Thomas Heberer / Peter Brötzmann / Ken Vandermark / Marino Pliakas / Michael Wertmüller / Dirk Rothbrust

May 31, 2012

Sketches and Ballads

Trost TR 107

Peter Brötzmann & Jörg Fischer

Live in Wiesbaden

NotTwo MW 877-2

Now that he’s into his eighth decade, German reedist Peter Brötzmann, who plays alto and tenor saxophone, clarinet and tárogató here, is becoming like Ol’ Man River – he just keeps rolling along. This accomplishment would seem less noteworthy if the Wuppertal-based player wasn’t on the road in a variety of formations as often and for as lengthy a time as musicians one-third his age; if he didn’t still play with the same nephritic intonation as he did on his first recording session in 1965; and if his soloing wasn’t still rife with the same intelligent intensity he has demonstrated often during his long career.

Two different – if familiar – settings enliven these discs. Live in Wiesbaden captures the initial recorded duo between the veteran reedist and local drummer Jörg Fischer. Fischer, who often plays with the likes of pianist Uwe Oberg, joins the long line of percussionists from Han Bennink to Hamid Drake who have matched wits with Brötzmann. Recorded about 15 months later during Donaueschingher’s Music Days, Sketches and Ballads is a single track blow-out, centred on the composition of another drummer, Swiss Michael Wertmüller, who with Zürich electric bassist Marino Pliakas, makes up one of Brötzmann’s working trios. Bringing to mind other staccato exercises in mass blowing such as John Coltrane’s Ascension and Brötzmann’s Machine Gun, this CD includes added sonic ballast when three other players join the basic trio. They are Chicago’s Ken Vandermark on baritone saxophone and clarinet, who also plays with Brötzmann in the all-horn Sonore trio and Chicago Tenet; German-born New York-based trumpeter Thomas Heberer, best-known for his years in Holland’s ICP Orchestra; and German percussionist Dirk Rothbrust, whose membership in the Schlagquartett Köln confirms his mastery of notated as well as improvised music.

Built up from kinetic drum rolls and thick electric bass rumbles in ever-thickening waves, Sketches and Ballads’s exposition soon open up for a series of solos including Vandermark stuttering and slithering narrowed tones from the clarinet and flutter-tongued trumpeting and renal extensions from Brötzmann’s low-pitched tenor saxophone. The polyrhythmic wall of sound is almost opaque, since Rothbrust’s kettle drums reverberate powerfully alongside the composer’s measured regular kit thumps. Staccato counterpoint exists between Vandermark’s baritone snorts and Heberer’s heraldic triplet runs, but it’s Brötzmann’s nearly out-of-control tárogató interludes that fully define the performance. The penultimate sequence eventually moderates as scrupulously positioned bass drum echoes back up a moderate reading of a funereally paced tenor saxophone sequence. Initially suggesting “Round Midnight”, Brötzmann’s final solo speeds up to altissimo yowls, which are matched in frenzy by Heberer’s trumpet spits. Shaped by muscular pops and ruffs from the dual percussionists, the stop-time finale shudders to a halt.

Tossing timbres every which way during the preceding four tracks on Live in Wiesbaden, Brötzmann and Fischer attain an epiphany of sorts by the middle section of “Cute Cuts”, which finds the grizzled stylist exposing his variant of tough-tenor lyricism. Initially his shrill reflux, ululating puffs and triple-tongued popping and stopping answer the question of what result from a merger of bugle calls from a Prussian cavalry band and Albert Ayler’s tenor saxophone glossolalia. Nonetheless, Brötzmann reverts to whistling shrillness and shrieks while Fischer clatters his cymbals with rhythmic intensity by the tune’s climax.

Throughout the initial exposition, the parallel improvising is defined by paradiddle pops, clattering ruffs and cymbal ringing on one side and lung-scraping nephritic cries and continuously breathed low-pitched snorts from the other. Respite comes when the primeval wood texture exposed by the drummer’s nerve beats and stick-work clanks pull back as stentorian vibrations from the tárogató speak of timber a well as timbre.

Meanwhile the pre-“Cute Cuts” climax is reached during the nearly 20-minute “Buddy Wrapping”, a title open to all sorts of interpretations. Sonically, Brötzmann’s tongue pressure is such that his reed bites and glottal slaps divide as they’re emphasized, revealing multi tones for each vibration he blows. Meanwhile the drummer’s reverberations are as polyrhythmic as the reedist’s are polyphonic: nakedly proffering kinetic slaps, constant pounding and thick friction. The tension reaches such concrete textures that it seems that the two will soon tumble into Bedlam-related mouth-frothing, before horn buzzes and splutters lead the piece to a responsive finale.

At 70, Brötzmann has lost none of the old piss and vinegar in his performances. And these session match him with a coteries of youngsters who can keep up with him, mano-à-mano or in a group.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Sketches: 1. Sketches and Ballads

Personnel: Sketches: Thomas Heberer (trumpet); Peter Brötzmann (tenor saxophone and tárogató); Ken Vandermark (baritone saxophone and, clarinet); Marino Pliakas (electric bass); Michael Wertmüller (drums) and Dirk Rothbrust (percussion and timpani)

Track Listing: Live: 1. Productive Cough 2. The Steady Hand as Planned 3. Buddy Wrapping 4. Song for Fred 5. Cute Cuts

Personnel: Live: Peter Brötzmann (alto and tenor saxophones, clarinet and tárogató) and Jörg Fischer (drums)