Friday, May 20, 2016

Peter Brötzmann & Heather Leigh @ Velvet Underground, May 27

Better get tickets quick for pedal steel dazzler Heather Leigh's upcoming bout with reeds ripper Peter Brötzmann.

Ears Are Filled With Wonder, the debut release from the duo of pedal steel player Heather Leigh and reedist Peter Brötzmann, blows the old adage about improvised music somehow not being best appreciated via the recordings to beautiful pieces. This is a music that demands re-visiting, that seems to alter, slightly, every time it is played, with new details emerging, new relationships of tone and style, new romance, even. Recorded during a mammoth stint in Krakow, Poland where Brötzmann and Leigh played as part of big bands, trios, quartets and duos, this duo performance represents the diamond heart of the sessions, an improvised set that bears little relation to what either of the players have achieved outside of its prodigious gravity.

We mentioned romance and really Ears Are Filled With Wonder, a play on a line from the poet Kenneth Patchen, showcases the full reach of Brötzmann’s rebel lyricism, his lover man style, now smoky, seductive, late night, now roaring and vibrating with energy. Leigh plays it extremely subtly, sometimes fixing on the most suggestive detail and from there spinning luscious webs of repeat-time bliss that make for some of the most psychedelic and otherworldly settings of strings and horn. Elsewhere the two of them tear the roof off with tactile fuzz and horn ascensions.

It’s a music of organic depth, of endlessly evocative unfolding, as themes bloom and sigh and disappear and arise and it feels curiously out of time, even as both players push their instruments into futuristic configurations. As such it doesn’t sit neatly in either players’ extensive catalogues. Rather, this is a music of perpetual change, of summing up and of pushing on, a music that feels genuinely new even as it runs an umbilical deep into the tradition of getting out. Indeed, even Brötzmann’s signature artwork and sleeve design seems to have mutated in turn, forsaking the blacks and whites and reds of old, the stark iconography of previous releases, for something more subtly evocative and colourful.

Ears Are Filled With Wonder is a coming together of two of the most original voices on their respective instruments and the title reflects the joyful uncovering of a whole new way of listening and relating. Indeed, it might well be the first ever freely improvised electric pedal steel and saxophone duet ever put to tape. Either way it is one of the most startlingly beautiful combinations of players and temperaments to orbit the European jazz scene in years. And this is only the beginning. So hold tight. 

Moshe Idel
Ronda, Spain
February 2016




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