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Brötzmann & Zerang - Live in Beirut 2005

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Artist: Brötzmann & Zerang

Album: Live in Beirut 2005

Label: Al Maslakh

Review date: Nov. 22, 2006

Historically beset by bombings, Beirut is a city long overdue for Peter Brötzmann’s brand of cathartic musical explosives. Live in Beirut 2005 documents his Lebanese debut and is part of an initial cache of releases on the fledgling Al Maslakh label, owned and operated by Mazen Kerbaj. Kerbaj, an improviser in his own right, is perhaps best known for the blog he maintained during the Israeli bombing of Lebanon this summer. He’s also served as a key organizer behind the annual Irtijal Festival of Improvised Music from which the concert originates.

With scores of recordings behind him and countless stamps in his passport, Brötzmann has long since settled into an approach akin to that of the celebrated Delta bluesman. The basic tropes of his performance strategy largely transplant from locale to locale. An audience can pretty much bank on a series of typhoon-force reed salvos, while accompanying colleagues are commonly relegated to keeping pace, adding color and staying out of mustachioed cyclone’s way. The deepest pleasures arise in the tiny details and deviations in an otherwise interchangeable schematic. Stage-toppling explosives are expected, but Brötzmann has been known to surprise audiences with sudden shifts to lyrical, even tender, emotion. A handful of such detours decorate this set, most stirringly in the closing segment of “Illusion of Progress,” a 30-minute immolating improvisation dominated by signature raw-boned blowing. Brötzmann caps the nitro and slowly states the somber melody to “Master of a Small House,” a tune dedicated to deceased bassist Fred Hopkins that has become his “Body & Soul” over the past several years. The wounded pathos spilling from his tenor’s bell washes away the excess and vehemence of what has come before. It’s a tactic repeated on the brief closer “Banyan Revolution,” which offers a piquant taste of Brötzmann’s pitch-peregrinating clarinet.

Drummer Michael Zerang is no novice to Brötzmann’s preferences, having played in dozens of settings with the German over the past decade. He comes across here like a combination of his friend Hamid Drake and historical Brötzmann foil Han Bennink, bringing along small array of ethnic percussion instruments to complement his kit. On “Yalla Kholoud,” undulating darbuka beats deliver an elastic undercarriage to an excoriating tarogato barrage. Like Bennink, he’s also not averse to piling on metallic detritus to add grit and dissonance to his fractured rhythms. “A Daytime Nightmare” features the fiercest and most concentrated mayhem of the date. Brötzmann blows in shrieking spouts and Zerang responds with pummeling clatter, but the clouds break in the final minutes as the saxophonist once again turns reflective in a passing spate of raw steak swing. The concert may echo a host of earlier encounters, but with the value in the details there is still plenty here to recommend.

By Derek Taylor

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