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Releasing the Rigor

Dipping into the Meetinghouse in Amherst, MA, on a multi-city tour, reedsman Peter Brötzmann and drummer Han Bennink paired up for a performance that projected a dynamic rarely experienced in the music. A hard-edged European mode of improvisation overcame the acoustically alive room.

Tenacity and intensity go hand in hand. Even though such descriptive nouns might imply a network of rules, those rules might also include flexibility fraught with determination and direction. For Brötzmann, the rules live within his horns. For Bennink, the rules are defined within the physical nature of the venue.

Brötzmann partnering Bennink is a musical marriage made in heaven. Brötzmann’s horns speak the same language as Bennink’s drums. His fingering is equally as rapid and precise as Bennink’s drum stick motion. There is simply no time to breathe unless Bennink has clearly marked a stopping place before continuing and Brötzmann has followed. Silence becomes a played sound. Lyricism takes a back seat to the frontality of the delivery. When he approaches the lyrical, he more often than not turns it sour. Brötzmann can elevate one’s sense of shrillness. He arches his way up the register and then swoops back down. Seemingly out of character, he can sing the blues with the horn. It was Blue Monk this time. Driving arpeggiation is Brotzmann’s forté; so acclimated is he, that at times, he simply slides his fingers over the body of his horn to change the pitches instead of pressing every valve or closing every hole individually.

Eccentricity does not excuse mastery. Bennink is eccentric and is a master of the drumset. His stick work is so precise that it defies examination. The offtimes rapid function of his stick work eludes the time it would take to think about it. Bennink believes that everything bears the capacity for sound-making. That is the reason he can just as easily strike the drum as he could his shoe or a 2x4. Bennink’s rhythm orientation is less apparent than his ability to manufacture stunning drum figures, soft, loud, damped or barely resonant. Bennink is always on a razor-sharp edge of moving to where sound can be made. He can stay seated at his standard drum set or he can leap off the seat to find the sound capacity beneath the sounding board of a nearby piano. Nonetheless, he will build abstract walls of sound, penetrable only by what he himself does to counteract them or by Brötzmann’s horn.

The odd blend of the two musicians imitates the finesse of a classical Baroque composition. There is not so much counterpoint as there is complex tight interlocking of the sound that the two musicians energetically create. The sounds they develop together are huge. The tension can be cut with a knife.

In abstract musical language or not, the extent to which Brötzmann and Bennink can speak is unmatchable. Their integrity as a duo should not go unnoticed. Their music penetrates my ears and my body. All that is left to say is: Yeah, man, yeah.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Peter Brötzmann and Han Bennink
  • Concert Date: 10/9/2006
  • Subtitle: A Brötzmann and Bennink Duo Performance
  • Venue: Amherst Unitarian Meetinghouse
  • City State Country: Amherst, MA
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