“We finish the evening with a little short song.” A characteristic understatement, at the end of the Peter Brötzmann quartet’s concentrated and powerful set, from the small-framed, modest man seen quietly chatting to punters before the concert, and who would meticulously trim his woodwind reeds in moments when he was not centre-stage.
Brötzmann opened the evening with a stunning solo set, firstly on tarogato, then tenor. The clarinet and its close relations have rarely been stretched to the extremes to which it was subjected in the opening number – physically manipulated to draw out rasping, strained articulations, combined with just-audible vocalisations, Brötzmann ‘strangled’ his instrument’s upper joint and barrel, coaxing sounds that conventional musicians would never get near (or imagine). Bechet’s raucous tone and Roland Kirk’s masterly ventures on the instrument are Brötzmann’s precursors.
With other reed instruments throughout the evening – including his tenor with its beautifully engineered flat profile crook – Brötzmann brought out sounds that tended to the extreme range of these instruments’ potential, with only a dab of lyricism or hint of a more conventional melody. His focus was on a higher-pitched range which would hit stratospheric levels at key points during the second set. Every so often, his vibrating, plaintive articulation brought to mind the idea of a giant insect, and animal calls over great distances – taking his music outside the realm of purely musical traditions.
Brötzmann’s co-musicians for the extended second set – John Edwards (string bass), Tony Marsh (drums), and Pat Thomas (piano) were a well-chosen foil to his peregrinations. Opening at phenomenal velocity, they maintained this tempo and a well-oiled cohesion all evening. Pat Thomas was a revelation, supplying canyons of chords and spring-loaded extemporisations, with a sense of split-second timing for each interjection. Marsh, accomplished, fluent and solid, kept the foursome in check. Edwards pummelling his bass (and its body) was not fazed by having to perform running repairs to a slaughtered string half-way through. Clearly, Brötzmann felt very comfortable with this combination, thoughtfully listening to their contributions, and watching closely as each made their own statements.
It is great that such a master has made it to club venues in London this time round (after ignoring London in 2008). Café Oto is lovely setting for this kind of music, with its Dutch warehouse feel (and great bar selection). We can look forward to his Vortex gigs with relish.