As much as I love the searing rasp of Peter Brötzmann’s tenor attack, of late I’ve found his ragged glory most stimulating when he’s allied with more… shall we say cosmic sparring partners.
This thought, previously fleeting, came into focus when I caught his new trio, which pits the Wuppertal road warrior against Steve Noble and Keith Tippett, in London last week. I caught the first of two nights. Noble was in typically groovy form, laying down a tough polyrhythmic backbone to give the pleasingly unbalanced trio some heft. But it was Tippett’s trippy melodicism that pushed things in a really interesting direction.
During a furious opening salvo, Tippett’s rollicking stride-style chords didn’t lessen Brötzmann’s power, instead giving the whole outfit a rather jaunty swing. As things quieted down, Tippett’s piano preparations – placing pebbles on certain groups of strings in the middle octaves – resulted in a brittle, zither-like sound when he strayed into that part of the keyboard, giving his playing a beautifully disjointed feel.
At the start of the second set, Tippett was at it again, this time playing gorgeous fragments of melody for Brötzmann to match and complete, before the threesome ramped things up again for another tempestuous blast.
In Mental Shake, vibes player Jason Adasiewicz takes the Tippet role, making up a quartet that sees Noble hooking up with his partner in rhythmic crime John Edwards, with Brötzmann himself completing the foursome.
Brötzmann’s played with Adasiewicz before, of course, notably on 2012’s Going All Fancy. On Mental Shake Adasiewicz’s vibraphone lines are similarly aggressive and beautiful, silvery molecules of melody that seem to hang in the air, leaving sonic traces long after even the echoes of the notes have faded. Elevator muzak from a collapsing universe.
The session was recorded at Café Oto in August 2013 and issued on record earlier this year, on Otokuru, Café Oto’s own label. Adasiewicz makes his presence felt from the very start of the record, his well-placed notes forming a glistening cocoon around the surging toms and bass. Brötzmann, meanwhile, puts his rough and reedy tarogato (he switches to clarinet and tenor later) front and centre with sinuous, bluesy wails.
There’s a lovely bit about two-thirds of the way into the first track – imaginatively titled Mental Shake 1 – where all the noise collapses leaving just a spacey drift. The reeds are silent for a while as Noble tickles cymbals and Adasiewicz’s vibes circle around in playful twirls. Edwards looms ominously in the background before Brötzmann comes slithering back in. The piece picks up and, as it careers towards its close, Brötzmann’s back pushing at his sonic boundaries, this time sounding as if he’s been listening to Aaron Dilloway’s snake charmer tapes. The other three play fast and furious behind him, racing to catch up.
Adasiewicz has another chance to spread his wings (mallets?) at the start of Mental Shake 2, laying down a hazy and meditative interlude that’s like a slow dawn, before the heat of the full quartet comes blazing in for another blast of euphoric, whirlwind bliss. The piece finally bows out in a clanking stomp, reconfiguring melody, rhythm and dissonant fury into a mighty free jazz monolith.
Mental Shake is a tremendous document of a fascinating session. An essential addition to a discography already packed with great recordings.
Buy Mental Shake from Café Oto’s online store.