Review: Peter Brötzmann, Paal Nilssen-Love, and Pat Thomas at Café Oto

Peter Brötzmann at Café Oto
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved


Peter Brötzmann, Paal Nilssen-Love, with guest Pat Thomas
(Day 1 of Brötzmann, Nilssen-Love two-day residency at Café Oto, 8 April 2013; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)


Peter Brötzmann has all but made Café Oto his home from home in London. Apart from a stupendous season at the Vortex with Hairy Bones in 2010, which featured drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, he's opted to return to the cosy, makeshift bohemia of Café Oto with the Full Blast trio and the awesome, large-scale Chicago Tentet, and to use it as the base for intimate live performances and recordings with small groups on exclusive artist CD releases by the Ada trio from 2012 (with both Nilssen-Love and Pat Thomas on one of these two CDs), and the inaugural Oto Roku label vinyl release.

Brötzmann and Nilssen-Love have a history going back 15 years, based on a predilection for musical intensity, an innate respect for technical excellence and an indifference to the pigeonholing of genres. Their age difference of over 30 years brings a refreshing bearing to their roughshod, roller-blading excursions across windblown jazz, punk, and rhythmically hewn expressionist scenery, and is also reflected in the devoted cross-generational following that they have built up, which filled the room on the first night of their two-day stint.

Their northern European roots add a wintry intractability to the  physical commitment that defines their live performances; indeed, this was the case during two intense, nuanced sets which saw them happily reunited with Pat Thomas on piano. Brötzmann opened wistfully on tárogató.  A flicker of 'Sentimental Journey' and the hum of Coltrane and Elvin Jones resonated in the first of the duo and solo interludes that peppered the evening. Thomas invoked the spirits of Tyner, Cecil Taylor and even Arnold Bax in arpeggios, chordal crashes and melodic evocations that confounded categorisation. Brötzmann alternated between alto and tenor, both of lustrous copper, trills and rills flowing as he traded bellows and glistening phrases with the brightly focussed, unfailingly resourceful Thomas, and swung into tandem with Nilssen-Love's thunderous, rolling gait that drove the trio with unswerving resolve.

The extraction of strong, rhythmically centred themes formed the structural core of the trio's untethered explorations, and around these they devised an extraordinary range of poetic diversions - flurries of tight brushwork, lightening-speed keyboard runs, grizzled woodwind, and Brötzmann's inspired interrogation of a streamlined silver clarinet which commenced with graceful clarity and concluded by parking in the high registers to mine for piercing jewels of thought.

A mighty trio - full of unexpected articulations, derailings and rerailings - this was a mature, innovative improvised performance that grew out of the mutual respect and creative synthesis of musical peers. Exemplary, engaging and exhausting!

Peter Brötzmann: tárogató, alto sax, tenor sax, silver clarinet
Paal Nilssen-Love: drums
Pat Thomas: piano

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