Full Blast & Friends – Sketches and Ballads

Full Blast is Peter Brötzmann’s power trio with electric bassist Marino Pliakas and drummer Michael Wertmüller, here expanded to a sextet in order to tackle Wertmüller’s composition, Sketches and Ballads.

Where Full Blast have previously trammelled Brötzmann’s machine-gun blare inside a power-trio straight-jacket (albeit to occasionally devastating efect), Wertmuller’s compositional framework here is both intricate and spacious (it apparently runs to 50 tightly packed pages). The recording (released on Trost) showcases Brötzmann’s lyrical side in a wholly original way, since for once his devotion to the Albert Ayler sound is very little in evidence. The composer/drummer’s time changes are more intricate, and ideas and emotive contrasts much more compacted and sharply defined than in Brötzmann’s work either solo or collective.

Wertmüller titled Sketches and Ballads with a nod to Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain, and correspondences can be discerned in its marriage of compositional density to jazz-inflected phrasing and harmonies, all enlivened by the musicians’ improvisational impulse.

And what impulses! Full Blast’s friends on this session are Ken Vandermark on baritone sax and clarinet, Thomas Herber on trumpet, and, percussionist/timpanist Dirk Rothbrust, providing the rich palette that Wertmüller’s richly dramatic music demands.

Although presented as a single 36-minute piece, Sketches and Ballads really does run through a succession of more-or-less ruminative passages, all linked by surging fortissimo eruptions and passages of atonality that fully exploit the galvanising potentialities of e-bass and dual percussion.

The atypical opening salvo recalls Brötzmann’s involvement in Last Exit. Not the group’s sclerotic live recordings, but their one-off studio date, Iron Path, which was ruinously over-produced by bassist Bill Laswell. Pliakas’ e-bass sound sometimes evokes Laswell’s playing on studio dates like Iron Path and Akira Sakata’s contemporaneous Mooko., but also (as at 21:50) deploys effects that add a richly individualistic character to the more conventional free jazz discourse between brass and reeds.

Thomas Herber is apparently a New York resident, so I’m surprised I’ve not come across him before. His astounding extemporised solo at around 19:00 is one of the album’s various highlights; another is the unique e-bass sound Pliakas uses to bridge from it to the brief explosive outburst from Brötzmann that follows. The saxophonist’s own solo at about 31:00 is, by contrast, one of the most tender I’ve heard him play. Vandermark and Herber follow that up with a delicate, intricate duet before the collective surge toward a climax borne along on Wertmüller’s blast beats. Vandermark is superb but understated throughout, his discrimination and restraint (albeit his tone is full-blooded) contrasting nicely with Brötzmann’s bracing frankness on tenor or acute expressivity on tárogató.

This is a superb recording, and its unique qualities make it a recommended purchase for Brötzmann devotees. What’s more, the detail of this live performance from October 2010 was beautifully captured by Reinhard Kager for SWR, such that I initially assumed it resulted from a studio session.

Related Posts
Sonore: Cafe OTO/London
Peter Brötzmann ADA Trio at Cafe OTO, February 2012

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