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Review: Keiji Haino and Peter Brötzmann

Keiji Haino and Peter Brötzmann
(Café Oto, Sunday 10 April 2011; review and drawings of Haino – above – and Brötzmann – below – by Geoff Winston.*)

Keiji Haino (guitar and vocals) and Peter Brötzmann (reeds) both have experience, attitude, musical honesty, and then some. Their three sets over two and a half hours at Cafe Oto – two solo and then a duo – were displays of compelling mastery.

Haino is a completely original explorer and pathfinder. His unadulterated, spring-loaded interrogation of the fretboard was unpredictable, impassioned, yet intuitively structured; fluid but ratcheted up to the limit. The high volume was assertively loud – not at the breaking points of Lou Reed’s MM3 or Swans – in the cause of building up a sharp, dense and clearly defined sound assault, which was instilled into every nook of the packed Oto room, and which could suddenly vanish for a matter of seconds or find itself repeated and looped remotely as Haino took to the microphone with an unassailable gutteral attack, inchoate sounds emanating – straight out of the horror movie soundtrack – to which his diminutive wraith-like figure, long salt and pepper grey flowing hair and clothed to match, large black shades, gave the lie. Think Munch’s ‘The Scream’.

Following Haino’s ultra-intense solo set, Brötzmann responded in perfect complementary mode – richly hued playing – picking up and echoing the figures that Haino had set up, exploring them intently, and sensitively. He returned again and again to the same points of reference, a rhythm, a phrase, only for these to emerge differently each time. And a word, too, for an excellent sound mix and balance.

Brötzmann’s complement of single reed instruments – copper hued tenor and alto, his tarogato and his rare silver clarinet – was given full acoustic rein to match the electric power of Haino’s custom-made red guitar. As with Haino, there was no let-up. For both players, when most would have run out of things to say and let a piece come to a natural close, they each returned to ask more questions, to turn up the heat. Brötzmann’s solo was ‘full blast’, but with a continually moderated, if raw, modulation. A true master – a sensei.

Their duo set was perfectly balanced, starting at an acoustic level, with Brotzmann then very subtly bouncing off Haino and steering key passages with unmitigated confidence, before invading visceral territory. Brötzmann was so convincing in this context – he had the energy and the presence of mind to rise to the challenge, and between them they wove in and around all manner of self-imposed musical obstacles and icons – Hawk, or Derek Bailey, Moondog, Son House; and a lovely few moments where the sound of Brötzmann shaving his reed was a prelude for Haino’s briefly restrained solo sequence. A process of call and response underpinned the edifice which was the dialogue that they rapidly constructed.

The music and the sounds were at times violent, discordant, terrifying and thunderous, but ultimately sparkled with a pulsating affirmation; a rare and rarified experience.

This was a masterclass in the art of the impossible. Café Oto have done it again.

*Drawings copyright Geoffrey Winston 2011. All Rights Reserved

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