Peter Brötzmann, Alex von Schlippenbach, Han Bennink: Fifty Years After: Live At The Lila Eule

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It’s a pleasure to report that these three musicians continue to grow old as disgracefully as when they burst onto the European free-music scene in the 60s. Though each of them has, at one time or another, demonstrated that they can play with a degree of subtlety and sensitivity they don’t really have much time for that sort of thing, praise the Lord. This session, though not without passages of restraint, is full-on, sure to frighten the horses if not scandalise the servants. 

The title references Brötz’s (in)famous 1968 album, Machine Gun, recorded in the same location and performed by an international octet of ferocious free-jazz fauves, which included Bennink but not Schlippenbach … the pianist then was Fred van Hove. Schlippenbach has, though, played with the other two on diverse occasions. Debates are to be had (and have been) about whether this genre of music is free jazz or something else. I don’t much care which it is … and, if I may namedrop, when I interviewed Brötzmann several years ago (29 to be exact) it seemed clear that neither did he. Bennink and Schlippenbach came up through more mainstream jazz, but they are mostly known for free playing.

In concert Bennink can be fun to watch as he leaves the kit to play on walls, floor, chairs and pretty much anything else that attracts his attention. On record, without that distraction, you can concentrate fully on appreciating his driving, athletic, constantly evolving contribution to the music’s development. Schlippenbach mixes in effectively in the roiling collective improvisations, stabbing chords, or scattering surging, glittering cascades of notes, but when he gets some time in the spotlight it’s pleasing to hear him hark back to less frenetic contexts, displaying elements of his early admiration of Thelonious Monk. Brötzmann, for all that machine-gunner image and free-form commitment, quite often reveals (dare I say) a respect for structure and logical development.

In that interview, Brötz told me he liked to end a performance feeling pumped out. I’d guess all three players were after this, and so will listeners be. Glorious, cathartic stuff.

Discography
Fifty Years After; Frictional Sounds; Bad Borrachos; Street Jive; Short Dog of Sweet Lucy 64.01)
Brötzmann (ts, b-flat cl, taragato); von Schlippenbach (p); Bennink (d). Bremen, Germany, 26 May 2018.
Trost TR 194