Peter Brötzmann / Oliver Schwerdt / John Eckhardt / John Edwards / Christian Lillinger

June 16, 2020


Euphorium Records Euph 066

At this point in a career that has lasted almost 60 years there’s very little that can be said about German multi-reedist Peter Brötzmann, 78. He also seems to have played with enough other improvisers to populate a metropolis as large as his native Wuppertal. Yet as someone who prides himself on always giving his all during improvisation he can be roused to new levels of improvisation. So that’s what happened during this concert with what was dubbed the Big Bad Brötzmann Quintet.

Instructively, his associates here whose aggressive sound making is as pronounced as his own, are one or two generations younger than him. Yet their dive and commitment has been honed through affiliations with numerous visionary players of many ages including Evan Parker, Baby Sommer and Joe McPhee. Gathered around Leipzig-based pianist/organizer Oliver Schwerdt, they are Berlin-based percussionist Christian Lillinger, London-based bassist John Edwards and bassist John Eckhardt, who teaches at the Hamburg conservatory.

With drum rolls, bass string buzzes and piano clanks as well as the expected nephritic squawks and harsh tonguing from Brötzmann’s tenor saxophone, the Big Bad five are off on a dynamic blitzkrieg from the get-go. Stentorian bass string plucks, distinctive keyboard pulsations and dynamic drum kicks mixed with tambourine rattles helps push the saxophonist. But the pentacle affiliation is sympathetic enough to pull him back from the point of no return, calming altissimo screeches to clarion middle tones after reaching the mid-point and Brötzmann switches to woody tarogato. This isn’t a one-man show however and the careful insertion of cross pounding kinetics from Schwerdt, excited ruffs and plops from Lillinger and the two bassists trading off slaps, scrubs, squeaks, swabs and slides with spiccato or sul tasto stops are as important to the narrative as the reed work. Even with the four providing the sympathetic glissandi and cross tones alongside Brötzmann’s pinched corkscrew variations, this intensity doesn’t appear to be enough, so he switches to clarinet shrills. As the pianist also prods and pushes arpeggios across the keys and the bassists swirl and ricochet string textures from tuning pegs down to the instruments’ spikes, Brötzmann’s reed snarls reach a climax of speaking-in-tongues variables and screeching split tones. That’s when Lillinger’s ruffs and plops plus low-pitched piano clips and string plucks unite all sonic parts into a spectacular finale.

If Karacho! proves the adage that “free jazz keeps you young”; it also confirms that it creates credible musical maturity among younger improvisers.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Karacho!

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