Peter Brötzmann / Peter Kowald / Sven-Åke Johansson / Fred Van Hove

September 23, 2002

For Adolphe Sax

Atavistic Unheard Music Series ALP 230

Americans might have been in the middle of the psychedelics-fueled Summer of Love in June 1967, but things were a little more complicated in Europe. Especially in the northern part of the continent, politically committed revolutionaries were a lot easier to find than hippies. Educational, generational and societal unrest was rife, protests against racism, colonialism and the Viet Nam war were routine, and the situation existed that would culminate in demonstrations in 1968. European radicals were more likely to be wearing red armbands than flowers in their hair.

Even improvised music reflected this. While the appeal of jazz-rock fusion and pop-jazz hit making was infecting many American musicians, things were more serious overseas. On this, a reissue of his first album, German sax blower Peter Brötzmann and his associates were staking out their own turf with the sort of sonic landmine explosions committed in-your-face risk takers like Albert Ayler, Charles Tyler, Pharoah Sanders and Archie Shepp — all saxophonists — had experimented with a couple of years before.

The world was a lot bigger then before satellite television and MP3s. Brötz and others heard about rather than heard the nascent New Thingers. And the German sax man has always maintained that he was happy to hear Ayler’s earliest discs because it meant that someone else beside him was experimenting with overblowing, multiphonics and the non-song form.

While not as mind-altering as MACHINE GUN, which in 1968 extended this cacophony to a larger group, FOR ADOLPHE SAX, initially issued on the saxophonist’s own Bro label, is still a pretty impressive achievement. For here are two musicians from Wuppertal — Brötz and bassist Peter Kowald — plus an errant Swede — drummer Sven-Åke Johansson producing hard, exhilarating pan-European jazz. Naming the LP after the Belgian inventor of the saxophone was a challenge, not a conceit after all.

What strikes you the most about this session, which has been expanded on CD with the addition of a nearly 10 minute piece which adds Belgian pianist Fred Van Hove to the trio, is the utter lack of dynamics. The Brötzmann of 2002 is Coleman Hawkins compared to the 1967 model, which solos with the ferocity and subtlety of a tank. At the same time, all the musicians look so much younger, as they were, and sound as if they were full of piss and vinegar — at least that’s one way to characterize German wine and beer.

All the tracks are dominated by the saxophonist’s high-pitched, nephritic moans that seem designed to show that his output could be just as ferocious as Ayler’s, whose first ESP-Disk was three years old at the time. Often beginning with a whine, Brötzmann quickly moves into heavy shrieks and keeps up a constant repertoire of glossolalia and note flurries. Highlighting an ever-expanding dissonant tone, every so often he’ll slow down enough to let loose with one of those renal honks which defines his style to this day. Like Ayler, though, and very few others, there are variations in his screams as there are in the wordless shouts of the best soul singers.

Only 23 at the time, Kowald’s presentation is slower and less supple then it would become in subsequent years, but he’s able to match Brötz stroke by stroke. Using his bow to create a swarm of high-pitched buzzes, he’ll unexpectedly fall into the bass clef. “Sanity” (sic) — the shortest track on the album — allows him more scope since his quieter passages don’t have to jockey for real estate with acres of triple tonguing and overblowing.

As an aside, one wonders if the saxophonist’s frenzied playing on the 16 plus minutes of “Morning Glory” was what first created the tale that he literally burst a blood vessel during performance; it certainly seems to be hernia-creating music. That tune is memorable for another reason as well: for a few seconds the riff that would define MACHINE GUN makes its appearance.

While all this is going on, in the background Swedish drummer Sven-Åke Johansson bangs and crashes different parts of his kit like Sunny Murray on those early Ayler LPs. Paradoxically, for someone whose country was becoming a haven for war resisters, his approach often changes from suggestions of door knocking to hearty rat tat tats that almost sound military.

Van Hove, who would go on to be a long-time partner of the saxophonist in a trio with Dutch drummer Han Bennink, is in full energy piano mode on the last track, which

from a radio broadcast, is not as well recorded as the other three. He has to be, though, considering that the intensity of the other three is still there. Brötz also shifts to the baritone, but considering the high-pitched overtones he gets from it, there doesn’t seem to be much variation in sound from his tenor playing. The other overall drawback of all these tunes is that each seems to end rather than come to a logical conclusion, a sensitivity that would only come with maturity.

Thirty-five years later each of the musicians represented here plays differently, but with no loss of commitment. All may be less interested in waving a fist at the bourgeois as they did then, but that stance was necessary at the time. This reissue is still a powerful, rotgut blast of uncompromising free jazz and should be heard for precisely that reason.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. For Adolphe Sax 2. Sanity 3. Morning Glory 4. Everything*

Personnel: Peter Brötzmann (tenor and baritone saxophones); Fred Van Hove (piano)*; Peter Kowald (bass); Sven-Åke Johansson (drums)