In 1984, German free jazz pioneer, Peter Brotzmann, played at the Berlin Jazz Festival with an 11-member (almost) all-star band. This reissued album on the Unheard Music Series is the only recorded gig that Brotzmann has played with saxophone avant-gardist John Zorn. The joke is, they are all here on clarinet. Philip Cheah reviews.


Click here to download a free 13-minute track (19MB) featuring Peter Brotzmann, Don Cherry (cornet), Fred van Hove (piano) and Han Bennink (drums) performing live in Koln, Germany on September 1, 1970. This recording, as far as we can ascertain, has not been officially released before. The track, which is untitled, was taken from an FM broadcast.

Red alert, all you John Zorn completists! This is the only recording where Peter Brotzmann, one of Europe's best free jazz saxophonists plays with American saxophone avant-gardist, John Zorn. The thing is, they are both here on clarinet.

Brotzmann, who emerged in the mid-'60s, was self-taught and became one of the most well known German free music performers. His seminal works include Nipples (1969) and Balls (1970), both examples of blistering white heat and both reissued on the Unheard Music Series.


Reissued late last year, Brotzmann Clarinet Project's Berlin Djungle (Unheard Music Series) was recorded in 1984 for the Berlin Jazz Festival. This was one year before Zorn's seminal The Big Gundown, which made him a household name. But Brotzmann's composition, What A Day, played in two 20-minute-plus parts involved a band of 11 players, six of whom, including Brotzmann and Zorn, would play clarinet.

The others are British jazzman Tony Coe (famous for his part in playing Henry Mancini's signature Pink Panther theme), East German Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky, young French player Louis Sclavis and New Yorker JD Parran. The band also has Cecil Taylor's rhythm section, William Parker on bass (heard on many recent Thirsty Ear/Blue Series releases) and drummer Tony Oxley. Two trombonists include Hannes Bauer and Alan Tomlinson and finally, there is the famed Japanese trumpeter Toshinori Kondo (whom DJ Krush has collaborated with).

The above is just one reason this performance is interesting. The other is that this is one of Brotzmann's more colourful and sophisticated settings. The large band isn't there for firepower. They are there to provide colours. You could call this Brotzmann's answer to an ambient free jazz recording. Like Zeena Parkins' and Ikue Mori's Phantom Orchard (2004), which visualises an environment through sound, What A Day seems to be doing the same thing. But it isn't dreamy or hallucinatory. Instead it is a clash of melody and rhythm. The 11 members are literally playing with and against each other.

Peter Brotzmann


On Part One of What A Day, a soft breathy airy tone is played (could this be Brotzmann playing the Hungarian tarogato, a reed related to the clarinet). The other clarinets start tumbling out of the woodwinds. The discovery here is Louis Sclavis whose melodic bass clarinet weaves in and out of the growing cacophony. Imagine if you will a forest of squawking and screeching birds. A Berlin jungle of clarinets indeed. Add that to Zorn's various mouthpieces and what you get are zany duck calls, monkey chatter and harsh raspy timbres. After a long burst of joyous noise from everyone, a quieter passage featuring a melodic clarinet solo emerges (Could this be Coe, known for his more melodic work?). Then a final wail where everyone sneaks in a small solo wherever possible while Parker keeps the rhythm on keel with his pulsating bass line.

The animals you heard on Part One courtesy of the brass section with rhino horns (pun intended) and trumpeting elephants are back in full charge on Part Two. Now that the pattern is set, the band settles in for alternating passages of fury where high horn notes show bursting animal rage and lovely clarinet lines temper the near uncontrollable angst. There is an interesting mid-section where the players are blowing just to hear the sound of passing air. It sounds like angry snorts. Suddenly, the whole wind section takes off on a noisy flight leaving Parker alone fretting on his bass. Finally, drummer Tony Oxley reasserts himself with a tribal drum solo before the rest of the band joins him in restating the theme.

The end in this case wasn't a whimper but a big bang.

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