An essential recording, Machine Gun's rightful place in the pantheon of seminal free jazz recordings is uncontested. The first major document of European free improvisation, Atavistic's Unheard Music Series reissue supplements the legendary session by bolstering the original album with two alternate takes and the only documented live performance of the furious title track.
Envisioned and organized by infamous German tenor saxophonist Peter Brötzmann (nicknamed Machine Gun by trumpeter Don Cherry), Machine Gun provided a blueprint for such riotous ensembles as Last Exit, Naked City and Massacre. Brötzmann's assaultive 1968 octet recording set a precedent for all extreme improvised music that followed in its wake.
More calamitous, violent and willfully discordant than Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz (Atlantic, 1960), John Coltrane's Ascension (Impulse!, 1965) or the contemporaneous work of Albert Ayler and Cecil Taylor, Brötzmann's uproarious testament was a sign of the times.
Embroiled in revolution and protest, 1968 was a tumultuous time, and a fitting year for such a document to emerge. The Vietnam War, the American Civil Rights movement, Martin Luther King's assassination and the Paris student riots of 1968 all are subconsciously mirrored in the album's chaotic fury.
Recorded in a concrete basement studio and independently released on Brötzmann's own BRO imprint, the album became an underground classic. Still suffering from less than optimal audio, pianist Fred Van Hove and bassists Peter Kowald and Buschi Niebergall are barely audible in the chaotic mix, but emerge fully during unaccompanied solo sections ripe with squalling arco harmonics and pounding tone clusters.
Opening with a staccato horn riff and stabbing percussive ostinato, the band sounds less like an acoustic jazz group than a feverishly overdriven machine, pistons shrieking, gears rattling. Brötzmann and his front line of horn players trade caustic tirades over the bustling, thunderous palpitations of Han Bennink and Sven-Ake Johansson.
Conceiving brief melodies of an almost accessible nature one moment, only to savagely rend them to pieces in the next, the octet offers a revolutionary stance in their execution and intent. Still challenging after almost forty years, Machine Gun stands tall as a high water mark of European free jazz.
Machine Gun; Responsible / for Jan Van De Ven; Music for Han Bennink; Machine Gun (2nd take); Responsible / for Jan Van De Ven (1st take); Machine Gun (live).
Peter Brotzmann: tenor saxophone and baritone saxophone; Willem Breuker: tenor saxophone and bass clarinet; Evan Parker: tenor saxophone; Gerd Dudek: tenor saxophone (6); Fred Van Hove: piano; Peter Kowald: bass; Buschi Niebergall: bass; Han Bennink: drums; Sven-Ake Johansson: drums.