Monday, April 5, 2010

Peter Brötzmann - Machine Gun (1968)

| Avant-Garde Jazz | Free-Jazz |

Nearly four decades after his death, the legacy of Albert Ayler is plain -- a plethora of reed-biting aural contortionists bent on exploiting the saxophone's propensity for making sounds that resemble a human scream. Many such players, unable to play anything resembling a coherent melody, rely instead on the extreme manifestations of the Ayler technique; their playing is more often than not a randomly executed wall of energy and emotion-driven white noise. Peter Brötzmann, on the other hand, is the rare Ayler-influenced saxophonist capable (like Ayler) of producing improvised lines of depth and sensitivity while informing them with enough raw power to make a lesser saxophonist wilt. Brötzmann's playing has little of the arbitrariness one associates with other similar tenor saxophonists like Charles Gayle or Ivo Perelman; Brötzmann possesses a surety of tone and a melodic center characteristic of a focused musical conception. While there's no lack of spontaneity in his music, Brötzmann's concern with motivic and melodic reiteration gives his playing a palpable sense of direction. Indeed, Brötzmann's obsession often serves as a pivot upon which an ensemble turns, making him a consummate team player, in addition to being an affecting soloist.

This historic free jazz album is a heavy-impact sonic assault so aggressive it still knocks listeners back on their heels decades later. Recorded in May 1968, Machine Gun captures some top European improvisers at the beginning of their influential careers, and is regarded by some as the first European -- not just German or British -- jazz recording. Originally self-released by Peter Brötzmann, the album eventually came out on the FMP label, and set a new high-water mark for free jazz and "energy music" that few have approached since. Brötzmann is joined on sax by British stalwart Evan Parker and Dutch reedsman Willem Breuker (before Breuker moved away from free music, his lungs were as powerful as Brötzmann's). The rest of the group consists of drummers Han Bennink (Dutch) and Sven-Åke Johansson (Swedish), Belgian pianist Fred van Hove, and bassists Peter Kowald (German) and Buschi Niebergall (Swiss). Brötzmann leads this octet in a notoriously concentrated dose of the relentless hard blowing so often characteristic of his music. While Brötzmann has played this powerfully on albums since, never again is it with a group of this size playing just as hard with him. The players declare and exercise their right to bellow and wail all they want; they both send up the stereotype of free playing as simply screaming, and unapologetically revel in it. The sound of Machine Gun is just as aggressive and battering as its namesake, blowing apart all that's timid, immovable, or proper with an unrepentant and furious finality. The years have not managed to temper this fiery furnace blast from hell; it's just as relentless and shocking an assault now as it was then. Even stout-hearted listeners will nearly be sent into hiding -- much like standing outside during a violent storm, withstanding this kind of fierce energy is a primal thrill.

Catalog: FMP CD 24 (FMP)
Album Overview on Allmusic
Download (192kbps)

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