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Peter Brotzmann: Mental Shake

John Sharpe By

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Peter Brotzmann: Mental Shake German saxophone powerhouse Peter Brötzmann favors the trio format to deliver the optimum combination of energy and directness. Over the years he's sought inspiration from many illustrious rhythm teams, from the South African Harry Miller / Louis Moholo-Moholo axis, through the American Die Like A Dog coupling of William Parker and Hamid Drake, to the Swiss Full Blast pairing of Michael Wertmuller and Marino Pliakas. However one of his most potent units in recent times has been the English twosome of John Edwards and Steve Noble. Though initiated in January 2010, to date their only documentation has been on The Worse The Better (OTORoku, 2012) which records their inaugural meeting.

With Mental Shake, that discography doubles, though with the addition of Chicago vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz. While not at first sight an obvious match for Brötzmann's lung busting exploits, the American deploys such a strong physicality to his instrument that he more than holds his own. Their first encounter at the 2011 Vision Festival in NYC was successful enough to justify many subsequent reunions. Adasiewicz gives the performance, captured during a two-day residency at north London's Cafe Oto, a unique flavor which makes it stand out in the reedman's extensive oeuvre.

Brötzmann launches the single set long piece with his customary banshee wail, cutting through an unusually dense wall of sound in which the vibes evoke the demented tolling of church bells to signal mayhem afoot. However the intensity subsides at regular intervals to allow the intricate interplay between Edwards and Noble to shine through. Edwards brings the tensile strength and quick-witted imagination which makes him the go-to bassist on the London scene. His sawing arco intertwines with Brötzmann's reed hollers to stunning effect. Noble combines sometimes overt meter with timbral adventure, particularly noteworthy in his use of untethered cymbals to create an insistent metallic klangfarbenmelodie. But both men have rock attitude somewhere in their DNA which serves them well as even in the most uncompromising improvisation, drive and fire are never far away.

As for the German, he plays with both power and subtlety, his wide vibrato engendering an utterly distinctive tone. He becomes an incantatory force of nature whose overblown strangulated shrieks are imbued with a heart-on-sleeve emotion, never more so than during the reflective gruffly lyrical passages. Adasiewicz' chiming sonorities mesh especially well with the drummer's cymbals, but drape a shimmering percussive curtain across proceedings elsewhere.

After the tumult towards the end of the 39-minute cut, Brötzmann turns meditative, while Noble and Edwards break out into a jazzy stroll, with ringing vibes and eruptions of bowed bass. Brötzmann almost sounds as if he's playing the Wuppertal blues before entropy reasserts itself in a skirling maelstrom of squalling saxophone and roiling drums until an abrupt unison end. Wonderful stuff.


Track Listing: Mental Shake.

Personnel: Peter Brötzmann: alto, tenor saxophone, Bb clarinet, tarogato; Jason Adasiewicz: vibraphone; John Edwards: double bass; Steve Noble: drums.

Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Otoroku | Style: Free Improv/Avant-Garde


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