Due to its previous rarity, Nipples has been something of a free jazz cult item, even championed by Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore. Now with a more easily found CD available, listeners can hear that it's not quite a lost classic but still comes by its reputation honestly. To be fair, the slightly muffled sound quality doesn't help music this detail-oriented, but perhaps listeners should be glad it was even recorded. The 18-minute title track (the original LP's first side) is a performance by improvisers who would become well-known names but were still making their marks in 1969. Brotzmann, of course, is on tenor sax with Evan Parker also playing tenor (instead of his usual alto), guitarist Derek Bailey, pianist Fred Van Hove, drummer Han Bennink, and the now mostly forgotten Buschi Niebergall on bass. They create a swirl of sound with saxes locking into repeated riffs that generally change slowly but sometimes take abrupt leaps while the drum, bass, and guitar roll in waves and the piano jumps in with hyperactive runs. The music's dense, everything-at-once nature sometimes makes it seem like a hot-headed competition, but in the end it's the musician's construction of intricately detailed patterns that really matter. The 15-minute "Tell a Green Man" finished the album. A performance by just Brotzmann, Van Hove, Niebergall, and Bennink, the piece offers a contrast by a closer focus on each instrument instead of group improvisation. The piece opens with Bennink alone on drums at a mid-tempo before Niebergall enters with bowed bass. Brotzmann and Van Hove eventually jump in, pushing the others. Nipples is certainly not the best introduction to these musicians but nevertheless offers a fascinating look at their early careers.
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AllMusic Review by Lang Thompson