REVIEW: Peter Brötzmann and Heather Leigh at Cafe Oto

Heather Leigh and Peter Brötzmann at Cafe Oto
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2016. All Rights Reserved

Peter Brötzmann and Heather Leigh
(Cafe Oto, 20 February 2016; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

There is an intriguing dynamic in the way Peter Brötzmann, renegade reedsman and free jazz beacon, and Heather Leigh, non-conformist pedal steel guitarist and songwriter, improvise together. Their 90 minute set at Cafe Oto was remarkable for the flux of the structures that defined the emerging musical forms and for the intuitive daring with which both musicians imprinted their presence on the dialogue.

Brötzmann is a well-established favourite at Cafe Oto, having appeared in many guises ranging from his iconic Tentet to smaller groupings with some of the most challenging and inventive players on the circuit. Leigh, now based in Glasgow, has roots in Texas and the mining territory of West Virginia, and in January launched her solo album, I Abused Animal, on Stephen O’Malley’s Ideologic Organ label, at the same venue.

Brötzmann’s initial tárogató blast was countered by a precious, lingering delivery from Leigh which gradually dissembled to the influx of insistent riffs and figures, brought on by either musician; part of the mystery of the performance was in keeping track of the source of each chapter’s repetitive underpinnings and the constant swapping of initiatives that defined their route.

Leigh induced a swirling mix of the raw, bleak territory of Ry Cooder’s Paris Texas, and the granular, gravelly side of Sonic Youth, that collided with Brötzmann’s machine gun attack – a harsh but beautiful desperation expressed through the pleading, near vocal phrasing on any of his arsenal of favoured instruments – tárogató, metal soprano clarinet, lustrous tenor and bass clarinet. Asked recently about his instrumentation, he replied, giving a disarmingly direct explanation: ‘I work well with functional equipment. They will develop their own beauty.’

Handbrake turns abounded. Refusing to be second guessed Brötzmann delivered breathtakingly impolite interventions, slashing the arteries just when the conversation seemed to have wound to a standstill. Not to be outdone, Leigh was equally capable of raising the stakes, drifting in and over the roughshod reeds with an amplified, resonating wash of tingling, echoing metallics.

But that’s not to say it was only one-way Caliban and Aerial; Brötzmann extended his vocabulary, to push himself and his instruments to the extremes and then flipped to a spot of the serene phrasing associated with Coleman Hawkins. Leigh’s shimmering chimes hung in the air and then devolved into unforgiving Hendrix-inspired distortion and feedback. This was invention and expression sprinkled with a transcendent intensity.

Peter Brötzmann on bass clarinet
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2016. All Rights Reserved

Categories: miscellaneous

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