Peter Brötzmann, John Edwards & Steve Noble, Green Door Store, Brighton, Sun 13th January 2013
The sound of the applause stops. I look at my friends. My friends look at me, at each other, at the three grey- and white-haired men on the stage. The drummer, Steve Noble (who’s barely broken a sweat) begins packing up his multifarious instrument. The other two performers tuck their own instruments safely away, and quietly leave the stage. As though nothing’s happened…
“I feel like I’ve been punched by a tornado,” I eventually manage – but that doesn’t communicate the experience at all.
I won’t be patronising and regurgitate the clichéd bullshit that there are no words to describe the music played by Peter Brötzmann’s trio. Because there are. Words like ‘combustive’, ‘obdurate’, ‘relentless’, ‘mind-pulping’ and ‘gut-bludgeoningly, pants-shittingly spectacular’ come to mind. And then there’s the onomatopoeic noun/verb:
which – if uttered at a grossly inappropriate speed and volume by enough people all at once – might give you a fraction of an idea of what I’m talking about. Don’t believe me? Get some friends together. Invite your family over. Set up a conference call or a Skype-party. Go on, try it.
Anyway, there’s three of them, right. Brötzmann squirts lung juice through saxes of assorted shapes and sizes until they sound like carnivorous animals screeching for blood. Edwards beats the crap out of a big, battered bass which he sometimes attacks with a bow (while sweating more noticeably than the other two – but I guess that’s what you get when you basically cage-fight a huge, cacophonous wardrobe for ninety minutes…) Noble goes apeshit on a drum kit pimped-out with all sorts of pans and bells, towels and other sonic doodahs, which he bashes with something somewhere in between total control and total lack of giving a flying-heck if anything’s in control or not…
Before the concert started there was a film. Directed by Bernard Josse, ‘Soldier of the Road’ tells the story of Peter Brötzmann: his music, his life, his philosophy, his art – and why he thinks making a saxophone scream like an angry, angry bastard is a good idea. Which, of course, it is. Painting an intimate portrait of a man who, having grown up in the ruins of post-war Germany, learned to love freedom at a young age, SOTR shows how Brötzmann embraced art and later music as a way of expressing a desire for total freedom. Through interviews with Brötzmann and other musicians, cut with films of performances and some interesting back-stage footage, we find out how a style of music was invented, an anarchistic, avant-garde, European free jazz – with Brötzmann at its epicentre.
Reading back over what I’ve written, I’m pretty sure I’ve completely undersold the sheer ability of these musicians, their immense dedication to their art, the finesse with which they realise the dense beauty of their opaque improvisations. I probably haven’t even mentioned the slow bits – there were slow bits! – or the quiet bits – there were quiet bits! – or the bits where Brötzmann brought the fragmented, hallucinatory, interlocking riffs of the drums and bass to life with plaintive melodies and compellingly circular rhythms of his own inimitable design. If that’s the case – if I have undersold their talent – it’s only because I’ve been trying to remember exactly how the music felt: the tidal force of it as it broke like a tsunami on the crowd and surged on, leaving a litter of shattered nervous systems and blown minds in its eerie wake; the sense of being dragged backwards through hyperspace, through sidereal time stuck on ultra-ffw – then flung brain-first into the blackness of the void between galaxies…
OK, I know, that’s taking it a bit far… But at least I got to the end of this review without saying ‘Nice’.
Check out footage of the trio here: http://youtu.be/9nmKxqC8uu8
Buy Soldier of the Road here: http://www.soldieroftheroad.com/