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Peter Brotzmann - Sweet Sweat & The Brain of the Dog in Section

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Peter Brotzmann / Paal Nilssen-Love
Sweetsweat
Smalltown Superjazz
2008


Peter Brotzmann / Fred Lonberg-Holm
The Brain of the Dog in Secton
Atavistic
2009


This is healthy music—the sounds of vim and vigor, the exhaust of physical, musical and mental exertion—sweet sweat, indeed. Like attending a Bikhram yoga session of the will and the mind, both listening to Peter Brötzmann and imagining what a recording session with him must be like leave no doubt that both the music recorded and reproduced in one's home (hopefully by very large, loud speakers) is full of health, a spirulina-wheat grass shake spiked with kombucha and cayenne pepper. Fermented and spicy, matured and aged over a lifetime of gigging, recording, improvising, perceiving and conversing—these two releases of Peter Brotzmann duos, recorded in 2006 and 2007, are what every advertisement for "extreme sports" ever wished it could be: shocking, genuinely refreshing, electric.

Brotzmann's tone on any one of the reed instruments he plays—clarinets and saxophones take on the same breathless, fervent quality in his hands—is striking, standing out from other free jazz saxophonists. These two recent releases prove that his voice is still going strong, a remarkable feat for a musician who has been playing, touring and recording as much as he has for over 40 years.

Brotzmann and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love seem like a perfect pairing: Brotzmann's saxophones, clarinets and tarogato—a Hungarian single-reed instrument with a deeper, louder and woodier timbre—are underscored by Nilssen-Love's relentless, fast-paced cymbal work. Recorded live at Sting Jazzklubb in Nilssen-Love's hometown of Stavanger, Norway, the set has an amazing intensity, especially on the second rage of a track, "Burnt Sugar." Whoever titled these improvisations hit the nail on the head: Brotzmann begins this track, like the others on this album, with the head of a composition, which he expounds upon with incendiary style. A wailing glissando at the top leads to short phrases by Brötzmann, each often shorter than one breath, kept in sync by Nilssen-Love's equally wailing drums. One can look for a pattern on this album, but it would prove futile; both musicians' performances avoid traditional tension-release climaxes, opting instead for the marathon endurance of raw emotional playing.

This isn't a full-out attack; some of the more subdued sections of his interaction with Nilssen-Love stand out even more than the 34-minute "Burnt Sugar." The second half of "Never Enough," which clocks in at 10 minutes, offers a beautifully textural drum solo from Nilssen-Love with Brötzmann rarely rising above mezzo forte. His melody here, as with the beginning of the title track, is an eerie, haunting line somewhere between Mingus and a German folk song. These sections, tempering the rest of the intense energy, make Sweetsweat a standout album in Brotzmann's oeuvre.

Also recorded live at a club—Chicago's HIDEOUT—The Brain of the Dog in Section features Brötzmann in a duo, but in this case with a melodic instrument instead of a percussive one. The dynamic between Brötzmann and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm is much different than between him and Nilssen-Love. There actually seems to be little conversation on this album; indeed, it often feels like Lonberg-Holm's electronics offer a continuous, separate narrative, matching in tone and dynamics to Brötzmann's reed instruments but deviating wildly in terms of timbre and melody (when he does play melodically). Brotzmann's attack is rendered even more romantic and lyrical by Lonberg-Holm's cello, which skews towards the high end of the frequency spectrum and is nearly bass-less.

This recording of the pair's improvisation does, sometimes, fall back on the near universal convention of many performances: an opening flurry of noise and experimentation with texture, followed by a softer section, a build-up and then a release. Unlike Brotzmann's set with Nilssen-Love, this set features only three tunes or "sections," of 13 minutes, 19 minutes and 4 minutes each. Rather than a marathon of performance, a sweet sweat-inducing jam session, this album is more of an exercise session—a solid expression, a sonically interesting meeting of musical voices, a simple, graceful exhalation.


Tracks and Personnel

Sweetsweat

Tracks: Sweetsweat; Burnt Sugar; Never Enough; Weird Blue

Personnel: Peter Brotzmann: tenor and alto saxophone, clarinet, tárogató; Paal Nilssen-Love: drums.

The Brain of the Dog in Section

Tracks: Section 1; Section 2; Section 3

Personnel: Peter Brötzmann: tenor and alto saxophone, B-flat clarinet, tárogató; Fred Lonberg-Horn: cello and electronics.

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