field report no.061217

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Peter Brötzmann / Heather Leigh duo

22 years ago, I came to Chicago from Oregon for school. It ended up being a fortuitous time in Chicago jazz. Ken Vandermark was rallying the troops and the Atavistic label was creating connections with legends of European free jazz by reissuing a pile of classics from the FMP library. inexorably bound up in both parts of this renaissance was Peter Brötzmann, the true saxophone colossus.

The (probably) apocryphal tales of his intensity ill-prepared me for how I was to be excoriated that first night at the Empty Bottle, by the Brötzmann Octet (a precursor to his long-running Chicago Tentet). I've lost count of the times I've seen him live, but the frequency went down once I moved to NYC. When I moved on to Asheville, I didn't even entertain hope. But lo! The jazz barbarian did in fact come to raze our small village on what was speculated as perhaps his last US tour.

Since disbanding the Tentet, Brötzmann's favored small groups—trios and duos mostly. This swing through America was with lap-steel guitarist (and former Charalambide) Heather Leigh. Perhaps the greater jazz community's disregard for Peter Brötzmann's scorched Earth improvisations has made him more willing to reach out beyond jazz's narrow circles for partners. He diverse list of collaborators ranges from Last Exit to Middle Eastern folk musicians. Heather Leigh's history with the ecstatic-improvisation scene seems a readymade fit.

While the pairing is pitch-perfect, times have also changed, and Peter Brötzmann once again defied my expectations (in the best way). The evening was not molten peals, split reeds and broken strings, though I would never call it plaintive. Not to say he no longer has it in him: Brötzmann let loose some frightening cries, but it was not a sustained blitz.

The duo created what could best be described a 'volatile ambience'. Leigh summoned a bed of held and distorted tones, swelling to answer Brötzmann's reeds. Since the lap-steel uses a slide, it gave Leigh ready access to a wealth microtonal dissonances, giving everything a disharmonic edge.

NOTES: Peter Brötzmann / Heather Leigh; Thom Nguyen