Brötzmann/Parker/Drake: Never Too Late But Always Too Early (2003)
Die Like a Dog: a name and invective that acts as a slap in the face to the mores of subtlety and passivity. Peter Brötzmann originally convened the group as a channeling vessel for the spirit of Ayler. Their music: lamenting the legendary saxophonist?s tailspin into spiritual decay and destitution. Their credo: a staunch defiance of the desiccating forces of commercialism and critical vampirism that can assail an artist?s life. With either Toshinori Kondo or Roy Campbell in the second horn slot, they quickly matured into a free jazz force to be reckoned with.
A half dozen discs later the band has finally gotten around to releasing a document of their trio work. The 2001 tour organized by Eremite impresario Michael Ehlers supplied a mouthwatering cache of material. Sorting through the tapes, Ehlers came up with what he considers the "motherfucker" of them all. Based strictly on the aural evidence provided, I'm inclined to offer up qualified agreement.
This time out the patron dedicatee shifts from Ayler to Brötzmann's dearly departed friend Peter Kowald. The trio revs its engines from the onset of "Never Run But Go" with Brötzmann unleashing a raw-boned banshee cry on tarogato. Legato geysers and ululating trills spray forth from his horn's wooden bell as Parker and Drake churn rhythmically around him. The stark and unvarnished fidelity adds to the martial feel of the onslaught.
A sense of stasis starts to set in as the trio gouges the same narrow stretch of thematic ground, but Drake spots the impending monotony and steers the music into fresh straights with a polyrhythmic turn of the rudder. Soon he and Parker are embroiled in the sort of pythonic groove for which they're renowned and the crowd erupts.
Brötzmann seems stoically unfazed by the rhythmic elasticity and ricocheting tempo changes, continuing to splatter the sound floor with sheets of tonal shrapnel. Later sections of the piece find him laying out for short but involving solos from his mates, only to return with pulverizing force on tenor with a tone even more coarse-grained and irascible than that of his tarogato. Skidding and soaring across the trampoline rhythm, Brötzmann's fat, flaying lines carry the track to a fittingly saturnine conclusion.
"The Heart and the Bones" works as far more than a simple bookend to disc one. Affecting a sound laced with a lung-perforated rasp, Brötzmann suddenly disappears, leaving Parker to stitch tightly knotted arco braids and seesawing harmonics. A limpid toned clarinet floats in from the margins, voicing a line stained with sadness. Drake's hand drum shapes a pliable counterpoint in confluence with Parker's delicate doussin gouni filigrees. The restraint and comparative calm are a welcome recess from the earlier unbridled energy. Brötzmann's reed soon turns piercing through a flurry of chirruping peals, as the speed and energy of the piece build on the pulse of Drake's trap kit. Parker keeps the journey rooted in mellifluous melody through a radiating arc of ostinato lines and Brötzmann's emphatic reentry seems almost sacrilegious in the way it initially besieges the carefully woven beauty. But as later elaborations reveal, it's all part of the collaborative ecstatic release.
Clocking in at nearly three quarters of an hour, the title piece unfolds like an endurance test. Brötzmann begins with stretched foghorn smears, moping through the lower register of what sounds like a bass clarinet, flanked by the scuttling cymbal patter of Drake and the dour bowed counterpoint of Parker. A serrated sonic edge manifests as hiss tone turns trenchant and Parker switches to a blur of string bruising fingers. Velocity and density magnify incrementally with sections of ebbing intensity interspersed. Wielding bow once again with hummingbird speed, Parker segues into an extended solo replete with spiking arco scribbles and tightly flanging harmonics. Brötzmann barrels in suddenly with an excoriating barrage of reed-splintering bursts. Drums and bass then lock down into a syncopated stomp over which Br?ötzmann howls truculently on tarogato. Drake follows with a stunning stentorian statement made almost solely on cymbals. Rejoining the fray on sandblasting tenor, the saxophonist takes things out to a raucous torrent of applause that, given the piece's stamina-sapping duration, seems completely deserved.
The trio closes the set out with "Halfhearted Beast," a freewheeling throwback to Brötzmann's salad years. Built on a simple vamp-based chassis, it's a perfect vehicle for the saxophonist's stripped-down emotive tenor. Shaving off thick slabs of striated melody atop the swinging shuffle beat of his partners, the German cuts loose in a spate of bar walk-worthy honks and squeals. In light of earlier loquacity of the concert the brevity of this piece makes it all the more satisfying.
If anything, that's where the minor problems with the set reside, particularly with extended marathon run of the first disc, which could have benefited from a more succinct rendering. Eremite has made its reputation on releasing these sorts of stage-side cathartic free jazz blowouts. This release staunchly sustains the standard set early on in the label's catalog. Fans of these three modern icons of the music will almost certainly relish what they find here. Kowald would no doubt be honored by the homage.
Track Listing: Disc One: Never Run But Go: 1 (19:19)/ 2 (4:47)/ 3 (9:31)/ 4 (9:51)/ The Heart and the Bones (18:26). Disc Two: Never Too Late But Always Too Early: 1 (16:51)/ 2 (11:02)/ 3 (17:22)/ Halfhearted Beast (7:44).
Personnel: Peter Brötzmann- tenor saxophone, tarogato, a-clarinet; William Parker- double bass, doussin gouni; Hamid Drake- drums. Recorded: April 10, 2001, Montreal, Canada.