears to be played at the top of his lungs, with his sax bell pressed against a sheet of metal. Van Hove uses a tune-up trick to get him to moderate — the pianist pumps out a high frequency rapid tremolos to counter the reedist stop-and-go rhythms. Finally Brötzmann ejaculates chorus after chorus of overblown split tones as Bennink rolls wooden stick on the studio floor and growls from deep inside his throat.

Maybe the seeds of Van Hove’s later dissatisfaction in such uncompromising noise assaults can be noted among the musical thunderstorms the two Bs bring to the disc. At various time the pianist produces low-key pastoral timbres that wouldn’t be out of place at a chamber music recital, relaxed, walking bass expostulations, choruses alive with a Spanish tinge, and a descending chorus on “ Nr. 4” that could have come from Lennie Tristano. Some of those performances may have been conceived of as burlesque in 1973. But when Van Hove later compared what he was playing with Bennink’s caveman yells and sandpaper hard runs and Brötzmann’s solos that suggest he was excising his spleen through his horn’s bell, the piano man may have had second thoughts. They don’t make ‘em like they used to, and if your tastes run to hell-bent-for-leather improvising you won’t want to miss out on FMP 0130.

A similar situation exists with The Psyche, the Revolutionary Ensembles fabled lost LP, put out on its own RE label in 1975 and only briefly available, mostly in Europe, and never re-pressed. By this point Jenkins, Cooper and Sirone had evolved into three musicians outstandingly attuned to one another’s strength. In the spirit of true democracy each contributed a composition to the date.

Sirone’s “Hu-man” is mostly a forum to show off the members’ individual talents. Made up of the standard theme-variations-reprise of theme, the bassman uses the middle section to slide from walking bass lines to strums, slaps and individual note pinpointing. Meanwhile Cooper rumbles along with constant cymbal accents and Jenkins squirts out elongated lines, triple stopping and shuffle bowing.More substantial is Jenkins’ “Collegno” (sic), named for a playing technique that uses the wood of the bow on the strings. Underlying the entire performance is an ostinato of scraped and scuffed tones created by Sirone. At times the droning pressure become thicker, with the bassist’s scuffed and scraped textures creating a distinctive thematic grouping. On top of this — almost definitely not col legno — the violinist embroiders an ethereal, staccato melody, while the drummer produces duple and single beats. A crescendo of swelling string sounds ends the piece.

Showpiece at almost 26½ minutes — or more than half of the CD’s length — is Cooper’s “Invasion”. Filled with dramatic interplay as the three divide successive themes into smaller and smaller motives, included are transformations and adaptations of techniques and styles. Mixing chain ratting and snare beats, Cooper introduces steady syncopation from his cymbals. Joined by Sirone’s walking bass, the theme soon splinters as the bassist first strums, then double stops harder pitches. Similarly, Jenkins shuffle bows a long lined tremolo that leeches into viola d’amore territory.Midway through, Cooper unveils low frequency, meandering piano vibrations and circular semi-tones. Soon he’s engaged in a prolonged fantasia that speeds up the tempo to such an extent that he enters player-piano territory. Sirone proves that he’s able to produce as many timbres with his four strings as the piano can, then downshifts to bass clef timekeeping.

That motive seems to be a clue for Jenkins to re-enter, scratching at higher pitches, then exhibiting a shaking side vibrato with the bow skewed in such a way to get both harmonic forward motion and multiphoinics. Sirone strums his strings as Cooper’s cymbal chiming reappears. With the viola squealing out shrill pitches, plus the snares and toms banging, rhythmic movement rests with the bass. Then the piece just ends.An appreciation that the journey is just as important as the destination is needed to fully understand The Psyche. Still anyone usually attracted by the Revolutionary Ensemble, Leroy Jenkins or merely fine, uncomplicated improvising will be impressed by this date.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 130: 1. For Donaueschingen ever 2. Konzert für 2 klarinetten 3. Nr. 7 4. Wir haben uns folgendes überlegt 5. Paukenhändschen im blaubeerenwald 6. Nr. 9 7. Gere bij 8. Nr. 4 9. Nr. 6 10. Donaueschingen For Ever

Personnel: 130: Peter Brötzmann (clarinet, alto, tenor, baritone and bass saxophones); Fred Van Hove (piano and celeste) and Han Bennink (drums, khene, rhythm-box, self-made clarinet, gachi, oe-oe, tins, home-made junk, elong, dhung, kaffir piano, dhung-dkar and voice)

Track Listing: Psyche: 1. Invasion 2. Hu-man 3. Collegno

Personnel: Psyche: Leroy Jenkins (violin and viola); Sirone (bass) and Jerome Cooper (drums and piano)