Review: Hairy Bones – Peter Brötzmann, Toshinori Kondo, Massimo Pupillo and Paal Nilssen-Love (Vortex, 23 March, 1st and 2nd shows, and 24 March, 2nd show – review and pencil drawing(*) by Geoff Winston)
Night 1 – sets 1 and 2
“Tomorrow night, tomorrow night … we play something completely different …” Peter Brötzmann said at the end of the first night at the Vortex. He and his co-musicians had played themselves out over two breathtaking sets. This is a quartet which puts itself through extraordinary hoops, leaves itself no easy options, and produces raw and joyous music.
The first impression had been unforgettable. The four musicians wander onto the stage, exchange glances and then, without preamble, unleash music of pure physical power. You feel the bass tones in the ribcage. The horns – Toshinoro Kondo’s trumpet and Brötzmann’s saxes create a different stratum of intensity, brilliant in unison, and at times almost indistinguishable. Yet, there is always balance, clarity and precision.
The rhythm section is thunderous. Paal Nilssen-Love’s drumming has drive and the discipline. In tandem with with Massimo Pupillo’s resounding electric bass, it gives Kondo and Brötzmann the lead to play percussively at times. It is not an anarchic onslaught, it’s more of a catharsis.
This high-voltage performance did have its moments of respite, however. Sensitive duets throughout the two sets were an essential part of the fabric of the quartet’s telepathic interaction; and it was a disarming pleasure to witness them winding down to a deliberately ponderous close at the end of their supercharged opening number.
Brötzmann’s plaintive tarogato solo brought in a whiff of the near east. On alto and tenor his playing could be tender, then strained to the extreme, breaching the sound barriers. The inventive Kondo didn’t have his box of electronics on the first evening, it had been misrouted in transit. But he is inventive and plays with ingenuity and attack. His fingers were taut and stretched one moment, then would ripple over the valves with gentle ease. He played sitting, standing, or stooping, then would suddenly spring back, clutching his instrument, as if responding to invisible punches.
With their sheer power, Hairy Bones have echoes of Ornette’s live Prime Time group. The torrent of sounds – some muted, others almost vocal, spat, blown, hit – owed a debt both to punk, and to Kurt Schwitters’s sound poems from the 1920s, sharing their rhythmic core, their forceful declamation and their rejection of conventional content.
Brötzmann looked on, almost paternally at times, as the others took off, then, content, attended to his reeds with his fold-up penknife which he’d slip back in to his jacket pocket. The driving force of this whole remarkable venture is a craftsman.
Night 2 – set 2
Between sets, Brötzmann, in quilted outdoor jacket, was again busy preparing his armoury, carefully tending his reeds, gently warming up his tenor with his back to the busy house. Onstage, he dispensed with the formal black jacket of the previous evening, in favour of shirtsleeves. He seemed more relaxed, and the sound was subtly changed with the volume turned down a notch or so.
Brötzmann’s solo extemporisation on tenor, was supremely accomplished – something special. His flowing phrases acknowledged the heritage of other masters – Bechet, Hawkins, Webster, maybe.
Nilssen-Love, no sticks, was deftly striking the cymbals with his hands, then picking up padded mallets for a gentle interlude before returning to his polyrhythmic barrage. Pupillio’s face intent, breaking in to a smile in an interval between numbers, clearly just enjoying the playing, and Kondo, now fully equipped, extended his range – fighting invisible demons, then chasing shadows in a subtle passage of muffled, superimposed tones.
Vortex director Oliver Weindling described this as “music you might hear at an instant of creation.” It’s a supremely gifted, passionate and committed group. Will I hear a more completely fulfilling gig this year? I doubt it.
(*) Image Copyright Geoffrey Winston 2010. All Rights Reserved. Contact rights holder.
Really excellent review – makes me wish I'd been at the gig.
I was at both nights. Incredible performances, no other way of describing what I heard. After the second night I was mentally pulverised and emotionally bruised. The almost relentless ferocity and intensity of the sound created by these four musicians was unbelievable. I've never before heard anything else which would even approach it. Not to mention the volume levels – in the small and intimate venue which is the Vortex, even breathing became difficult under the conditions of almost total sonic assault which was Hairy Bones.