Full Blast & Friends: Sketches and Ballads

It sounds like a question the lads from Spinal Tap would have asked: “How do you get more full blast than full blast?” But the trio of multireedist and free-jazz icon Peter Brötzmann, electric bassist Marino Pliakas and drummer Michael Wertmüller offers a deadly serious answer, doubling in size with the addition of Ken Vandermark on bari sax and clarinet, Thomas Heberer on trumpet and Dirk Rothbrust on percussion and timpani. As the players’ reputations suggest, this is a conglomeration able to conjure a carpet-bombing onslaught of sound, and it often does over the course of Wertmüller’s 38-minute composition. But the densely arranged piece offers a surprisingly wide variety of textures, albeit maintaining a chest-rattling force even in its sparest moments.

Reportedly running to fifty crowded pages, it begins with the ominous rumble of the composer’s impossibly rapid barrage, girded by Rothbrust’s bellowing timpani and Pliakas’ subterranean bass tremors, which provide the foundation for a stumbling, fractured horn line. It all ends with an abrupt, squalling rush off the edge of a cliff, by that point needing to be obliterated rather than simply stopped. Free-jazz avalanches spearheaded by Brötzmann’s scything tárogató erupt out of steely march rhythms, only to succumb to the Stravinsky-esque thunder of a symphonic passage in which the sextet swells to an orchestral scale.

Shaun Brady

Shaun Brady is a Philadelphia-based journalist who covers jazz along with an eclectic array of arts, culture, and travel. Brady contributes regularly to the Philadelphia Inquirer and JazzTimes and Jazziz magazines, with subjects ranging from legendary artists to underground experimentalists. His byline has appeared in DownBeat, Metro, NPR Music, and The A.V. Club, among other outlets. He studied filmmaking at Columbia College Chicago and continues to spend too much time in the dark.