Friday, 16 August 2013
BRÖTZMANN / ADASIEWICZ / EDWARDS / NOBLE -- CAFE OTO 12.08.2013
The relative engagement of Brötzmann performances tends to vary on the particular set of instrumental collaborators he’s playing with, & this quartet was certainly an unusual take on things. (By ‘engagement’, I don’t mean Brötzmann’s own - he does his thing, and consistently - more the contextual framing of that thing, its relative predictability or consistent hitting of the area known in sports parlance as the ‘zone’.) The vibes setup inevitably set ‘Out to Lunch’ connections in orbit (particularly as I’d be running through Dolphy tunes in my head on the cycle ride over), but Adasiewicz is a very different, much busier vibes player than Hutcherson, just as Brötzmann is a very different player to Dolphy, far less angular, with an approach far less obviously accommodating to a pairing with vibes. Whereas Hutcherson on OTL will strike a note with a clang, followed by an unexpected, jagged, slightly extended pause, in tandem with the crisply off-kilter rhythm section of Richard Davis and Tony Williams, Adasiewicz favours (or did in this setting) strategies such as the repeating of a particular phrase with ever increasing dramatic emphasis, and virtuoso jazz runs up and down the vibes, notes a-flying in all sorts of directions. This latter, especially when combined with a predilection for setting up a pedall’d cushion around his sound, tends to fill up the space rather than leaving it, as Hutcherson does: none of that understated approach from OTL in which tension is amped up through contrast and a patient spacing and varying of approach; or, indeed, that of Archie Shepp’s ‘New Thing at Newport’, cocktail jazz put through the wringer and turned into sensuous, barfing disquiet, quiet love and rage, controlled yet unexpected eruption, elongation and foreshortening. Live, Adasiewicz is nothing if not demonstrative, to almost comic effect. One particular physical move sees him shift on his feet to strike some notes, then lift one foot off the ground and move to the sound, as if the physical after-effect of the power of striking that note is about to topple him to the floor like an out-of-control child, one who’s temporarily lost control of their limbs. In another, he lifts the keys up on their string and furiously rattles them about as additional un-tuned percussion to Noble’s drumming. Periodically, he wipes his dripping face and beard down with a towel like a tennis player between points.
So, the presence of vibes and of their particular deployment took some getting used to, particularly given that I was in the far left corner of the room, where the combined force of Noble’s extremely loud drumming, Adasiewicz’s also loud vibes and physically demonstrative performance, and the hyper-amplified sound of John Edward’s double-bass, at times threatened to drown out Brötzmann himself. This was especially evident in the passages of most extreme intensity, where the group became a churning morass of sound, an effect rather like listening to one of the bootleg or semi-legit recordings of 1960s free jazz, in which drumkits, cymbals in particular, create a near white-noise wash, bleeding into the near-undifferentiated cloud of volume and density formed by the rest of the group; from that cloud will emerge the most piercing and burred blasts and blarts of reed-bitten saxophone squall, blasts sounded because they are the only thing that will rise above the storm they also encourage and propel. Such a description might suggest typical Brötzmann fare, the ecstatic group effect that draws in free jazz fans again and again, but, in truth, his own playing tended as much towards the melancholy ‘ballad’ approach he’s favoured over the last couple of decades, a vibrato-heavy pathos-shading which one might best describe as an improvised impersonation or filtration of a tradition of tough-tender jazz saxophonists, from Ayler to Shepp to Coleman Hawkins. Often, he would enter with phrases that slowed the music down, that saw a sudden drop or transition in energy levels, sticking fairly closely to that phrase-area as the other musicians began to dip and rise, to boil away underneath, never letting the music actually enter straight jazz ballad territory, now a few blurts from the upper register, a deliberate shift, and then into ‘full blast’ territory.
The two sets performed were continuous and quite lengthy pieces, the first in particular lasting as much as an hour; after spending some time at one of those noise-peaks, Brötzmann would take a breather and come back in with another horn, during which time Adasiewicz would do his vibes thing, including one very sympathique, more lyrical linking up with the ecstatically-focused Edwards at some point during the second set. Noble seemed permanently restless in his refusal to let the music dip substantially, often hitting a pronounced thwack as if to rudely interrupt or prevent the opening up of too much space, to insist that the music stay on the high road, the speed-freakery of the autobahn. As with his recent performance with Anthony Pateras at the LCMF, it was an extremely solid and seasoned display, the reflexes of an improviser who’s played long enough and at a high enough level to be able to think automatically, without going through the motions. Yet somehow it felt like the sort of improv performance a rock drummer might get behind, over-emphatic in its effects and affect: sustained and fairly steady or ‘straight’ rhythms would be set up which forced the music into particular areas, such as the mallets passage at the start of the second set, and the consistent loudness felt like a particular mode of attaining intensity that is not necessarily always the best or must effective way of building a dynamic group sound - it’s almost a short-cut, one might say. Indeed, Noble’s playing, as much as the presence of Adasiewicz’s vibes, probably accounts for the rather more unusually and heavily jazz-flavoured passages that surprisingly proliferated: at times, Edwards would even play walking bass. There were moments when I found this a little uncertain, wasn’t sure how to engage with it, felt that it somehow made Brötzmann’s playing sound somewhat limited (as if throwing out some free-bop choruses might have better fitted the setting, though no-one would have wanted that). But there were also points at which I really liked the effect, the contrast between Brötzmann’s playing, which stuck to his usual two general areas (loud/full-blast and wounded balladry), and that backdrop, into which he would also fit his phrases rhythmically. A case in point, the final section, a kind of mutant blues swagger, Brötzmann on tenor, which moved out of the melancholy / despair tinges of the first half into something more assertively, if ambiguously joyous, even, though somehow devastating in its effect - or perhaps that was simply the cumulative effect of something like two hours of music. The Oto crowd, which had fairly packed out the space, filtered out quickly, off into the night, space to digest, exhaustion, the slow come-down.