Brotzmann/Wilkinson Quartet - "Greetings Herr B and Herr K" (One Night in Burmantofts)
As unabashedly cathartic as hearing Peter Brötzmann blow his lungs out atop a bracing rhythm section can be, it’s often an even better proposition when he has company. Fortunately, recent years have found him actively seeking out such situations, whether jousting with Joe McPhee, grappling horns with Mats Gustaffson, or linking up with a succession of lesser-knowns. One Night in Burmantofts chalks up another permutation in the tandem column of his catalog, one dating from a live Leeds gig in 1996. Co-conspirator Alan Wilkinson is well-suited to the partnership, having blown his share of stacks in frequent collaboration with drummer Paul Hession and in his own free jazz trio, Free Base. He’s also versed in the vernacular of free improv, a language that informs the set’s sporadic quieter sections with pursing reed pops, wordless vocals and other texture-based effects. Telling the two apart is fairly easy from the onset, but to aid in any on-the-fly taxonomy, Brötzmann chooses tenor, tarogato and clarinet as the delegates from his arsenal and Wilkinson arms himself with baritone and alto. Bassist Simon Fell and drummer Willi Kellers are inspired choices to rudder the rhythmic end. Fell is an improv celebrity in his own right and Kellers’ associations with Brötzmann date back at least to the latter’s late-'80s work for FMP.
Despite the salutatory intimations of its title, Brötzmann offers little quarter on “Greetings Herr B and Herr K,” the opening eleven-minute slab of reed violence. He and Wilkinson charge forth from adjacent stereo channels, a barbaric tenor blast by the former answered by a teeth-baring sortie from the latter’s alto. Fell, somewhat overly rubberized by his amplification, and Kellers churn up a surging whirlpool at their flanks, before the waves break on a wounded cry from Brötzmann’s tenor. Heated exchanges ensue and much gusting breath expels through moistened reeds. A coda of pointillistic bass and cascading cymbals ferries the piece out.
At a few minutes shy of a half hour, “Cormorant Number Two” opens the playing field up further to Fell and Kellers as the quartet breaks apart into a series of subdivisions, starting with an invocation from the horns. Bells and arco drones bring the piece out of the customary Brötzmann brawn and bluster and there’s a surprising spaciousness to the interplay, the elder German bending to the agency of his younger colleagues. A ruminative clarinet reverie backed by pattering brushes and fibrillating bass turns raucous, and later Wilkinson barrels forth with a prolonged barrage of rattling baritone blasts. Brötzmann eventually rejoins him on tenor with another anthemic spout of gnarled notes, ramping through a cataclysmic third act to an oddly anticlimactic close. Fatman and Little Boy in terms of musical kilotonnage, “Bird Flew” and “All Back At Paul’s” explore similarly scorched earth territory, the first opening with an unexpectedly funky conversation between Kellers and Fell that leads into a seething tarogato and drums duet, quickly augmented by pummeling baritone and bass. Some degree of self-editing would probably have been judicious, but that’s rarely been Brötzmann’s style. He’s a heart-on-sleeve sort of artist without compunction when it comes to baring his musical soul at whatever length the moment mandates. Those who think they have Brötzmann summarily shoehorned would do well to check this departure out.