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Bremen to Bridgwater by Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath

Brotherhood of Breath was a progressive jazz big band formed by South African expatriate Chris McGregor in the late 60’s and early 70’s. McGregor and some of his colleagues moved from South Africa to London, England seeking greater political and musical freedom, after having experimented with a mixed-race band in their native country. This was a heady time for experimental jazz, with fusion just beginning and free music collectives like the AACM and BAG pushing the music forward, while legends like Duke Ellington continued to produce valuable and influential music.

Brotherhood of Breath took some of the finest free improvisers in Europe and put them together in a big band setting where both composition and improvisation could thrive. Along with McGregor, the band included Evan Parker, Elton Dean and Louis Moholo.

The music on this release come from live performances recorded during a Bremen, Germany concert in 1971 and then concerts recorded in Bridgwater, England in 1975. The music is very loose and free, with themes and melodies giving way to intense solos by the horn players. McGregor is quoted in the liner notes, professing his love and admiration for the music of Duke Ellington, and that influence is apparent in much of his writing for the band. Certain players are highlighted for solo spots that appear to be designed for them, which was a favorite tactic of Ellington in his writing and arranging.

The ensemble passages are loose but never fall apart and the solo space is generous for all concerned, they sound like they are having a ball and really appreciate the compositions and the freedom they have to improvise upon it. This is some very interesting music from a band that is only now beginning to be documented. Fans of progressive big bands like Sam Rivers’ Rivbea Orchestra or some of Barry Guy’s larger ensembles would do well to check this out.

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Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Chris McGregor’s Brotherhood of Breath
  • CD Title: Bremen to Bridgwater
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2004
  • Record Label: Cuneiform
  • Rating: Four Stars
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