Album reviews

Oxbow + Peter Brötzmann: ‘An Eternal Reminder Of Not Today: Live At Moers Festival 2018’

Oxbow + Peter Brötzmann: An Eternal Reminder Of Not Today: Live At Moers Festival 2018

(Trost Records. Album review by Tony Dudley-Evans)

Oxbow are a rock band founded in San Francisco in 1988. Their music moves between heavy rock, avant metal, musique concrète and an occasional touch of the blues.  It has a high energy rock approach with abrasive in-your-face vocals from Eugene S. Robinson. 

On this recording from a live set at the Moers Festival in Germany, Oxbow are joined by saxophonist Peter Brötzmann.  A compatibility between heavy rock or avant metal and high octane free jazz is apparent, and there have been a number of successful collaborations, for example Mette Rasmussen, a saxophonist strongly influenced by Brötzmann, has toured with Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and, in a slightly different vein, trumpeter  Wadada Leo Smith has performed with the Deerhoof group.

This collaboration between Oxbow and Brötzmann works really well.  There is an affinity between Robinson’s vocals and Brötzmann’s tone on the tenor saxophone; both have a raw expressive sound.  My experience of Oxbow gigs as a jazzer is that, however good and powerful they are, there is an element missing.  In this live set that missing element comes from Brötzmann who plays at his absolute powerful best.

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The success of the collaboration is immediately clear on Angel (Track 1) which begins with Niko Wenner’s guitar before Robinson enters on vocals.  Brötzmann bides his time until he enters, but, when he does, it is with a feeling of blues that gradually builds into really intense freely improvised blowing that fits well with the vocals.   This is the pattern throughout the recording: excellent high energy interaction between vocals and saxophone with occasional extended techniques from the rest of the group, notably Wenner on guitar. 

Certain tracks, e.g. Skin (Track 3) and  Over (Track 5) give more of a focus on Brötzmann’s soloing, while Host (Track 6) is more of a band feature. The final track, The Valley, has a different atmosphere from the other tracks; it begins with a mysterious vibe with skittering drums, whispered vocals and short phrases on the saxophone, and then moves into a number of gritty blues-inflected passages in which Robinson and Brötzmann combine very effectively.

One caveat: this was a live recording and the intensity and uncompromising nature of the music works well in the context of a live performance.  The audience clearly loved it, and there are loud cheers and whoops after each track, so it might be advisable to try to take in a couple of tracks at a time, rather than to listen to the whole album in one go.

LINK: An Eternal Reminder on Bandcamp

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