Peter Brötzmann “Full of love and respect”

Peter Brötzmann (Photo: Cristina Marx)

Peter Brötzmann (2023/6/22) and Jost Gebers (2023/9/15) passed away in 2023, less than three months apart. They were the founding fathers and the driving forces behind Free Music Production (FMP), one of the most significant contributions to the organised performance and promotion of contemporary improvised music in the 20th century. They were giants. Brötzmann’s outstanding contribution and commitment to the scene is being commemorated in a series of events dedicated to his legacy.

In early February 2024 friends and colleagues of Peter Brötzmann gathered for three days and nights at Café OTO in London to remember him. Markus Müller (text) and Cristina Marx (pictures) were so friendly to contribute this documentary of the happening to Kaput – Magazin für Insolvenz & Pop. 


When Peter Brötzmann played (together with Jason Adasiewicz, John Edwards, and Steve Noble) his last concerts at Café OTO in London on February 10th and 11th, 2023 nobody knew that these would be the final curtain calls. Brötzmann had reassembled one of his most beloved later bands for two twofers in Warsaw and London respectively. Those who ever had a chance to hear these four – I did in Stuttgart as part of our programming for the “I got Rhythm” exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Stuttgart – will agree on that assessment. These last concerts in London, from all I have heard, did not disappoint (and the world anticipates the publication of these recordings in humble zen-mode).

Almost exactly a year after these last public performances and by now historic concerts, Café OTO had invited a veritable who’s who of past and present Brötzmann comrades to gather and celebrate. Some very old school companions (von Schlippenbach, Johansson, and Bennink, just a notch longer in the Brötzmann game than Evan Parker) met with younger generations and players who were comparatively new to the Brötzmann fold. These 20 distinct personal musical histories (who share, in some cases, more than 50 years of outer rim free improvisation experiences) joined forces with a comparatively younger group of women that brought post-punk and meta-American noise rock influences to this memorial. Noble, Edwards, Caspar Brötzmann, Vandermark, Gustafsson, and Thomas provided the links between these two groups of players. And even though the gathering looked like a clash of titans on paper, the atmosphere was full of love and respect, and focused on making it happen, there was a tangible will in the room to stay together, play together, and surpass expectations.

The OTO endeavour was the third in a series of dedicated events. One took place in Chicago, organised by John Corbett around December 17 last year. Another one is scheduled to follow in May at Pardon, To Tu in Warsaw, which promises to continue and yet vary the London line-up. London was a most pleasant and reassuring history lesson as well as a peek into the future of what was named ‘the New Thing’ around 1965.

Joe McPhee remembering Peter Brötzmann on stage at Cafe Oto, London (Photo: Cristina Marx)

Thursday, February 8:
Sven-Åke Johansson, Pat Thomas – Duo
Alexander von Schlippenbach, Evan Parker, John Edwards, Paal Nilssen-Love – Quartet
Zoh Amba, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Ken Vandermark, John Edwards, Steve Noble – Quintet
Hamid Drake, Pat Thomas, William Parker – Trio
Jason Adasiewicz, John Edwards, Steve Noble, Joe McPhee, Evan Parker- Quintet
Mats Gustafsson, Caspar Brötzmann, Jason Adasiewicz, Hamid Drake – Quartet

Friday, February 9:
Evan Parker, Han Bennink – Duo
Han Bennink, Alexander von Schlippenbach, Evan Parker, John Edwards- Quartet
Hamid Drake, William Parker, Joe McPhee – Trio
John Edwards, Camille Emaille, Zoh Amba – Trio
John Edwards, Steve Noble, Zoh Amba – Trio
Heather Leigh, Zoh Amba, Farida Amadou, Hamid Drake – Quartet
Mats Gustafsson, Paal Nilssen-Love, William Parker, Pat Thomas, Jason Adasiewicz – Quintet

Saturday, February 10:
Morning FMP talk 10am – 12:00 noon
Camille Emaille, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Pat Thomas – Trio
Heather Leigh, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Camille Emaille, Joe McPhee- Quartet
Paal Nilssen-Love, Ken Vandermark – Duo
Sven-Åke Johansson, Alexander von Schlippenbach – Duo
Joe McPhee & Jason Adasiewicz – Duo
Han Bennink, Pat Thomas – Duo
Caspar Brötzmann – Solo
Joe McPhee, Paal Nilssen-Love – Duo
Caspar Brötzmann, Farida Amadou – Duo
Paal Nilssen-Love, Ken Vandermark, Mats Gustafsson, Farida Amadou – Quartet
Fred Lonberg-Holm Light Box piece (Large ensemble)

The decision to have the duo of Pat Thomas and Sven-Åke Johansson opening up the celebrations, couldn’t have been curated any better. To my utter surprise we learned that the two had never played together before and yet they laid down the law of the land ahead of us in the most touching and meticulous way possible. 

