When Peter Brotzmann's Die Like a Dog Quartet played the Kerrytown Concert House in Ann Arbor, MI on April 21, you needed to see the group's leader change from his saxophone to a clarinet because the change in sound was not immediately apparent. For the first ten minutes of the ensemble's performance trumpeter Roy Campbell Jr. was not playing and the audience was able to observe from the look on his face to his talk with bassist William Parker that this was due to frustration with technical problems with the sound system. And perhaps most importantly, the audience was able to see just how intense the quartet's performance was by looking at the perspiration that covered a good share of drummer Hamid Drake's clothing.
Of course, anybody who just listened to this concert would have heard a fantastic performance. The Die Like a Dog Quartet performed three pieces and over a hundred minutes of music. The first two pieces were extended blowouts that went about 36 and 47 minutes respectively. The real highlight of the concert came in the final few sequences of the second piece. The two horn players dropped out and Drake and Parker engaged in a duet. Parker had been providing a firm bottom for the group the entire night but it was here that he began to show his full range of talents as his rather melodic playing also served to pick up the tempo a bit. Drake responded to this by moving from very free drumming to a rock, if slightly funky, rock rhythm. Eventually Brotzmann joined the rhythm section and began an ecstatic trip that steadily increased in intensity. This playing was both a great match for what Drake was doing and a nod back to Brotzmann's previous work with Last Exit, a group that mixed rock and free jazz. After Brotzmann had peaked with his playing here, the other musicians joined in for a slow run down.
The four musicians returned for an encore after a standing ovation. As was probably best, this last piece clocked in around 16 minutes and was a much more subdued ride. Drake played a hand drum throughout the piece and did vocals -I couldn't tell if they were lyrics in a language other than English or simply sounds- throughout the closer. By the end he was also using the pedals to add the bass drum and hi-hat into the mix. Parker began by playing a percussion instrument himself but by the end switched to what was a pocket trumpet. Brotzmann and Campbell actually played with a large amount of dissonance here but, oddly enough, it did not take away from the general mood of the piece.
The four musicians all gave excellent performances and the group worked quite well together. Still from the size of the ovations to comments from the over 100 people that saw the concert it was clear that Drake left the biggest impression. His playing was fantastic all night and shaped what the other players did around him. Drake set the stage for the group's many shifts in sound and tempo. One audience member summed up Drake's playing best by saying "He teases you with the swing and then fucking goes off."