By Ken Waxman
At this point in history listening to Peter Brötzmann improvise alongside two musicians a couple of decades younger than himself – a familiar activity for the past 20-odd years – is in a way analogous to hearing those 1940s sessions Sidney Bechet recorded with Bob Wilbur and Dick Wellstood. Here is a progenitor of a certain style, in the company of his acolytes who he accepts as equals since they have become conversant enough with the genre to bring their own idiosyncrasies and skills to the form. Crucially, besides not being a guru-and-disciples situation, like some other Bechet, Bunk Johnson and other instances there’s also no hint that the front man’s contributions are any less vigorous than the others’.
At the same time one can’t take the analogy too far. The skills and experience of drummer Steve Noble and bassist John Edwards are far, far removed from the musical school fumbling of many of the Dixieland followers who belabored the work of Jazz masters during the Trad Jazz revival. Together or alone, the bassist and drummer have worked with many other major improv stylists including John Butcher, Evan Parker, Derek Bailey, Louis Moholo-Moholo.
With as distinctive a tone as anyone brings to the music, Brötzmann begins the CD’s 43½-minute title track with a barbaric yap the goes on and on to reveal snorks, snarl, spits and spetrofluctuation, stimulating Noble’s equivalently constant clatter and Edwards’ sweeping and sawing. Mixing bellicose intensity with multi-fold melisma that’s as much snake charmer as rat catcher, the reedist contributes to the tune’s chromatic flow and is never bombastic. Mid-way through textures are altered as Brötzmann introduces the woody sounds of the tarogato, with the bassist extending these eastern plain references by making his strings buzz like a bass balalaika, and the drummer introducing cimbalon-like slaps. With Noble’s bass drum accents marking transitions, Edwards’ jagged triple-tempo pumping plus the saxophonist’s high-pitched staccato alto bites snake around one another at such velocity and congruence that tonal differences are more like those between fraternal twins than anything more marked. By the time the rough-hewn conclusion comes around the trio’s controlled coarseness has become another method in which to propel story telling as well as emotion. By the final 10 minutes in fact, the three could be showcasing their version of conventional jazz. Edwards’ regularized bass thump, Noble’s percussion colors and Brötzmann’s leap from mysterious flat-tone clarinet lines to shaped altissimo jumps, vibrate sympathetically. A calmer, thinner reed tone, plus the others’ pumps and rattles confirm and regularize the ending,
More refined, to the extent that tough saxophone slurs and seesaw bull fiddle lead to a balladic interlude, but as intense with clatter, rumble and screams, the two subsequent tracks are evidentially variations on the first. Like a fat-free desert following a heavy meal, these palate cleansers merely confirm Brötzmann and company’s ability to wring every last ounce of drama out of any performance.
At 74 the saxophonist is long past having to prove anything stylistically or musically to anyone. Suffice it to say that in this fine company, Soulfood Available confirms no diminution of his power.