Pat Thomas was peeling off arpeggios like forever and Johansson (who had first recorded with Brötzmann in 1967) countered with tasteful shuffles and elegantly precise bangs. Worlds of steady, silent power opened up and the sweet and short set was beyond anybody’s imagination. The previously mentioned potentialities became hyper-real in 20 minutes of refined bliss.

Throughout the unfolding days, Pat Thomas always was the guarantee for notching things up into the realm of spectacularly great, not just fantastic but really history in the moment-making greatness. His ability to chameleon into contexts and dialoguing (the duo with Bennink was one other such burner) across the board, showed me that I had not listened to him playing live nearly enough – one really has to live through it to believe it. Being able to listen to Thomas and von Schlippenbach in succession was one of the many highlights of the first evening. The other instant truism was that adding other, younger generations to the mix made for an immediate imminent feeling of future: this is tomorrow, but now!

Zoh Amba, Joe McPhee, Mats Gustafsson, Ken Vandermark, and Evan Parker make for a fantastic showcase of the saxophone, a present joy of total enlightenment. Standing on the shoulders of giants while reaching out and offering to rope team at the same time makes for incredible interplay. And the privilege of being able to listen to the extended percussion offerings by Bennink, Emaille, Noble, Johansson, Drake, and Nilssen-Love was another gift that simply did not stop giving. All of us who witnessed the gathering of Amadou, Brötzmann, Edwards, and Parker (William) should be writing a definitive book about the experience. I will just be able to say a few words on that, further down the road.

Somewhere in the middle of the first night I realised that I would have to discipline myself to not burn out before my Saturday morning FMP-reading, so I decided to depart early to South Kensington, where I had the good fortune of being hosted by the fantastic Goethe-Institut crew. Being sheltered on Exhibition Road somehow led me to literally oscillate between two main worlds, the one of music and the other one of visual arts and exhibitions, while staying in post-Brexit London for the first time since the United Kingdom said goodbye. 

Friday morning was all for Phillip Guston at the Tate Modern (https://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/philip-guston), and yes that also did not fail to very much impress me. By lunch time I joined the merry lot at Café OTO to listen and sit through sound checks as well, I simply felt the urgency not to miss a single second of all that greatness around me. Given the crowd that stood in line hours before the doors opened, I was far from alone in my assessment of Thursday night.

None other than Evan Parker and Han Bennink rang in the second day. Playing together since at least 1968 and still making music history, it was a lesson in the value of profound call and response, and a respectful reverence for music’s past, present, and future. It was with Bennink that Parker suddenly sounded as Warne Marsh as never before. Just before the duo became a quartet with Edwards and von Schlippenbach joining in, Parker stepped up to the mic and said: “FMP. What an incredible achievement. Starting from nothing, musicians controlling everything.”

What followed was energy-driven FMP-related blow-out with von Schlippenbach being the master instigator, jabbing clusters in, spurring the ride.

Four most intense concerts followed with the Mats Gustafsson, Paal Nilssen-Love, William Parker, Pat Thomas, Jason Adasiewicz Quintet delivering the fifth and last icing to close off the night. Another first encounter and yet another instant historic memory. The rock-solid Parker – Nilssen-Love foundation interwoven with the insane Adasiewics – Thomas accords (and arpeggios again) made for a flying carpet out of steel-wire for Gustafsson’s blow-out. But none of this was ever one-dimensional or -directional, full force blended tongue-in-cheek into mellow crooning. It was, all of Friday, a labour of love for all in attendance and especially all that were missing. One left OTO on a higher plane, an epic high of enthusiasm and gratitude.

Saturday was a long day and actually did everything to top off the incredible first two days we had witnessed. I myself started at 10 am, very irritated to find long queues in front of the OTO to await the earliest gig ever hosted at the venue. 

