Peter Brötzmann, Visual Artist | Bleader

Peter Brötzmann, Visual Artist



Tree on Hill 2 (2009, ink and instant coffee on paper)
  • Tree on Hill 2 (2009, ink and instant coffee on paper)
Starting this evening, Corbett vs. Dempsey presents an exhibition of new visual art by iconic German free-jazz reedist Peter Brötzmann. The show includes more than 30 pieces, most of which are either woodcut prints or watercolors. The gallery has presented art by Brötzmann before, but never a show of this magnitude featuring all-new work—though some of the art dates back to 2005, none of it's been on public display before.

I'm no art critic, but it's easy to see correspondences between his visual art and his music; they're both bold and muscular, with thick, assertive lines, but hidden in plain sight amid the powerful gestures are occasional tenderness and even beauty. In conjunction with the show the gallery has produced a CD titled Mayday featuring almost 12 minutes of music from an early Brötzmann trio performance in May 1966 with bassist Peter Kowald and drummer Pierre Courbois. You can still hear faint traces of postbop in the terse, high-velocity opening head, but the saxophonist is also clearly well on his way to breaking things wide open. The gallery also plans to release a series of short CDs by Brötzmann, including music from rare seven-inch singles he put out on FMP Records. The exhibition runs through March 27, and there's an opening reception tonight from 5 till 9 PM.

Brötzmann remains as busy as ever, both with his visual art and with touring and recording. As usual there are a slew of recent Brötzmann releases, both new and archival. The superb Swedish label Olof Bright has uncovered a killer live session he recorded in Härnösand, Sweden, in September 1979 with Swedish percussionist Sven-Åke Johansson and German pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, both regular collaborators with Brötzmann in other contexts; this is the first time any music by this trio has been released. Up and Down the Lion—Revised is a knockout session with a thrilling ebb and flow. Johansson alternates splashy, cymbal-thick energy playing with hard-to-pin-down clatter, much of it very quiet and usually paired with Schlippenbach's terrific tinkering inside the piano. On the second piece this almost gentle scraping and plucking quickly turns into a nightmarish barrage of sound, with Schlippenbach flinging huge splats of raked strings and Brötzmann's clarinet exploding into its serrated upper register. Sometimes historical recordings are interesting documents but don't warrant repeated listening—that's not the case here.

Brötzmann at Lake Michigan
  • Brötzmann at Lake Michigan
Some of my favorite performances by Brötzmann have been solo concerts—after more than two decades of hearing him live, I was blown away last March by a solo show in Sweden. The set captured on the recent Lost & Found (FMP) is just as good. Recorded in Nickelsdorf, Austria, in summer 2006, it covers his full expressive range, including bulldozer power, squalls of overblowing, upper-register difference tones, and surprising delicacy, from the B-flat clarinet flutters and bluesy melodic fragments on the title track to the breathy extrapolation of Monk's "Crepuscule With Nellie" in the middle of "Got a Hole In It."

Perhaps the most fascinating recent work by Brötzmann turns up on A Night in Sana'a (ARM), a project featuring Chicago percussionist Michael Zerang and five superb traditional musicians from Yemen. The pairing of styles and approaches doesn't always work, but when it does—as on the opening track, "Aza-Hu Wa Adhla-Ni," where Brötzmann's big, warm tenor erupts halfway through a percolating Arabic groove—it's astonishing. Before the project commenced in December 2004, the reedist recorded a few themes and sent them to the Yemeni musicians, who did the same with some traditional music. Neither Brötzmann nor the Yemenis depart from their native musical languages in the collaborations, so when free jazz is the focal point most of the Yemeni musicians (the ones playing violin, cello, kanun, and ney) tend to sit out, letting Zerang and the other percussionist raise the temperature; on the Arabic pieces, the German picks his spot carefully, dropping in a solo that glides and sizzles over the melodic shapes. Brötzmann has worked with non-Western musicians before—he played with Moroccan guimbri master Mahmoud Gania on The Wels Concert (Okka Disk, 1997)—and he always finds a way to connect.

The Damage Is Done
  • The Damage Is Done
Brötzmann's long-running but intermittent Chicago Tentet occasionally breaks off into ad hoc groupings during its tours, and once such configuration—with Brötzmann, bassist Kent Kessler, horn man Joe McPhee, and drummer Michael Zerang—has grown legs, recording and touring on its own. Following Tales Out of Time (Hatology, 2004) and another release called Guts (Okka Disk, 2007), the quartet has issued a double CD for the Polish imprint Not Two, The Damage Is Done—the powerful woodblock cover art, which shares the album's title, is among the pieces included in the Corbett vs. Dempsey exhibit. The group delivers typically ferocious free jazz with plenty of space and nice valleys of less kinetic action. The real highlight for me is the sophisticated interplay that emerges from the front line: McPhee alternates between trumpet and alto saxophone, and Brötzmann juggles alto and tenor saxes as well as tarogato and B-flat clarinet.

Brötzmann will pick up his horns later on this visit. On Wednesday night at the Hideout he'll duet with cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and play in a quartet with Lonberg-Holm, drummer Frank Rosaly, and bassist Jason Roebke. Brötzmann and Lonberg-Holm have a relatively recent release as well: The Brain of the Dog in Section, recorded on November 28, 2007, and issued last year by Atavistic. It's an especially raucous, noisy effort. Below you can hear "Section 3" from the album:

Today's playlist:

Miles Davis, Collectors Items (Prestige/OJC)
Meredith Monk, Beginnings (Tzadik)
Golden Serenades, Hammond Pops (+3dB)
Manoel Da Conceição, Batucada do Mané (BMG, Brazil)
Farida, Sun of Iraq (Music & Words)