Song Sentimentale (OTORoku) is a split format release, with different music on different formats with the same title and cover art.
These are live recordings – belated sequels to 2001’s Never Too Late But Always Too Early (Eremite), which is perhaps the pick of all Brötzmann’s recorded work. They document the reunion of Peter Brötzmann, Hamid Drake and William Parker – 2/3 of the great Die Like a Dog quartet – and their magic is still very much intact.
With six sets recorded over three nights at London’s Cafe Oto in January 2015 to cull from, the label has elected to put two titles out on LP and three others on CD, with all available as downloads. Both physical formats have been thoughtfully compiled
I went to two of those concerts, and both featured long first sets of pretty intense improvisation and more rhythmically-orientated second sets, which began with Hamid Drake accompanying his own vocals on frame drum, and Parker playing a guembri (Moroccan three stringed lute), shakuhachi (Japanese flute), or shenai (Asian oboe). The CD, which has the greater variety of material, ends with one such cut, while the LP is focused entirely on more discursive improvisation.
The 24:58 title piece, the main feature of the LP, is meat-and-potatoes Brötzmann, but an exceptionally well-rounded performance. It begins with Brötzmann sounding a sour Jericho blast as the opening salvo in a long sequence of lung-burst variations on tárogató (Hungarian reed instrument). Meanwhile Drake whips up a crisp rhythm and Parker’s bass maintains a centre of low pressure pulse before taking over rhythm duties to let Drake mix things up.
Together they marshall freedom, always measuring time and rhythm against the tidal momentum the whole thing coheres to – a bravura performance that’s always focused on the right now. There’s intensity here, but after Brötzmann takes a breather, then re-enters on tenor sax, it slowly leaches into tenderness, and the lengthy resolution is beautifully measured.
The LP flip, the 18:52 “Dark Blues”, continues where “Song Sentientale” leaves off, with Brötzmann ruminatively blue on tenor and his partners tending the embers of a fire burnt low. When a hint of harshness enters the saxophonist’s tone, Parker picks some great elastic contrabass lines I initially mistook for guembri, then plays a long, lovely bowed solo. A fretful and agitative sax/drums duet then leads to a briefly fiery, then confoundingly jaunty resolution.
As for the CD, “Shake-A-Tear”(11:40) opens proceedings with sour clarinet bleats and sliding bass notes that pick through a barrage of kit percussion. It’s a short, chewy introduction to a passage of edgy negotiation between bass and drums, another fine bowed contrabass solo, and a re-entry on tenor that soon sees Brötzmann blazing a trail through thorny improv territory.
“Stone Death” (26:17) is classic Brötzmann. An imperious, tenor sax solo to start—songlike phrases pitched into silence—then a trio exposition with an anthemic cast. Where Brötzmann’s phrases are chewy and trenchant his rhythmic support is crisp and buoyant, and the improvisation flows with liquid grace, losing some of its bounce only after a fine arco bass/drums duet.
Brötzmann really tears into a rebarbative exchange with Drake, and the heat rises after Parker’s re-entry until the trio are fairly barrelling along on a locomotive groove. Shifts in time and tempo accommodate a slip into easier rhythm after fifteen minutes, but Brötzmann is indomitable, and it takes an almost complete draw-down for him to desist. Sparks of his cussed temper flare again during a supple and fleetingly tender negotiation of resolution.
“Dwellers in a Dead Land” (24:58) brings a complete change, with Drake finger-tapping and palm-slapping rhythms on a frame drum, and singing, in a language I can’t identify (Mandé, perhaps) while Parker plays a thrumming, elastic string accompaniment on guembri. Brötzmann, now on tárogató, makes a piercing entry and takes up the lead after four minutes, but the rhythmic vibe remains distinctly north/west African.
Drake injects some low-key rumbling thunder on the frame drum, but Parker’s thrumming keeps things grounded, and the duo take things back to Maghrebi basics when Brötzmann briefly lays out after 11 minutes. When he returns with short, strangulated phrases on clarinet, Parker reinforces the Gnawa/Jemaa el-Fnaa vibe with a parallel improvisation on sintir-aping shenai.
Drake’s return to the kit drumming whips up some great Euro-improv meets hypnotic trance music, with both reeds wailing over bouncing kick drum and snare tattoos. The set’s resolution is something altogether different though. The trio’s playing is exceptionally delicate at the end, with Parker feather-light on shakuhachi.
Each release has its own flavour then. The CD is the more rounded, and representative of the live sets that make this trio the best live act I’ve ever seen (excepting maybe Tom Waits). The vinyl LP is a better showcase for Brötzmann as a complete saxophonist, with depths of tenderness to match his fiercest playing. Both are absolutely essential.
Peter Brötzmann tenor sax, B-flat clarinet, tarogato; William Parker double bass, guembri, shakuhachi, shenai; Hamid Drake drums, frame drum, voice.
Peter Brötzmann – Münster Bern + Brötzmann, Edwards, Noble – Soul Food Available.
Peter Brötzmann & ICI Ensemble – Beautiful Lies.
John Dikeman, William Parker, Hamid Drake – Live at La Resistenza.