The trio of Brötzmann, bassist John Edwards and drummer Steve Noble first played together at Cafe OTO in January 2010. That meeting was captured on The Worse the Better, the first recording issued on the venue’s in-house OTOROKU label. Since Brötzmann has subsequently called time on the long-running Chicago Tentet, London and the city’s resident Edwards/Noble partnership have afforded the saxophonist a new locus, and a new dynamic.
Even more so another recent Brötzmann tag partner, Chicago-based vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz. The duo’s 2011 recording, Going all Fancy (Brö) is one of the freshest items in the entire Brötzmann catalogue, thanks to the interplay of throaty sax and the vibraphone’s bright, refractive sonorities. That freshness also lifts the first of these two new albums well above the routine.
Brötzmann, Adasiewicz, Edwards, Noble – Mental Shake (OTOROKU)
Peter Brötzmann alto sax, tenor sax, B-flat clarinet, tarogato; Jason Adasiewicz vibraphone; John Edwards double bass; Steve Noble drums.
Mental Shake was recorded live at Cafe OTO in August 2013, the last set of a two-night stand. I was there the night before, and from memory the music that night was perhaps a shade more intense. Adasiewicz made a particularly striking impression, bodily pin-balling off his instrument, often almost caroming into the audience. The physically of his approach reflected the physicality of the quartet in general: Edwards and Noble can play with immense and apparently inexhaustible vigour. On Mental Shake such intensities are often withheld, the group modulate their attack to allow vibe sustains to bloom in lustrous sonorities that soak up some of the hoarseness of Brötzmann’s lung-burst saxophony. Here, the reedsman, though often typically gruff, is just as often at his most lyrical.
Noble begins on mallets, fully differentiating the dual layers of percussives, rolling out a bed of rhythm, while Edwards’ bass thrums steadily. The latter soon drops out, allowing Broetzmann’s coarsely fibrous tarogato to find its trajectory, but the bass comes in again emphatically as Noble’s rhythm consolidates into a surge. Noble’s beat repetition, reflected in Adasiewicz first chiming vibes solo, makes for instant ear-appeal, and thereafter, rather than simply intensify as one might expect, the quartet break their impetus down for passages of carefully modulated recalibration. There’s plenty of tension here, and plenty of heat generated, but there are also moments of reflection.
Through the second quarter of the single 40-minute performance, the group sound is exploded, with Noble exploring non-rhythmic percussives, and Edwards switching between free bowing and exploratory fingering. The recording is excellent, and though the bassist was apparently hampered by a broken house bass and a failing amplifier, clear separation allows the lissom pliability of his invention to punch through.
A trio without Brötzmann provides the set’s most reflective, luminous and original passage of music, and I’d like to hear a full set of Adasiewicz/Edwards/Noble. But I’d not wish Brötzmann away. Before the set ends, he plays a clearly melodic, blues-soaked line that has Edwards walking the bass in response, and Noble alternately marking time with cymbal clicks and launching exhortatory barrages of percussion over which Adasiewicz’ vibes play shimmering accents.
Brötzmann, Noble – I Am Here Where Are You (Trost)
Peter Brötzmann tenor sax, alto sax, B-clarinet, tarogato; Steve Noble drums.
I Am Here Where Are You was recorded live in Brussels in january 2013, just a few months before Mental Shake. As usual, Brötzmann takes credit for the artwork on both releases. Notwithstanding the zeppelin and iron bridge on the Mental Shake cover, there seems to be some continuity of thought here. I’m not sure the neolithic toilet-wall muff-scratch that graces I Am Here Where Are You is entirely to my taste, but, as anyone who’s seen or read a worthwhile Brötzmann interview will know, it reflects his straightforward bluffness on matters sexual.
No doubt that feeds into his music. At the end of the first quarter-hour blast, which gives the album its name, and throughout the second, the equally tumultuous “If Find is Found”, the old goat Brötzmann blows himself ragged. Noble proves an excellent foil, matching the saxophonist’s typically staccato, breath-length phrasing with rolling, octapedal flurries of percussion.
Switching from clarinet to tenor sax, Brötzmann begins “Mouth on Moth” with a solo rumination that borders on introspection. Noble comes in gently at first, a light patter of stickswork across the various drumheads, but a channelled surge of drum rolls soon carries Brotzmann’s licks into whiter waters.
Noble gets to introduce “No Basis”, playing off gongs and small metal cymbals placed onto the drum heads, and initially this piece is lighter and more texturally varied than what frames it, even with Brötzmann coming back in on clarinet. At first he is tender, but his breath is pinched thinner as his lines gradually come faster and more compressed. The tension this engenders eases in a brief respite for stocktaking, but the finale is tightly-coiled and frenetically kinetic.
Those last two pieces each run to under ten minutes. The last, “A Skin Falls Off”, lasts less than six, but it’s another barrage of blustery assertion rather than the expected contrasting change of pace. Where Mental Shake has enough nuance overall to appeal to jazz fans as well as fire music aficionados, this one’s fierce enough for free jazz purists.
Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet – Concert for Fukushima DVD
Long Story Short – Wels 2011 Curated by Peter Brötzmann (5 CD)
Konstrukt feat. Peter Brötzmann – Eklisia Sunday
Sonore – Cafe OTO/London
Full Blast & Friends – Sketches and Ballads