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Peter Brötzmann/William Parker/Hamid Drake: Never Too Late but Always Too Early

By all laws of physiology, Peter Brotzmann should have exploded years ago. Since the mid-1960s, the German tenor saxophonist has maintained a level of intensity that, in nature, usually extinguishes itself in matter of hours or even minutes. If excerpts of his solos from both the 1969 sessions that produced More Nipples and the 2001 club date that yielded Never Too Late but Always Too Early were placed side by side, even listeners with a passing familiarity with him would be hard pressed to ID the saxophonist that had just turned 60. Though Brotzmann’s late-’60s desire to metaphorically machine gun his audience may have mellowed with age, all of the bromides about the rewards of committed listening doubly applies to Brotzmann, especially the part about commitment. All three of these albums are tough, riveting stuff.

Though the two-CD Never Too Late is dedicated to Brotzmann’s late collaborator Peter Kowald, it was recorded nearly a year and a half before the bassist’s death in 2002. Still, whenever Brotzmann plays with bassist William Parker and drummer Hamid Drake, there is a palpable aura of spirits unleashed, furiously seeking right. At the outset of these disc-long sets, Brotzmann sets a tone that could be called contemplative were it not for the piercing quality of his taragato or the foreboding tone of his alto clarinet; with Parker and Drake’s ever-shifting rhythmic weave underfoot, Brotzmann then steadily raises the heat, ultimately switching to his tenor, which plies a sky-shattering cry and an earth-opening growl. Regardless of the timing, the cathartic power of this album makes for a fitting tribute to Kowald.

The chemistry Brotzmann, Parker and Drake have as a trio is significantly altered when they are joined by Toshinori Kondo to form Die Like a Dog Quartet. Kondo’s electronically altered trumpet adds a surreal iridescence to the molten energy the trio achieves on its own. On Aoyama Crows, recorded at the 1999 Total Music Meeting in Berlin, Kondo occasionally lends the proceedings a gritty ’70s-vintage Milesian flavor; but far more often than not, Kondo’s ricocheting smears and blasts have no jazz antecedent whatsoever. Conversely, Kondo’s presence tends to prod Brotzmann toward mournful chant and work-song-related thematic fragments that countervail the infinite skittering of Kondo’s digitally delayed textures, which is the case deep in this gripping set.

Along with albums like Machine Gun and For Adolphe Sax, Nipples established Brotzmann’s reputation as a zealous flame-thrower. However, as a leader, Brotzmann gave his cohorts free reign, and they boldly filled the space. That’s the case with the recently unearthed track that gives More Nipples its name and much of its archival value. Brotzmann lays out for a good portion of the improvisation, letting guitarist Derek Bailey, drummer Han Bennink and bassist Buschi Niebergall initially shape the piece. The successive entrances of pianist Fred Van Hove and soprano saxophonist Evan Parker intensify the pointillistic strains, creating a momentum Brotzmann kicks into overdrive for a blistering conclusion. Two quartet tracks round out the album, suggesting the directions the working unit of Brotzmann-Bennink-Van Hove may have taken had they engaged the propulsive, adept Niebergall.

Originally Published