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A Lyrical Thread in Brötzmann's Fibers

The Amherst Unitarian Meetinghouse was literally packed for the first concert of a seven venue tour, mastered by Michael Ehlers, of the Peter Brötzmann Trio which included, of course, Brötzmann on tenor and taragato and the pinnacle of rhythm sections, William Parker on bass and Hamid Drake on drums.

The trio played two sets. The texture was outstandingly similar in both. Rapidity, energy, constancy, measurable devotion pervaded the music. The Brötzmann fire persisted, but the fire at this gig did not translate to fury or rage, but warmth. Brötzmann’s attack on his instrument was tight and full and large. He slurred, pulsed, fluttered, feathered, played three or four notes at a time. He put extreme pressure on the reed, progressed up the scale in a scattered picturesque way to produce a sound that could be so shrill that it would make me wince with pleasure, not pain. But the hitch is that despite the torrid force with which he played the tenor or his taragato, he actually caught the longing of the blues in some hollow that he found in his horn and in the second set he blatantly laid out the melody of ROUND MIDNIGHT, which disappeared quickly into a seeming 16th note set of aggregates, but which nonetheless came out of a surprising nowhere.

The players behaved as if they were responsible for fueling the workings of a machine, a triadically partitioned machine that was greased with an unbearably strong rhythmic content. "Drake’s drumming" is not really the way to describe Drake’s drumming. No, Hamid Drake was the drumming; his innate sense of the smallest detail that fulfills the drummer’s role in this trio outweighs any discussion of technical prowess. Drake’s body was part of the drumset; the flow of his body’s motion with the sound that the sticks, reed brushes and mallets made with the drumskins was indivisible. He was completely intertwined with Brötzmann’s tendency to send reed-originated tingles up and down the listener’s spine. Drake and Brötzmann worked within each other’s ranges which have the widest of parameters. Neither musician fell out of sync with the other. It was quite remarkable.

Playing a bass that he said he had acquired four days before the gig, Parker stood between Drake and Brötzmann. Parker was the fulcrum. When I saw him there, with his eyes closed, his bass also an extension of his body, plucking those loose strings with such ease and with such relaxed control to produce the deep tones that recalled Drake’s bass drum or crept into balance with Brötzmann’s highly refined fingering which never stopped unless Brötzmann stepped out, I realized that I was on solid ground. Parker is like the reliable oak tree that never dies. His musical visions only become more macroscopic and complete. He can groove on anything---a zintir, a shakuhachi or a small far eastern flute whose exotic nature matches the globally exotic nature of the performer.

The Brötzmann trio created a river. The flow was never-ending; it paused in a pool at one point where Drake used reed brushes all over the drumset, Parker bowed with a flutter and Brötzmann played one note, another note and then buzzed the reed on the taragato. The water was collected in the pool: the trio waded. Drake picked up his mallets and was extraordinarily selective about how he played: what to touch, what to stroke, his elbow dipped to the tom skin, he tapped stick to stick, he changed the tone of the whole music as he moved the sticks across the snare. Parker bowed the bass like a cello, higher on the strings, at a higher pitch. His steady hrrrumphing was transposed for a bit into a grind. Brötzmann stepped out.

There is always a moment in a concert where the essence of the music I am hearing hits me square between the eyeballs. This session was no exception. The pace at which I suddenly began to write interrupted taking notes to match the hearing of the music, but my capacity to record what was happening, or the intensity with which the music was evolving, came no where near the actual time occurrence, which was like a river flowing. As I was writing, the blend of music became so full and healthy and balanced that taking it apart to assign words to it became a crime. The time it took for me to think of words to describe what was happening took away from the listening, took away from the power of the horn’s slurs, the depth of tone of the bass strings, the staggering assembly of percussion combinations that all constituted one straight unadulterated line that only subsided when the horn was out, the pizzicato was noticeable, and the cymbals overtook the silence that rose out of the hiatus that moved the music to another plane.

It was during the set when Drake played the frame drum, Parker played the zintir and Brötzmann created a unmistakable largeness on the tenor at which point Drake rounded out the sound when he went back to the drumset (a cowbell was on the right hand tom) and Parker maintained a sharp intensity on a high-pitched flute, that I realized the extreme tautness with which the trio played. A needle could not penetrate the space. This was the edge where I clenched my teeth, I held my head, and knew that everything was going to be ok. I was witnessing a total release. I was feeling a total release. I was vibrating with the torrent that the instruments stirred. The cymbals were louder, the flute was even more sharp, the tenor was shriller. And then with a douse of water, psst, the fire was out. The music was over. But the thrill and the grit and the truth was imprinted on my brain.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Peter Brötzmann Trio
  • Concert Date: 5/4/2003
  • Venue: Amherst Unitarian Meetinghouse
  • City State Country: Amherst, Massachusetts
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