These albums present two very different sides of German free jazz saxophonist Peter Brötzmann. Both are concert recordings, captured only three months apart. Soul Food Available (Clean Feed), is a trio date that has Brötzmann and co. tearing new holes into European free music. The solo Münster Bern (Cubus), on the other hand, has its intensities but is overall a more thoughtful and introspective set.
Both are all-acoustic, but otherwise they represent extremes of Brötzmann current range (not much sign, these days, of the seriously playful music Brötzmann made with Han Bennink and Fred van Hove circa ’71).
Münster Bern documents Brötzmann’s solo concert, in October 2013, at the Gothic Bern Minster, Switzerland, and it’s very much a site-specific performance: the cathedral’s huge reverb saturates everything. With no architectural compression to damp Brötzmann’s characteristic lung-bursts they hang in space, assuming a dimensionality that the saxophonist can sculpt.
The clarion cries that open “Bushels and Bundles”, with Brötzmann on tarogato (Hungarian reed instrument), offer a precis of his blunt, declamatory style, but also seem to suggest, if only in passing, muezzin calls and traditional Balkan music. Ranging freely through various modes, Brötzmann turns introspective before lofting again in flocking high-register trills and increasingly sour brays. It’s a great example of Brötzmann unfettered; much freer than his literary-inspired solo studio outings such as 14 Love Poems (FMP, 2004).
The longest cut, “Crack in the Sidewalk” is played on alto, patiently for the most part. Phrases unfurl almost languidly, in melodic rumination, and bracingly acidic spikes of intensity only serve to highlight the deftness of the saxophonist’s lyrical instinct. At ~7:30 he plays something that reminds me of Don Cherry’s “Brown Rice”, then teases and tears the germ of that melody apart, following a chain of association that takes him into rougher waters.
Brötzmann switches to clarinet for the initially hushed and haunting “Move and Separate”, before punctuating any sense of introspection with harsh spikes of emphasis and abrupt, vaulting squeals. Then, lapsing into calmness, he again reaches through beauty to grasp a thornier proposition. Each piece develops as a rich, multi-faceted character study of the chosen instrument.
“Chaos of Human Affairs” has Brötzmann, on tenor now, ranging freely in an Ayleresque mode of exhortation, ending on what could be a straight quote from a spiritual. Then there’s just an encore piece, still on tenor, “The Very Heart of Things”, which begins as another new take on Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman” (Brötzmann played it on baritone on 14 Love Poems, and on alto on the solo portion of Solo + Trio Roma (Victo, 2012)), but Brötzmann opens the piece up and vigorously dissects it before returning to its starkly beautiful theme.
Of the very many albums to Brötzmann’s name, Münster Bern is one that can offer obsession-slaked completists something new.
Soul Food Available, recorded at Ljubljana Jazz Festival, Slovenia, in July 2013 by Brötzmann’s ‘English’ trio with bassist John Edwards and drummer Steve Noble, is only the trio’s second album, following their 2010 live debut, The Worse the Better (OTOroku). Augmented by vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz they delivered one of Brötzmann’s most rounded albums of recent times in Mental Shake (OTOroku, 2013), recorded just one month later. But Soul Food Available picks up more of the heat of the earlier, intense and combustive Brötzmann/Noble duo recording I Am Here Where Are You (Trost, 2013).
Bassist John Edwards, an imposingly intense and aggressive player with an emphatically taut sound and an inventive and unfussy mastery of extended bass technique, is Noble’s longstanding partner in multiple established and ad hoc trios—notable among the former being N.E.W., with guitarist Alex ward, and Decoy, with Alexander Hawkins on Hammond Organ—so Brötzmann is tapping a vigorously road-tested dynamic here.
Edwards is rather swamped by the mix on the generically pell-mell intro to the 43:36 title piece, but at ~7:40 there’s a short break for bass and drums that exposes both the intricacy and propulsive immediacy of Edwards’ bass work, and his ability to match kinetic percussives with Noble. Their on-a-dime responsiveness to Brötzmann’s re-entry with a nice line in bruised blues is just beautiful.
By 11:00 the trio are flying again, but Edwards and Noble, so phenomenal when experienced live, sound much lighter in mediation. You can hear, clearly, how intense the performance is, but this recording doesn’t convey any physical sense of its exhilaration. The detail is there, but not the presence.
Noble has a brief solo at 14:10, which he plays rhythmically taut, bridging to a new trio passage. With Brötzmann now on tarogato and Edwards bowing, the mood is momentarily ruminative, but Noble drives the pace higher. Before long he’s practically swinging along on tom rolls and cymbal splashes, Edwards plucking nimbly beneath him as Brötzmann spiels through licks at speed.
The strong pulse of this music is compelling, but the trio never succumb to collective entropy. There’s a near-telepathic hiatus at 22:30, leaving just Edwards and Noble working over the embers of their former energy and Edwards occasionally re-asserting its pulse. Brötzmann re-enters muted, and the music smoulders awhile before another spark catches, briefly, only to be smothered by sinuously bowed and rebarbative bass.
Here (~35:00) Brötzmann plays a lovely clarinet solo, to only the subtlest of accompaniment. This brief passage is one of the most sensitive I’ve heard on any Brötzmann album. The trio ratchet slowly up to a climax, but eventually, tastefully, opt to fall back into the grace of that moment.
Two shorter, yet still substantial pieces remain. Noble is marvellously assertive on “Don’t Fly Away” (08:00), pushing Brötzmann to blow hard and fast, the whole take buttressed by Edwards’ thrumming bass. Again, they end on a melodically rich diminuendo.
“Nail Dogs by Ears” (06:40) has Brötzmann briefly solo and introspective. When Edwards and Noble join in, they give a concise masterclass in dynamic control and compression. This short piece somehow encapsulates the album’s expansive whole.
I thought I’d conclude with an assessment of Soul Food Available as one of the less essential recordings in the Brötzmann discography, but I’ve changed my mind. As the title suggests, It’s actually quite soulful in parts. And it is an essential entry in Noble and Edwards’ burgeoning and eclectic joint discography.
Peter Brötzmann reeds + (on Soul Food Available only) John Edwards bass; Steve Noble drums.
Brötzmann, Adasiewicz, Edwards, Noble – Mental Shake + Brötzmann, Noble – I Am Here Where Are You.
Peter Brötzmann, Keiji Haino, Jim O’Rourke – Two City Blues 2.
Peter Brötzmann ADA trio + Steve Noble at Cafe Oto, 20 Feb 2012.