Submitten on behalf of Andrey Henkin
CB's 313 Gallery, March 29, 2002
Milford Graves (drm), Peter Brötzmann (ts as cl taragot), William Parker (ab koro)
New York presents a unique problem for the jazz listener. The array of choices for a single evening makes planning concert going a happy chore. Either miss an important show, or pack four shows into one evening.
Even in a city like New York that attracts most important performers, some shows are not to be missed. Like a debutante ball or the senior prom in high school, these are shows of a caliber that gets people talking for weeks beforehand and months afterwards. These concerts become important social events-woe to those who do not and miss a one-of-a-kind show.
CB's 313 Gallery, the upstairs brethren to the increasingly popular avant-garde Sundays venue CB's Lounge, played host to the first of these momentous shows in 2002: The mighty trio of Milford Graves, Peter Brötzmann and William Parker. The group played two hour-long sets, each with an opening act of either Roy Campbell Jr. Trio (with CB's Lounge booker DeePop on drums) or the Joe McPhee & Joe Giardullo duet. The concert began at 7:30, and an exhausted but exhilarated crowd spilled onto the Bowery only after midnight.
Free Jazz, since its rough inception in the early '60's, has attracted musicians of all types, including those who cannot play their instruments. Youthful proponents just do not play it convincingly, lacking the pedigree that makes a performance historic and significant. So the opportunity to see two progenitors of the form, active on two continents for close to four decades, along with someone whose own lineage traces back to Cecil Taylor, is essential.
Peter Brötzmann has as many detractors as supporters. His predisposition to overwhelm other musicians, his histrionics, and his refusal to play quietly now and then close the ears of many listeners, though they would be well-served to see him in the company of a giant like Graves, whose own personality and musical vision are even larger. Brötzmann was not the main draw here, nor was he the driving force behind the music. He and Parker followed the lead pummeled out by Graves.
The inclusion of opening acts did much to break up the potential overload of seeing this trio perform. After a short set by Cambell, the crowd was sufficiently anxious for the main act. Brötzmann's playing was immediately uncharacteristic as he played a soulful clarinet. Graves and Parker dropped in with great force as Brötzmann's playing became infused with middle Eastern flavor. Watching Graves play is one of the more amazing sights in jazz: his playing is a colorful and flamboyant as his hand-painted drumkit, complete with the unjazz-like double bass. The piece soon soared to the level one would expect from these three-ferocious and incessant. Whatever one might think of Peter Brötzmann, one must marvel as his stamina.
Unlike Brötzmann's set at last year's Vision Festival, the sets were broken up into smaller sections for easier digestion. The second piece would be an appropriate soundtrack for a savage battle scene. Graves playing as if possessed, and Brötzmann never less than intense. On the more aggressive numbers though, Parker did become superfluous. He has experience in this kind of arena but Graves and Brötzmann were just too far beyond him for more than the most cursory of contributions. His playing on the koro, a stringed African instrument, was much more critical, lending a tribal air to the last improvisation of the set, a relatively peaceful tribal sound, that featured Brötzmann on tenor and Graves on interpretative dance.
The second set, preceded by a very subtle sax duet by McPhee and Giardullo (marred by the incessant bass thumping from the room below), began like a punch in the face. It is as if the musicians were in a mortal struggle with their instruments: Brötzmann strangling the life from his sax; Graves thrashing his drums; Parker ripping his bass apart. Seeing Brötzmann after one of his extended blows is to see a musician who has given all he has, sacrificing even the buttons off his jacket when they became caught in the valves of horn. A section of percussive bowing by Parker, mallet work by Graves and Brötzmann on taragot was delightfully different, moody and plaintive. Continuing the feel was another extemporization featuring taragot, koro and Graves on drums and vocals. The textures achieved on this segment were as stirring as the over-the-top blowout that began the set, Brötzmann especially empathetic to his fellow musicians. The show ended with a soulful piece that featured Brötzmann at his most tuneful, if only momentarily. Graves kept driving the energy of the piece upward, shouting directions and forcing even someone as experienced as Brötzmann to play catch-up.
Graves made a comment during the first set how "these old guys still have something in them." Seeing numbers of young pretenders to the throne of free jazz makes the opportunity to see original innovators, still raging with intensity and imagination, all the more special.