The two pairings for the four afternoon matinee concerts were again nothing short of brilliant. Camille Emaille and Lonberg-Holm were the link between the first two sets and their opening trio with Pat Thomas immediately raised the stakes – again. Bass pulses, in beautiful intricacies, making time breathable. Followed by the holy planes of a quartet featuring Leigh and McPhee, producing a beautiful and crystalline sci-fi western, like Morricone on meth and opium, respectively.

On came Vandermark and Nilssen-Love, just back from a Japanese tour and ready for some deep dish fire music. It was certainly served up hotter than hell and notched up the energy level yet again. It is only with these kinds of music that it always can get yet another iota “better”. Better being the wrong term, as it was the succession of dramatic push and pull that caught us on our feet again and again: did we scream, did we applaud, did we salute these spirit catchers. Schlippenbach and Johansson followed and performed a straight and, yes – brilliantly curated and cleansing rendition of poetry, established ca. 1984, check out “Blind aber Hungrig”, https://destination-out.bandcamp.com/album/blind-aber-hungrig-norddeutsche-ges-nge), carp sorbet in moonlight. Fantastically non-Brötzmann… and thus super-Brötzmann.

Markus Müller talking about Peter Brötzmann, Free Music Production and beyond (Photo: Cristina Marx)

After a short break McPhee read his poetry to Adasiewicz’s wizardry, to start the evening renditions. When McPhee announced that we all should imagine Peter Brötzmann now as a black man speaking in the voice of Samuel R. Jackson the fucking memorial reached a motherfucking peak of hysterical laughter and irritatingly accurate impersonation, beautiful and serene at the same time, an otherworldly set of tools for the commemoration of a gentle giant. These two spoken-word performances closing the matinee and opening the evening sessions respectively cleared the air and focused everybody again for the final showdown.

To keep it short, the six performances that followed were the most diverse and exhilarating six sets of my life. As I can’t go into all the details, let me take short bows towards four of these:

I have heard Caspar Brötzmann numerous times, in various contexts but his solo that evening was a heart-wrenching masterpiece of documenting a life-long quest for thinking through and rethinking yet again the possibilities of a single instrument, an electric bass in this instance. Majestic abd laser-focused, Brötzmann made me glide into the crystal clear waters of a mountain brook, in which I was just a grain of sand rattled between walls of force and quicksilverishness until an ultra-fit rainbow trout surf-jumped uphill through muscle and speed at the very next moment. Finally, one found oneself in the deep azure blue of the ultra calm Königssee near Berchtesgaden, looking towards Schönau and the Watzmann. Horizontal stillness hits vertical high-drama to the max. It was very beautiful.

Then McPhee and Nilsen-Love took the stage and played, among other things “Lover Man”. Cue man tears.

The following Amadou Brötzmann-duo was better than heaven. Two such distinctly different approaches to the same instrument yet again multiple ways of finding gold threads in instant composition: burning ambers in the deepest deep. When a first meeting sounds like it clicks at once, these are the moments one does not want to ever stop. Thank God it was over after 20-30 minutes (I doubt anybody was able to take time here) to stay with us forever until the next time.

Amadou stayed put after this and Nilssen-Love, Gustafsson, and Vandermark joined her on stage. This became the maximalists dream of a post-punk piano-less quartet in the tradition of Hal Russell meets the Chicago Tentett. Go, go, go, go, go, go, go, stop, and go! The fire-eaters marching band SCREAMING out the songs of a high mass. Gustafsson/Vandermark is the most powerful pairing of their generation and they always deliver the most pleasant shock treatment. I had heard it before, but the addition of Amadou made it seem all totally new, which of course it was not. And it is also clear that it is never a single player, who rocks these boats; the magic is in the mix, the sum being more than the addition of single parts.

Lomberg-Holms’ large ensemble “Lightbox” piece closed the night, closed these three days of jubilation and great music. A memorial dedicated to a man that meant so much to so many. Hamish Dunbar, the artistic director of OTO remembered how important Peter was for the café, supporting it generously and playing there many, many times since its beginnings. He touched many and in more than one way you can still experience that today. Na ja, as Peter  would have said: “Jetzt reicht’s mal!”

Text: Markus Müller / Photo: Cristina Marx


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