Peter Brötzmann

Live in Berlin '71

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In 1971, Berlin was the killing floor of free jazz -- at least in Europe where people like Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, John Coltrane, Archie Shepp, and Pharoah Sanders ceased to matter for a while. The Europeans couldn't believe the Americans had beaten them to the creation of a new music that threw their own centuries-old conventions completely out the window and set them afire. They figured if they couldn't play jazz or free jazz like the Americanskis, they might as well create a new Euro free jazz. (It's amazing how much it sounds like American free jazz of the same period though.) Some are shell-shocked to this day and have insisted on a neo-fascistic, "Euro-only" improvised music. It would be hilarious if it weren't sad. These four guys had other ideas. They were looking to take the free jazz thing to a limit heretofore unimagined let alone untried. Given these three concerts that were recorded during a week in which Ornette Coleman, Don Sugarcane Harris, and Miles Davis were all in town drawing huge audiences, the quartet proved its point. The trio had been together since 1968 from Brötzmann's Machine Gun period, and added Mangelsdorff's trombone for these dates specifically (which were originally issued on three LPs). What reveals itself in the über energetics on display here is the ability of one quartet to take so much for granted and yet express so much in the process. Van Hove, for instance, shuns all conventions in his approach to the piano: he quotes Liszt and Schubert as well as Ellington and Peterson then wipes all of them out with his elbows as if erasing a chalkboard. His "Florence Nightingale" is a perfect example. Texturally, he creates diversions from the fury while never disengaging from it. Brötzmann and Mangelsdorff are out and out challenging each other to see who can destroy their instruments first, and Han Bennick is the most proactive percussionist in jazz history. His use of anything and everything while simultaneously playing a trap kit that creates time is astonishing. Elsewhere, on Brötzmann's "Elements," African percussion and slow, long opened tonal drones by Mangelsdorff create a backdrop for the other two to explore without rushing in. Brötzmann enters almost tenderly, looking for a room to exit out of, but engaging himself in the microtonalities created by the rhythm section. Van Hove's long augmented chords create a mode for not opening but splintering that exit and Brötzmann ushers the band through in a hurry heading for the outer reaches of the possible. Over seven compositions and two CDs, this sense of interplay, "blow-'til-you-drop" enthusiasm, and textural creation never ceases. There is wonder and violence at every turn. But one has to remember something about musical violence; often it is the result of creating something new without tearing anything else down. And that's what this trio set forth for all those years ago -- the creation of a high-energy music that was above all things musical, full of terrible beauty and awe-inspiring energy. This is one of the best documents of the period on any continent.

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