Last night I dropped the new reissue of Machine Gun by the Peter Brötzmann Octet into my CD player. It had been a few years since I listened to the 1968 album, an indisputable milestone in the history of both free jazz and European jazz, but it still hit me with the same abrasive, ear-cleaning force as the first time I heard it. The German label FMP released the album with some alternate takes on CD back in the early 90s, but it failed to distinguish which were the masters and which weren’t. The new edition, dubbed The Complete Machine Gun Sessions and released on John Corbett’s Unheard Music Series label, not only makes that distinction clear, but ups the ante by adding a live version of the title track recorded two months earlier at the Frankfurt Jazz Festival, with additional saxophonist Gerd Dudek. (This performance was previously issued on the UMS release by Brötzmann called Fuck De Boere). The packaging also includes some great photos taken during the time and new essays by Corbett and Brötzmann.
The personnel alone would guarantee this album’s importance—Brötzmann was joined by fellow reedists Evan Parker and Willem Breuker, drummers Han Bennink and Sven-Ake Johansson, bassists Peter Kowald and Buschi Niebergall, and pianist Fred Van Hove, some of the most towering figures in European jazz captured early in their careers. But the music itself is downright titanic, one of the most ferocious and simultaneously joyful examples of spontaneous expression ever recorded, pushing the screaming saxophone style of Albert Ayler well past the brink of volatility. Although “Machine Gun” was the nickname Don Cherry gave to Brötzmann, it also describes the staccato sax outburst that opens the piece, giving way to a scalding chaos, one brilliantly undercut by some post-R & B sax riffing here and there that was inspired by Lionel Hampton’s classic “Flying Home.” The other two pieces are just as relentless, channeling the same primal energy while mixing in discrete bits like the almost kwela-like section that intercedes Van Hove’s “Responsibility/For Jan Van De Ven.”
There have been loads of manic free jazz records made over the last four decades, but nothing has yet topped Machine Gun. Tomorrow is the reissue’s official release date.
One more thing: I apologize for being AWOL last week—a burst hot water heater is my main excuse—but I’m back in full effect.
Louie Ramirez, Ali Baba (Fania)
Hobart Smith, Blue Ridge Legacy (Rounder)
X Plastaz, Maasai Hip Hop (Out Here)
Johnny Griffin, Blues for Harvey (Steeplechase)
Junio Barreto, s/t (Tratore)