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Peter Brötzmann & Peeter Uuskyla - Born Broke

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Artist: Peter Brötzmann & Peeter Uuskyla

Album: Born Broke

Label: Atavistic

Review date: Aug. 1, 2008

Saxophone-drums duos are not commonplace in free jazz or improvised music, frequently producing something a bit special. The format dates back (at least) to John Coltrane & Rashied Ali’s Interstellar Space, with other notable contributions coming from Dewey Redman & Ed Blackwell, Jimmy Lyons & Andrew Cyrille, Evan Parker & John Stevens, and Anthony Braxton & Max Roach. Peter Brötzmann himself is a repeat offender, his long-standing duo with Han Bennink being particularly noteworthy.

The duo format allows no hiding place for either player. Not only is there no underpinning structure to fall back on, each player is in the spotlight constantly, being continually challenged by their playing partner. (This probably explains why the list of those who attempt this format reads like the premier league of sax players and drummers.) And so it is here with Brötzmann and Peeter Uuskyla.

Judging by the downbeat titles of the album and the tracks – “Beautiful But Stupid,” “Ain’t Got The Money” and “Dead and Useless” – one might expect Brötzmann to be in a melancholy mood. And though he’s not exactly playing the blues, there are plenty of examples here of his more reflective side… although his renowned strident tone is never very far away. Brötz hasn’t gone soft.

So, the title track opens with him on tenor, in his most uncompromising mood, letting rip with righteous blasts of sound that could strip paint; slowly the tone mellows as he settles into a repeated pattern that fades away, allowing Uuskyla some solo space. When Brötz returns, he has switched to clarinet and his playing is so restrained that he is all but unrecognizable, as low-key as you are likely to hear him. This approach extends beyond his clarinet playing; on “Beautiful But Stupid,” the tenor is also very contained as Brötzmann spins out lines that could charm snakes.

Thankfully, Uuskyla never goes flat out in a head-to-head duel with Brötz; surely that could have only had one outcome… and it would not have been pretty. Instead, the drummer repeatedly opts to lay down complex rhythmic patterns over which the reeds spin out long melodic lines. This isn’t an equal partnership – Uuskyla plays a supporting role but in doing so he provides a context in which the two complement each other beautifully.

By John Eyles

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