It seems unlikely now, but when Peter Brötzmann played a London Jazz Festival concert with his Blast First trio in November 2008, it was his first English concert in years. He’s since become a frequent visitor, having forged a relationship with Cafe Oto to rival Evan Parker’s long association with The Vortex.
Brötzmann’s brace of 2011 Oto performances with his mighty Chicago Tentet topped many critics ‘best of the year’ lists, including my own. The current trio, ADA (named for the café in Wuppertal where they debuted last year), is a Tentet splinter group, with Brötzmann on soprano, tenor sax and clarinet, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello, electric tenor guitar and effects, and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums.
ADA was at Oto for two nights, with a special guest sitting in on each night’s second set: pianist Pat Thomas on the 19th, and drummer Paul Noble on the 20th. Ecstatic reports of Noble’s tag-team sit-in with Paal Nilssen-Love and Lean Left during their Oto residency last October (which I missed, opting instead to review the alternative night of that residency) made a tough choice easier than it might have been.
Brötzmann is renowned for the supposed aggression of his playing (his sound was once described in Jazzwise magazine as “a raw, brutal, brawny bark of intense rage that doesn’t so much carry a tune as knock it to the floor and kick it to death”). That’s far from the whole picture. Brötzmann is effectively traduced in this way, much as Albert Ayler, his presiding spirit, was before him. There’s more to either man’s style than stentorian bluster. Witness Ayler’s yearning tenderness, an echo of which came to the fore in Brotzmann’s sound during an early duet with Nilssen-Love.
Much of ADA’s sometimes needling aggression actually emanates from Fred Lonberg-Holm, who wefts his amplified cello and occasional electric bass into the trio fabric to give it backbone. Exceptionally, in an early, abstract cello solo, he bent to the floor to trigger raw sound shards from an array of pedals and switches at his feet. Brötzmann and Nilssen-Love listened on, appearing stoical and bemused respectively. The saxophonist’s reaction, when it came, was surprisingly tender. When Lonberg-Holm bows his cello he uncoils guitar-like smears of processed sound. On switching to 4-string electric bass, he initially plays long sustains that, ironically, make it sound like a straight cello, but that’s only a starting point.
A second-set duet between Lonberg-Holm and Nilssen-Love was responsive and controlled at first, turning mournfully lyrical when Brötzmann came in on clarinet. Nilssen-Love then took an angular solo with bare hands, and Brötzmann reacted terrier-like, as he sometimes does, locking onto the melodic implications of the rhythm patterns and grizzling away at them through tight-lipped flurries.
Nilssen-Love plays with his elbows in and forearms tautly flexed, striking with whip-crack reflexivity. Steve Noble, sitting in for the second set, is more expansive and impressionistic, just as controlled but playing more expansively. Each played to their particular strengths, never simply doubling up on each other, rather developing a polyrhythmic brew rich with tonal potentialities.
The dual drum battery kicked into the set with martial intensity. Noble eased back a little after a while, to explore peripheral percussion, but Brötzmann’s entry—now on tenor sax—stoked the music to such a pitch of sustained aggression that a sweat-soaked Nilssen-Love ultimately bowed out altogether. Lonberg-Holm drew the heat down a little, exploiting his array of effects for rich textural extrapolations and colour play.
In a contrasting highlight of the night that came soon after, Brötzmann developed a gorgeous blues-soaked melody, which might have been a standard; certainly it sounded a little too refined for straight improv, even for Brötzmann. But Oto’s John Chantler, who has the sound desk recordings for reference, suggests that Brötzmann played the same melody during his 2010 concert with Steve Noble and John Edwards (which will, incidentally, soon be released as the first vinyl album on the venue’s new record label, OTO Roku, entitled “the worse the better”). In any case, its gravid sensitivity was vivid enough to haunt the memory.
Noble and Nilssen-Love extemporised on Brötzmann’s theme on gongs, cymbals, and miscellaneous preparations, prompting Lonberg-Holm to attack his cello with a harsh pizzicato. Brötzmann, back on soprano, responded with a harsher lyricism, leading the quartet into a raging percussive squall. Lonberg-Holm switched back to his four-string electric bass and trickboxes, introducing loops of grainy sustain effects that lower the tempo a fraction, but Brötzmann kept the fire stoked, carrying the quartet across a fierce double plateau to the finale.
There was an encore, of course, which notable for Noble’s swing and Brötzmann’s measured soloing on clarinet, but forgive me if I wasn’t taking notes by that point.
Peter Brötzmann, Keiji Haino, Jim O’Rourke – Two City Blues 2.
Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet – Concert for Fukushima DVD.
Long Story Short – Wels 2011 Curated by Peter Brötzmann + Konstrukt feat. Peter Brötzmann – Eklisia Sunday.
Brötzmann, Adasiewicz, Edwards, Noble – Mental Shake + Brötzmann, Noble – I Am Here Where Are You.