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Peter Brötzmann / William Parker / Hamid Drake - Never Too Late But Always Too Early

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Artist: Peter Brötzmann / William Parker / Hamid Drake

Album: Never Too Late But Always Too Early

Label: Eremite

Review date: Jul. 29, 2003

A Lesser Jolt

Even back on his earliest recordings from 1967, the sound of Peter Brötzmann’s reeds is a howling punishing force for which many listeners are unprepared. Famed for his intensity, his relentless drive, his stamina, and his sheer volume (Brötz was once asked if he could hear any other musicians when he gets a full head of steam going; he replied, only half-joking, "sometimes the drummer"), the powerhouse player has become the object of some reverence in the United States recently. He’s been able to set up tours for many of his regular groups, including the ever-popular Die Like a Dog. This group – originally formed as a tribute to Albert Ayler, with Brötz accompanied by trumpeter Toshinori Kondo, bassist William Parker, and drummer Hamid Drake – has seen a few lineup changes and has often performed as a trio (without Kondo).

That’s the unit on this long, raging double-disc, which documents a complete evening at Montreal’s Casa del Popolo from April 2001. The passionate music is dedicated to the memory of the extraordinary bassist Peter Kowald, who died in September 2002. At first blush, this might seem an odd tribute. For though the two had been friends and musical partners since the 1960s, Brötz’s sonic attack had contrasted rather sharply of late with the subtlety and reserve that Kowald incorporated into his musical activities. So your mileage with Herr Brötzmann will clearly vary. While Die Like a Dog has become a supremely tight band – and they can just crush people live – there is a sense that they are treading water just a bit. Don’t get me wrong: this band treading water still kicks an awful lot of ass. It’s just that much of their activities have been reduced to the kicking of ass, which is not always what I want from music. So does this recording distinguish itself from the ass-kicking glories of, say, their first disc or one of the superb volumes of Little Birds Have Fast Hearts? Yes insofar as this is trio music, but no in that it hews largely to the group’s familiar practices.

It’s a marathon ride, and from Brötz’s opening shrieks on tarogato you know that seatbelts should remain firmly fastened. The trio cycles through most of its moods, registers, and instrumentations throughout the long and rewarding sets: crushing funk, rolling free expressionism, muscular swing, and the occasional dark textural mood. The latter is the rarest commodity for this band, so it’s a pleasure to hear the dark melancholy that opens the second set, where Brötz’s bass clarinet speaking mournfully to Parker’s arco bass. And though this set slowly morphs into a more abstracted rendering of the same territory that opened the first set, Drake shifts frequently into his colorist mode here, a fine reprieve from the Blackwell-on-steroids grooves that tend to dominate (albeit exhilaratingly so). The second set additionally features very good, expressive bass and drum solos. And both discs are filled with the nice, harsh lyricism that distinguishes this band. That said, it’s hard to avoid the sense that they’re going over territory already well covered elsewhere. So your appraisal of this disc will ultimately boil down to how much of a jolt to your system this group’s over-the-top energy creates. My system remained relatively intact. It sounds like it was a great gig, and those less familiar with the output of these guys were probably atomized.

By Jason Bivins

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