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?

10 comments:

Mnemonic said...

That sounds amazing. Coincidentally, I saw Akira Sakata this summer at Cafe Oto in London, without having known anything about him previously. Cafe Oto is one of my favourite venues, in spite of taking over an hour to get to because of its policy of experimental music and having not just chairs but tables to put your drink on (and a fine line in ginger beer). I'm told the name means "noise" in Japanese. Is that true?

Japanther said...

hey Mnemonic, it was indeed pretty amazing!

Yes! "oto" means more like "sound" rather than "noise", but that's the general meaning. I'd seen the name Cafe Oto before but hadn't made the connection....

steenbeck said...

It does sound amazing! (I had that word in my head too). I love your description of the evening. Was it you who said you had wanted to write for the NME, cause I think you could do it!

Abahachi said...

You lucky, lucky bastard... Every time I go to Berlin I look to see if he's playing, and I haven't got lucky yet. Japan does seem to be a major hotbed of free jazz; there's a label, or at any rate there used to be a label, called something like DiW that has produced some supposedly amazing stuff, which of course is more or less unobtainable over this side of the globe. By all accounts, if you ever see a copy of David S.Ware's Godspellized you should grab it - and maybe get a copy for me as well.

I've heard of Sakata, but never heard him.

Abahachi said...

As I think I've mentioned, I'm in Munich this week, working in the rather wonderful Bavarian State Library. At some point I intend to take a break to visit Beck am Rathaus Eck, four floors' worth of expensive clothing store topped with a fantastic jazz and classical music shop, including one of the best selections of avant garde stuff I've seen. Starting to think that perhaps I should get a Broetzmann album just to commemorate this occasion, though it's almost certain that I'll be overcome with an inability to make any decisions once I actually see what they've got...

ejay said...

"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"."

Brilliant!
I'm intrigued by the sax-koto combination.

Japanther said...

@steenbeck - very kind of you to say, but unfortunately i'm 10 years too old and decidedly lacking in talent! although, pretty much every gig i've ever been to has had a review like this rattling around my head afterwards, so it's nice to have the creative outlet of the 'Spill to indulge myself...

@Abahachi - "Godspellized" noted and filed away in case I ever come across it. With such a long career and so many collaborators there does seem to be a huge amount of Brotzmann stuff out there. I've managed to pick up a few LP's over the past year, all of which I love...I did pass up the chance to buy an original vinyl copy of "Nipples" (complete with multiple postcards paper-clipped onto the front of the sleeve) as there was no way I could justify spending that amount of cash on one record.....I was very tempted though!

@ejay - the sign really did say that! I took a photo I was going to use for the post until I found the youtube clip....I didn't have a chance to verify the claim about the women's toilets though!

Mnemonic said...

I opened my standard email from Cafe Oto this morning and Brötzmann is doing a 3-day residency in late January both solo and with various guests. Can I afford a season ticket so aoon after the financial nightmare of Christmas, though?

Shoegazer said...

JP is aces at the live gig review (& he can dangle off lamposts - what else could you ask for?).

Japanther said...

if only there was some way to combine the two.....