Brötzmann – Bekkas – Drake: Catching Ghosts

The trio improvises at Jazzfest Berlin on incantations from Gnaoua liturgy, using reeds, guembri (a three-string African bass) and percussion


I fell under the spell of Gnawa music when reviewing Majid Bekkas on the wonderful Magic Spirit Quartet album, also released by ACT. Excellent, then, to have another opportunity to listen to Bekkas in a slightly different setting, playing alongside Peter Brötzmann and Hamid Drake in a live and equally hypnotic set of performances.

The 81-year-old Brötzmann is no stranger to Gnaouan encounters, having played with guembri masters Maalem Moukhtar Gania and Maalem Mahmoud Gania on previous occasions. Affected by the pandemic and with reduced lung capacity from smoking as a young man, Brötzmann still puts out a stunning sound as he weaves his performance between Bekkas on guembri and the propulsive, throbbing beats of Drake on drums and percussion.

The trio improvise on incantations from Gnaoua liturgy, the four compositions following a similar pattern; the similarity provides the album with a wholeness that sounds entirely in keeping with the purpose of the music. Most impressive of all, the band did not rehearse once before this performance, with the musicians drawing on their years of experience and instincts.

The music has a strange sense of power, being drawn from age-old traditions. Bekkas gives a strong vocal performance in a live setting, drawing the listener in as the themes build to powerful climaxes after calls and responses have been developed during the open sequences. There is no denying the hypnotic appeal of Gnawa – it draws you in and simply won’t let you go. 

Chalaba; Mawama; Hamdouchia; Balini (42.56)
Peter Brotzmann (ts, as, cl); Majid Bekkas (guembri, v); Hamid Drake (d, pc). Jazzfest Berlin, 4 November 2022.
ACT 9970-2