The Unheard Brötzmann

Photo by Dagmar Gebers

LOTSA BRÖTZ: We’re proud to introduce four key albums that have languished in obscurity for too long.

Like his formidable playing, Peter Brötzmann’s sprawling discography is a force unto itself. Along with fellow titans such as Anthony Braxton and John Zorn, his albums constitute a rich musical universe unto themselves. But after a while, it’s natural to wonder: How many Brötzmann albums do I really need? The answer is likely a lot more than you think.

Although best known for his blitzkrieg saxophone attack — which his most famous albums like Machine Gun and Balls faithfully represent — he’s too often pigeonholed for that fiery approach. There are many  aspects to his playing and his far-flung collaborations; these are filled with inventive soundscapes, deft and playful improvs, beautiful and tart lyricism, and a variety of compositional approaches.

A few corners of Brötzmann’s music remain largely undiscovered. A handful of prime sessions that showcase unusual sides of his work — pieces with viola and banjo; tunes inflected with tango and folk music; simulations of looped rhythms; homages to Ornette Coleman — have fallen through the cracks. Known to hardcore fans, these albums were waxed by FMP but fell out of print before they could make it onto CD. They’ve been eclipsed by more famous and widely available recordings. But because of their outlier status, some of these albums now sound fresher than his better-known offerings.


1977: Half A Dog Can’t Piss 

The first duo album between Brötzmann and Han Bennink finds them a playful mood, showing off their virtuosic range with forays into viola, piano, clarinet, and even banjo! Their musical interactions are deft and constantly surprising, like brilliant magicians who move effortlessly from one astonishing trick to another.

“What these two kindred spirits can do with their instruments is astounding.” — Cadence


1981: Kellers/Brötzmann

Brötzmann pairs with the young drummer and vibraphonist Willi Kellers, laying down two longer tracks that continually morph in surprising ways.

“In phases reminiscent of Eric Dolphy, [‘Edelgard’] creates a tension which discharges only briefly. ‘Helaas Maar’ makes South American tango music and folk songs resonate like flirtatious rock ‘n’ roll sax. From these references, the drums roll in free passages, which evolve into joyous, almost danceable pieces. An exciting album.” — Pro Und Kontra


1987: GO-NO-GO

The fitting title refers to that moment in a missile launching when the operation must either be cancelled or allowed to continue towards completion. There’s a sense of no turning back with these explosive saxophone duets, in which Brötzmann and Alfred Harth veer between intense blowing, textural explorations, and a beautifully off-kilter lyricism.

“It’s exciting music, thoughtfully programmed to ensure that the sound of two solo reeds doesn’t grow monotonous. At a few moments, like the weirdly beautiful ‘Owls Hoot,’ they find a unique lyrical tang. This refreshingly unslick sax music.” — The Wire


1989: In a State of Undress

This rare quartet date offers yet another facet of Peter Brötzmann’s music, showcasing him in a relatively straight ahead context which evokes Ornette Coleman’s classic band of the ’60s. There are sweet playful melodies, intertwined rhythms, and terrific horn playing courtesy of Manfred Schoof.

“Manfred Schoof leads an excellent quartet through ‘In A State Of Undress.’ The operative reference here is the Ornette Coleman quartet, circa 1965-1970. Schoof, with errant hero Peter Brötzmann on alto saxophone, bassist Jay Oliver and drummer Willi Kellers, play at an effervescent pulse, with Schoof and Brötzmann taking off together on sweet, playful melodies independent of the rhythm. Every shot here is a great one.” — Ben Ratliff, CODA

We hope you’ll check out these revelatory albums.

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