Peter Brotzmann Octet: Machine Gun (FMP CD 24)
First time I heard this mongrel, my jaw damn-near hit
the floor. Used, as I was, to U.S. free jazz squall, this
was something else! The formative U.S. masters in that
sphere, pretty-much w/out exception, had their full musical
bases in the various interweavings of jazz, and their
hopes in some kinda spiritual/political transcendence/resolution...
But, these reference-points werent taken for granted
by Brotzmann & co...
Sure, their musical bases mostly came from jazz...but,
it was the timbral extremes that were the most crucial
thing from that source - melodic/harmonic/rhythmic influences,
although important, hardly played the same normative role
- whilst their hopes (at least to judge by this beast)
were for for some kinda apocalypse....and, the result?
Well...if recent innovative Western group musics mainly
have their bases - as I suspect - in some kinda unholy
alliance between James Brown & the Velvet Underground
(and, please note, I said mainly) then, for
anyone looking to make the Velvets-type move into timbral
extremity re the wind (rather than string) instruments,
this is, perhaps, the veritable killing floor... But,
to my mind, theres more than that going on.
Recorded in1968, with - as per Ornettes example
- a doubled lineup it, from the start, takes no prisoners.
In fact, if I was to imagine playing the opening of Machine
Gun after any earlier piece, it wouldnt be
a jazz track at all...itd be the final
(and most anarchic) cut off the Velvet Undergrounds
first which would most clearly provide the very best of
Reviewing an overwhelming barrage like this
is, to my mind, rather beside the point... The structural
components here are neither primarily melodic (as in most
small-group archaic musics), nor harmonic (as in the hiart
western tradition, and its truly variegated offspring)...
Instead, as in the most archaic large group musics we
know of - the truly-collective ritual musics still surviving
- the structure is essentially a dramatic
rather than a purely musical one...and, that
drama is more of an incohate struggle, rather
than any forgone conclusion...
It is in this, I think, rather than - more simply - the
timbral dimension, that makes this album the key parallel
to the Velvets work in rocknroll...
For both, at their extremes, rediscover the crucial collective-point
of ancient archaic musics - that drive toward extremity
which, miraculously, produces strongly emergent form.
That the Velvets were mainly happy to build on same, whilst
Brotzmann & co were (mostly) more interested in undermining
it is an interesting point. Yet, nevertheless, these two
groups clearly entertained both perspectives...as we can
easily hear. In contrast, we can also hear that their
free-jazz models were, seemingly, trapped between an excessively
individualistic model derived from be bop, and the overly
collectivist approaches they had derived from disciplined
small-group African musics. And so...just, maybe, it took
the ignorant to break through these spells?
John Henry Calvinist