European jazz truly came into its own in the 60s, when musicians in the Netherlands, England, and Germany, long inspired by models from the U.S., programmatically sought to develop indigenous forms of expression. The music they created was often volatile, loud, and provocative, as befitting the tumultuous politics and social upheavals of the time. German clarinetist and saxophonist Peter Broetzmann was one of the main protagonists of this first wave of independent European improvisers. While some of his cohorts have left us or have found security in more tempered playing, Broetzmann has remained true to the musical ideals of his youth.
He began his artistic quest as a visual artist but soon developed a love of music and taught himself to play a broad range of wind instruments. A powerful man, he attacked his horns in a visceral manner, sometimes seeming to scream through the wood and metal. Commentators have often mischaracterized him as a disciple of the American saxophonist Albert Ayler, but his playing is much more varied and lyrical than that. In a way, his approach can be structurally compared with that of Ben Webster, a swing era saxophonist known for his lyrical ballad playing who played with an enormous sound and was nicknamed “The Brute.”
Broetzmann likes to create different sound palettes, and therefore often changes instruments during a performance. But his search for soundscapes reaches further, and his music is essentially collaborative, architectural, and orchestral, whether working in a duo or leading his all-star tentet. On the rare occasion when he performs or records by himself, his improvised solos likewise reveal a concern for thematic development and structural complexity.
Although initially identified with the European free jazz movement of the 60s, he has always collaborated with American players–first with expatriates such as Steve Lacy and later with musicians in this country. Recently he has been collaborating closely with colleagues from Chicago, especially with those who have been part of his long-lasting tentet.
Among these is Fred Lonberg-Holm, a cellist who has created a whole new vocabulary for the instrument, so much so that he sometimes refers to himself as an “anti-cellist.” In the tentet Lonberg-Holm is often overwhelmed, but in smaller groups he is a subtle collaborator who shuttles back and forth between lead and support roles and often finds just the right way to move the music along. Such is the case in the only recorded document of a duet concert by these two musicians, on a CD entitled The Brain of the Dog in Sections. The recital begins in typical swaggering Broetzmann fashion, but slowly Lonberg-Holm asserts his own role, and the two take the music into new areas that are not necessarily typical of either player, creating a new artistic synthesis. Expect something similar when the two play together at the Kerrytown Concert House on February 22.