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Brötzmann / Nielsen / Uuskyla - Medicina

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Artist: Brötzmann / Nielsen / Uuskyla

Album: Medicina

Label: Atavistic

Review date: Nov. 8, 2004

Three must be a magic number for Peter Brötzmann. Trios have constituted a principal part of his discography ever since he first started splitting reeds in Wuppertal in the mid-1960s. An obvious reason is financial. Jamming econo means a larger piece of the pie for each player and fewer mouths to feed. It’s a philosophy the German put into practice long before Mike Watt coined the phrase. As his prospects and profile have continued to expand over the decades, he’s stubbornly stuck to the schematic. The predilection must therefore go deeper. Something about the stripped down support of bass and drums complements his long-standing Dionysian approach to his horns. Sturdy enough to weather the onslaught of his bellows in full bloom, but versatile enough to underpin whichever among his rucksack of horns he chooses to hoist to mustachioed lips.

Medicina marks the latest entry under the trio column in Brötzmann’s well-stocked ledger. His chosen partners are hardly greenhorns to his particular brand of focused mayhem. Bassist Friis Nielsen favors the burbling tonalities of electric bass while Peeter Uuskyla’s method on traps subscribes faithfully to the punch-first-and-ask-questions-later perspective. The three already have a trifecta of albums behind them on the Slask, Ayler and FMR labels. Here, Brötzmann relies mainly on his saxophones (tenor and alto), but also unsheathes clarinet and tarogoto toward the end of the program, building on the bedrock of their previous encounters.

Uuskyla’s “Rocket Tango” launches the set, fading in on the drummer’s frothing tide of press rolls, the beats leaping off his skins and cymbals like Mexican jumping beans springing off a hot skillet. Nielsen joins the fray, playing the part of petulant harmonic anchor through murky belching patterns and slathering on a sticky bass sap. Here and elsewhere his febrile lines remind me of the sounds that might be found emanating from an indigestion-stricken epicurean’s gullet. Brötzmann hangs back waiting for just the right moment to pounce. When his horn does touch down, it hits the ground running, leaving a trail of bent and smoldering phrases behind it. His partners interject oddly stunted syncopations, further flavoring the stochastic stew.

The strategy for the rest of the album strays little from Brötzmann’s usual tried and true tactics. Hard hot-leaded blowing with livid lines etched in acidic tonal pigments (“Justicia”) intersperse with more ruminative, even somber patches (“Hear and Now”). This latter guise is my preferred side of Brötzmann’s persona. He proved long ago that he can tear the roof off the sucker at will. It’s the moments when he takes stock of the splintered rafters and scattered shingles, responding with an anthemic line, saturated with anguished vulnerability, but surprisingly emancipated of anger or aggression, that are truly memorable these days. Such is the case during the closing minute of “Artmisia” where roaring multiphonics open up into a vertical cry that bleeds away dolorously into silence. The climax comes with the culminating “Hard Times Blues” where again Brötzmann tempers his ferocious attack and sketches a squiggling intractable line that largely eschews predictable histrionics. The disc’s only conspicuous drawback is its excessive length and the feeling persists that few cuts whittled away from the middle could have made for an even stronger whole.

Cynics keep waiting for Brötzmann to act his graybeard age. To cave to the physical frailties and general world-weariness that are the natural byproducts of a hard-lived life. Cathartic fracases like Medicina are the panacea by which the proud German keeps these ailments at bay. May they continue to be a means of recourse for many years to come.

By Derek Taylor

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