Peter Brötzmann’s approach to the tenor saxophone and various other reeds doesn’t typically conjure the adjective “lyrical.” Of his many albums, though, 2003’s Never Too Late but Always Too Early exuded a sentimental quality; the saxophonist’s liner notes cast the free blowing in a more reflective light. Hence, while the idea of Brötzmann playing jazz standards like “I Surrender Dear” and “Lover Come Back to Me” might seem like an impossibility, Brötzmann followers shouldn’t be surprised.
Of course, I Surrender Dear is a solo recital, not a session with, say, a traditional piano trio. That alone guarantees that these chestnuts will be delivered with a unique dose of introspection. For much of the session, Brötzmann forgoes his gale force altissimo attack in favor of a beefy tenor sound with subtle vibrato. He plays thoughtfully, pausing regularly between phrases in a manner that recalls the halting quality of Thelonious Monk’s Thelonious Himself. After a while this languid dynamic range starts to feel limited, so when he finally locks into a riff on the original “Dark Blues” it comes as a relief.
The album’s second half picks up the pace, with “Sumphin’,” from a Dizzy Gillespie/Sonny Rollins ’50s session, offering one of the more definitive moments. After two minutes of gruff blowing, Brötzmann settles into the bluesy theme with a clean, throaty execution, ending in a whisper. This track immediately segues into Misha Mengelberg’s “Brozziman,” which begins with one of those gorgeous reed-killing shrieks. The sequencing cleverly places both of Brötzmann’s worlds side by side. If that dichotomy isn’t satisfying enough, the album also includes a sly take on “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”
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