Thanks to Atavistic and its truly treasured Unheard Music Series, we finally have the Complete Machine Gun Sessions as recorded in 1968. That short-lived but forever memorable (in the annals of free music lore) band was led by the vision and über lungs of saxophonist/composer Peter Brötzmann. It was built out of his stellar trio with pianist Fred Van Hove and drummer Han Bennink (the Europeans were already tearing down the walls of nationalism and their association with the American free jazz scene). John Corbett, that wild poet, thinker, essayist, musician, disc jokey, and knower of all secret cultural connections between the "then" and "now" (we are lucky to have him) claims in his liner notes to this riotous set that Brötzmann "drew on the huge horn section of Lionel Hampton's "Flying Home" for inspiration, translating the hilarious saxophonic power of the jump blues and Illinois Jacquet's hooting and hollering into an abstraction painted with a flame thrower, à la Alberto Burri." He's right, as usual. That may not be hearable on first listen, as this octet -- rounded out with saxophone heroes Evan Parker, Willem Breuker, bassists Peter Kowald and Buschi Neibergall, and drummer Sven-Åke Johansson -- peels paint with its sheer power, and will no doubt startle anyone who hasn't heard it before -- but it's there. It can be heard upon subsequent listens as the arrangements, and the dynamic shifts and shuttles in the communication between players reveal themselves readily.
The compact disc compiles the complete three-cut LP recorded in a makeshift studio set up in a small club, the Lila Eule, in its originally sequenced incarnation, and issued on Brötzmann's BRO Records imprint (and reissued on FMP in 1972). It also presents two unreleased alternate takes from those sessions, one of the title track and another of "Responsible/For Jan Van De Ven." As if this weren't historic enough, the set features as its last track a live performance of "Machine Gun," performed live at the Frankfurt Jazz Festival a couple of weeks earlier with a fourth saxophonist, Gerd Dudek. The sound is a bit less than optimal, yet, at the same time, it sounds fantastic, everything can be heard, rough and tumble, crazy and loose. This isn't some bootleg tape, but something organic, raw and most certainly live. Machine Gun offers a portrait in sheer joy, that all is not lost and that something, perhaps everything, could be changed. (This is 1968, students who had taken to the streets and seized universities were claiming large bits of Europe for a short time.) The communication that exists here, and the stop-on-a-dime turnarounds and changes that take place, reveal that this is no ordinary blowing session. Something very extraordinary is taking place in these selections, the moment is being seized, and what exists is an entire musical universe that has abandon and a kind of optimism not often heard in free music. There is no artsy pretension, but the sense of real freedom, of going for it, wherever it happens to be. It's an ugly beauty that will make you laugh your ass off even as it blows your hair back. The louder you listen, the more that sense of laughter increases. It is subversive because it is only concerned with discovery. This one can't be recommended highly enough because its legend has stood the test of time, making it a true classic.