Peter Brötzmann delivers strong medicine. It took me a while to properly appreciate that after having been Machine Gun
ned nearly to death back in the day by the German reed player's 1968 octet recording on FMP, an experience I earnestly recommend to newbies but not at all to the faint of heart. Brötzmann taught me something important when I took that plunge, and he hasn't let up since. When you listen to Brötzmann, you don't chat with the family, you don't play cards, and you don't idly gaze out the window. With very few exceptions, not particularly notable, you must actively listen in order to benefit from the experience.
And while sometimes (most times, actually) Brötzmann's testosterone-rich, high-energy, balls-to-the-wall saxophone playing is far too much to handle, other times it hits the spot perfectly. Such is the case with Medicina, Atavistic's latest Brötzmann release, the first new one put out by the label after a string of FMP reissues. It seems that timing is everything.
This is now at least the fourth time Brötzmann has joined Danish electric bassist Peter Friis Nielsen and Swedish drummer Peeter Uuskyla on record, after Noise of Wings (Slask, 1999), Live At Nefertiti (Ayler, 1999), and Flying Feathers (FMR, 2001), but I must confess I've never heard the trio before. No need to play catch up: the music boils from start to end, with just enough break time to catch up. Brötzmann continues to mine the Ayler tradition for overblown vocalizations, and unlike other players who make this kind of intense music, he seeks out nuances and color from the entire sonic spectrum, developing sound almost like a visual canvas through gestures and thematic evolution. This time around the reed collection includes alto and tenor saxophones, tarogato, and A-clarinet, but the tenor is the one that packs the most visceral punch, as expected.
Uuskyla and Friis Nielsen, not exactly a rhythm section, are neither bystanders nor accompanists but full-fledged lead voices that wrestle with each other (most effectively on the mammoth fifteen-minute Ayler-referencing "Some Ghosts Step Out") and the horn. They also contribute equally to the compositions (three each, plus two by Brötzmann).
While the electric bass is a bit low in the mix (and to be honest that's the only real flaw of the recording), there's no doubt that Friis Nielsen is crawling all over his axe, rumbling and punching away, providing a sort of constant rolling counterpoint. And there's no doubt whatsoever that his bass is plugged in. Uuskyla is a free drummer in the melodic tradition, quite articulate in his playing, much more interested in fleshing out his statements than just making noise. The dynamics of the interaction often feature prominent conversational gestures on the drums, and Uuskyla's liner notes reveal a lot of the thinking behind the music.
And Peter Brötzmann for one has not lost his touch, which is no news to those who have heard him recently.