As noted in the previous post, on Friday night I trekked up to Baltimore to the Red Room, which is a really neat concert space that’s basically a side room of a great little used bookstore. The room had probably 35-40 chairs and that was it — a very intimate setting for the very experimental music they tend to book.
Brötzmann/Pliakas/Wertmüller did not disappoint. The lineup was Brötzmann on sax, Marino Pliakas on electric bass, and Michael Wertmüller on drums. Brötzmann’s music is heavy and intense enough when he’s playing in an acoustic band — add in an electric instrument and all bets are off. I kind of knew what to expect here, both from the Outer Space Gamelan review I linked to below and because I got, from Dimeadozen of course, a recording of their show in New York a few days back. If you didn’t read the fantastic OSG review, here is an excerpt that describes well what I was in for:
Right from the git-go the chips are on the table with Brotzmann immediately laying down sloping mountains of the post-Ayler blowisms you’d never mistake for anything else, while Wertmuller adds the kind of frantic/restrained combo drumming one might expect to hear in a band like Ruins. Pliakas is the blue blood coursing through the veins of the unit, steering the band in every direction from speed-reading through and on to molasses lullabyes (but usually only for a brief instant)… I find this whole disc to have a very “metal”-like atmosphere throughout…then again Brotzmann’s always been more metal than half the jokers in the genre anyway.
So, uh, this was intense stuff. Brötzmann was at his most brutal, blowing hard almost throughout the concert’s duration; Pliakas was playing an unusual bass guitar with no head, and he had an unusual playing style to match, sometimes with his hands flashing all over the place, other times playing repetitive ostinatos, constantly playing punishing rhythms that went hand in hand with Wertmüller’s drumming. Wertmüller was a revelation for me — this guy was amazing, playing so hard and so fast I often couldn’t tell what he was doing at all, even though I was sitting in the front row like five feet from his kit. It was his drumming that made the trio sound like a free-jazz take on grindcore and extreme metal: lots of double bass drumming, fills and rolls everywhere, only the occasional attempt to actually hammer out a mid-tempo, comprehensible beat.
The result was a wall of sound that was immediately overwhelming but, over time, became totally exhilirating. They only played four or five pieces over the course of two sets — it was the kind of thing where fifteen minutes into a piece, I would think, “holy crap, they’ve been playing this hard for how long now?” and then they would keep doing it for another ten minutes. The endurance of these guys, especially Brötzmann (who is 66 years old!) was astonishing.
This was “free jazz” that would appeal more to noise-rock and extreme metal fans than your average jazz fan. Sadly, the band lost some of their gear and most of their merchandise on the plane to the U.S., so I was not able to pick up their album, Full Blast (an apt title if there ever was one). I’ll be hunting for it now, because this was a pretty mind-expanding show, even if at times it was incomprehensibly overwhelming.
UPDATE: Here’s another review of this same show.