Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath rampaged through the British free jazz scene of the late '60s and early '70s, a loose big band/free orchestra built around a core South African unit that emigrated to London in 1966. They anticipated the African jazz boom of the '80s, and their ability to drop smart big band riffs through free soloing gave them lively hard swinging excursions with musicians like Evan Parker, Gary Windo, Dudu Pukwana, Nick Evans, and Elton Dean taking these charts spaceward. They recorded only three albums, making these previously unreleased live recordings especially noteworthy. Taken from a 1971 German radio broadcast and two performances nine months apart in England in 1975, Bremen to Bridgewater presents avant gardists who get funky and know their roots without giving up flight.
The German broadcast opens with some genuine lunacy, a Carla Bley on acid piece called "Funky Boots March." It trips into a bullfight arena polka exploding into chaos at the approach of the bull and reassembling all within three minutes. "Kongi's Theme" starts out on raw tenor before assuming a lurid galloping tango with extraordinary trumpet work. McGregor stirs in piano fragments. "Now" shows off McGregor's true yet spiny take on big band arranging, cracking open for brisk trumpet solos, and burning quartet work.
The first English broadcast finds the band back in dance mode, McGregor's charts more complex with no loss of grace or groove. "The Serpent's Kindly Eye," for all its obvious discipline, is anything but stiff. An "Untitled Original" looks at post bop through McGregor's knowing eyes, leaving plenty of room to blow. The second British broadcast from '75 shows an even livelier band.
McGregor's cueing keys lead off 'Sonia." Harry Miller's happy superball bass takes the lead, stoking a joyfully arranged horn section. Louis Moholo maintains a versatile attack on drums to keep up with McGregor's kaleidoscopic writing. Soloists, reed groups, brass groups, emerge and dissolve in the churning rhythm. "Now" could be an adventurous outtake from Big Band Monk. Miller plays it straight ahead playing speed tag with one of the altos. They go low down for some bluesy measures, and Evan Parker sprays fire on tenor.
McGregor meanders to lead into "Yes, Please." The arrangement creates a cascade of groups within the group braiding their disparate passages into a colorful thread. The altos get into it while the rhythm section counts the miles. The band hits full throttle on "Restless," Moholo and Miller giving the Brotherhood a run for their lungs. Full out and running, they produce a fine stretch of wild timeless '70s euro improv. "Kwhalo" works off a lurching terraced Afro groove with brightly written horns. The concluding "Untitled Original" sounds like a slightly spicier Abdullah Ibrahim.
The Brotherhood of Breath created a bracing mix of jazz styles, not just coexisting, but readily getting sweaty together.
Track Listing: CD1: Funky Boots March; Kongi's Theme; Now; the Bride; Think of Something; Union Special;
Andromeda; Do It; the Serpent's Kindly Eye; Untitled Original.
CD 2:Sonia; Now; Yes, Please; Restless; Kwhalo; Untitled Original
Personnel: Keith Bailey, drums; Harvey Beckett, Marc Cherig, Mongezi Feza, trumpet; Dudu Pukwana, Elton Dean, alto sax; Malcolm Griffiths, Radu Malfatti, Nick Evans, trombone; Bruce Grant, baritone sax; Chris McGregor, piano; Harry Miller, double bass; Louis Moholo, drums; Mike Osborne, alto sax, clarinet; Evan Parker, tenor and soprano sax; Alan Skidmore, Gary Windo, tenor sax.