Monday, December 14, 2009
Brötzfest - Live Review
This is footage of the exact same concert - Youtube is incredible!
Last Wednesday afternoon, around 3pm: - So, it's my half-day off, i'm enjoying a few well earned moments of repose, idly flicking through a local free magazine that i've already read when my eye catches the word "Brötzfest" on the listings pages. Could that really be the magnificently moustachioed maestro of mayhem, the taciturn titan of Teutonic terror-jazz, Peter Brötzmann himself, the man who, thanks to the delights of Radio Abahachi, first piqued my interest in all things jazz and finally joined the dots for me between my beloved noise music and the world of jazz, whose difficult to come by records I had been (pretty unsuccessfully) hunting down all year? playing in Tokyo? It could. And it was. I checked the date: tonight! I checked the venue: a short cycle ride from the flat. Negotiating permission from the boss proved easier than expected, being so preoccupied with getting the shop ready for the re-opening after the Sweden trip, Mrs Japanther seemed relieved to get me out of the house and only interrogated me about ticket price five or six times.
After a couple of shots of Dutch courage over dinner, I donned my best turtle neck (I had to try to blend in somehow) and with no little trepidation, set off alone upon my trusty steed into the neon night towards the date with destiny that was to be my first ever exposure to live jazz.
I almost cycled past the non-descript office building that housed the basement venue, but I knew I was at the right place by the sign on the wall that proclaimed "Good Food, Microbrewed Beer, Interesting People Quite Often, Avant Garde Womens Toilet". I entered the unexpectedly cavernous room and found a nice mix of hip young things and weird old men with combovers talking quietly, eating food and sitting down...SITTING DOWN!...at a gig!..... I took a space near the end of a bench and made myself comfortable (I was later joined on the bench by a greasy, shabby foreigner who turned out to be Jim O'Rourke).
The "'Fest" was divided into 3 improvised sets of different musicians with Brötzmann playing in all. The first consisted of two drummers, two bassists and Brötzmann on saxophone. All 5 musicians immediately launched into action, no warning, no lead-in, no solos, just all playing at the same time. It started a wee bit disjointed, but as the players found each others groove, the sounds gradually came together to form a complete and all-encompassing (and very loud!) sound. Brötzmann himself played with fire and fury, eyes closed as he was feeding off the other instruments.
After a short interlude, wherein Brötzmann mingled cheerily and chatted to people, the second set was a much more sparse duo of Brötzmann (still on sax, sorry not sure which kind) and Japanese koto player Michiyo Yagi on two kotos, one 17-string and one 21-string. The "koto" is a large traditional Japanese multi-stringed instrument that sits on the tabletop and dates back to the 7th century (check the youtube clip to see). It's capable of making the most beautiful raindrop-like sounds or louder more dramatic flourishes. Now, i'm not sure that the ladies of the Heian court ever frantically run a violin bow over the strings or bashed the shit out of them mercilessly with a drumstick, but it worked in this context as the set swung between soulful and beautiful quieter moments and faster deranged noise.
The final set was the kind-of-semi-permanent band of Full Blast (Brötzmann, Michael Wertmuller (drums) and Marino Pliakas (electric bass guitar)) who were joined by Jim O'Rourke (electric guitar) and an unassuming looking, bald and bespectacled old Japanese man, who looked like he'd popped out to buy some toffees and stumbled in the wrong door, who turned out to be an apparently legendary Japanese free-jazzer called Akira Sakata, who went completely insane on alto saxophone and clarinet. Full Blast was a very apt name, as the full force of all of the musicians playing together was nothing short of incredible and made Lightning Bolt sound like Belle and Sebastian. It was LOUD, wild and totally mesmerisingly brilliant.
I left my first free jazz show pretty much blown away and itching to experience more, wondering if i'll ever settle for four skinny indie blokes, aching feet and a sticky floored venue ever again?