Home Architect Peter Brötzmann (1941–2023) – Artforum International

Peter Brötzmann (1941–2023) – Artforum International

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German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, whose fiercely innovative style and explosive playing made him a dominant figure in the world of European free jazz, died June 22 at his home in Wuppertal, Germany. He was eighty-two years old. Emerging as a visual artist and as a self-taught saxophonist and clarinetist in the late 1950s, Brötzmann eventually chose improvisational music as his primary mode of expression, one that arguably found its purest form in his historic 1968 album. submachine gun. The prolific reedist would go on to make over fifty albums under his own name, deploying various experimental techniques – playing the saxophone underwater or squonking with chirping birds – on a number of them, many of which featured his own illustrations on their jackets.

Peter Brötzmann was born on March 6 in Remscheid, Germany during World War II. He first studied painting, fell for a time into the Fluxus movement, befriended Joseph Beuys (“I still have letters from Beuys at home”, he told the Red Bull Music Academy in 2018. “He always said, Brötzmann, do your shit, do your thing”) and worked as an assistant for Nam June Paik, notably helping the future video art legend situate his inaugural gallery installation, at the Parnass Gallery in Wuppertal in 1963 Disillusioned with the gallery scene and inspired by American jazz legends then on tour in Europe, including Sidney Bechet, John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Eric Dolphy, Brötzmann launched into music. In 1967, he released his first album, on his own label, BRO, thanks to his belief in the Marxist adage that “the worker should not give the tool and the product of his own hand”. Title For Adolphe Sax, it featured bassist Peter Kowald, with whom he would collaborate many times, and Swedish drummer Sven-Åke Johansson. The following year he released submachine gun, a surprisingly caustic effort on which he led an octet that included Kowald, Johansson and Dutch percussionist Han Bennink, from whom he was deeply influenced. The album takes its title from trumpeter Don Cherry’s nickname for Brötzmann, which evokes the saxophonist’s furious style. In 1969, this time at the head of a sextet, he recorded Nippleswhose nervous and irritating din excited fans and confused the uneducated.

European tours with great names in American jazz such as Cherry, soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy and pianist Carla Bley solidified Brötzmann’s reputation. Around 1970 he joined the Amsterdam-based Instant Composers Pool, of which Bennink was a member, along with Dutch pianist Misha Mengelberg. Bennink would appear, drumming on trees and various other woodland flora, on Brötzmann 1977 Schwarzwaldfahrt, recorded outside the Black Forest. As the 1980s dawned, heralded by the groaning guitars of heavy metal, the industrial scream of bands like Throbbing Gristle in the UK and the flurry of seminal rockers like Einstürzende Neubaten in Germany, Brötzmann turned to these sounds and others without compromise. Along with guitarist Sonny Sharrock, bassist Bill Laswell and drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson, he formed the punk-influenced free jazz supergroup Last Exit, whose volume usually exceeded even the deafening levels associated with free jazz.

Relentlessly active, Brötzmann has performed on dozens of albums by other artists as diverse as pianist Cecil Taylor, avant-garde guitarist and vocalist Keiji Haino, and multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee. He led the Albert Ayler-inspired quartet Die Like a Dog, also featuring trumpeter Toshinori Kondo, bassist William Parker and drummer Hamid Drake, for over ten years. From 1997 to 2012 he toured and recorded with the Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet (originally an octet). In recent years his health had deteriorated, pneumonia having ravaged his lungs, leaving them dilated, like those of a glass-blower. Yet he kept playing, bringing together what British critic Peter Margasak characterized like his “mind-blowing” quartet with bassist John Edwards, drummer Steve Noble and vibist Jason Adasiewicz earlier this year before doctors told him he had to quit altogether.

“[Music is] not something you can do once in a while at some point in your life, whether it lasts four weeks or four years, ”he told the German journalist Karl Lippegaus in 2021. “It’s a journey of a lifetime to figure out: how far can you go, where can you go, where are you right now.”


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