Peter Brötzmann / William Parker / Thomas Borgmann / Charles Downs

October 13, 2003

The Cooler Suite

GROB 539

Serendipitous accomplishment, this live quartet disc is one of those unplanned sessions that ends up being released when it’s discovered that the night’s work was better than anyone imagined.

Flushed with the go-for-broke excitement that characterizes the best Free Jazz, the CD is a cleaned up version of what was recorded over an a cheap ferro cassette of demos that German saxophonist Thomas Borgmann shoved into the mixing board one night in 1997. A DAT recorder wasn’t working.

The place was a now-defunct Manhattan dive called The Cooler and the dramatis personae the Münster-born, Berlin-based Borgmann on sopranino and tenor saxophones; Wupppertal’s Peter Brötzmann on alto and tenor saxophones and a-clarinet; plus two Americans: bassist William Parker and drummer Rashied Bakr, who together make up the rhythm section of Other Dimensions in Music. Brötz and Borg are also old buds; Parker has played often with Brötzmann; and Borgmann’s American associates are numerous, although excepting Bakr, who usually toils as a social worker.

Maybe because no one thought of this as anything other than a regular gig, the pressure was off for anything but creation of the music.

Beginning with a raw burst of glossolalia in Brötzmann’s distinctive reed-shredding style, the two, almost half-hour tracks develop as the saxman, seconded by Borgmann, pours on the power and is met by the equal power from Bakr and especially Parker. Due to another miscalculation, the bassist, plugged right into the mixing board, comes across so “hot” that at times his tugs, strums and reverberations threaten to submerge even Brötz’s improvising.

Not that can happen. Beginning with undulation of unalloyed screech, his reed work — backed by a complementary counterline from the other tenor — forces Parker to quadruple stop and the drummer to keep up a steady rat tat tat on his snares and a woodblock. Speaking of wood, Parker often seems to be sawing it as much as he plays on it, as he strokes and manipulates his instrument and the four strands of catgut mercilessly. After Brötz switches to clarinet, the piece become even more of a duet for a time with the saxman’s gangling chalumeau vibrations spurring the bassist to guitar-like strums, double stop up high near his pegs and walloping his strings foursquare.

Although Bergmann’s double-tongued trills on his sour, Eastern sounding sopranino try soon to mellow the proceedings, the others have none of it. Split-tones, honks and reed-biting obbligatos push Wuppertal’s finest further, so that he ends the piece shrieking like a horror movie werewolf, newly liberated from a dark cave. “Part 1” is all tension and no release.

“Part 2” continues in the same jugular vein, with Brötzmann’s renal squeals turning first to spetrofluctuation, then to nasty growls as the drums roll and ratasmascue and the bass timbres fluctuate from triple stopping to wooden board-like hammering. Abandoning timbres that resemble chalk scratching a blackboard, the clarinet and sopranino mix floating tones — a half step apart — until the rhythm section pulse reaches such a crescendo of musique brut that Brötz inserts the larger horn into his mouth again and enters stratospheric, ear-splitting territory. Blowing higher, harder and with enough diffuse notes so that his reed vibrations have vibrations, he brings Borgmann back into the mix as they combine into a weird harmony of blowing and honking. Ending is a single press roll from the drummer.

With the audience as pumped as you would hear at a Punk or Heavy Metal concert, THE COOLER SUITE shows that a quartet of men in their forties and fifties have to take back seats to no one when it comes to producing surges of white hot excitement.

It should be noted, though, that this is no audiophile recording. Besides the over-recording of Parker’s bass, the sound is sometimes unstable and cuts out for several seconds a couple of times. Like the Dizzy Gillespie-Charlie Christian sessions at Minton’s or Albert Ayler’s at Slugs, a decision has to be made here whether music or high fidelity is of paramount importance to you.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. The Cooler Suite Part 1 2. The Cooler Suite Part 2

Personnel: Thomas Borgmann (sopranino and tenor saxophones); Peter Brötzmann (alto and tenor saxophones, a-clarinet); William Parker (bass); Rashied Bakr (drums)