Peter Brötzmann – Han Bennink
PERFORMANCE OF APRIL 17, 1977 at the downtown loft of Denise René, New York City.
Peter Brotzmann / clarinet, alto and tenor saxophones, brotzophon, Han Bennink/ drums, clarinet, homemade junk, everything, anything.
These two exponents of German Free Jazz, Peter Brotzmann and Han Bennink, made their first U.S. appearance as part of “Berlin Now” – a month-long kaleidoscopic cross-section of the cultural life of West Berlin that was sponsored by Goethe House in New York City.
The ground-floor Soho loft was brilliantly lit. Numerous art works and constructions were hanging on the stark white walls. In the middle of the large open center space sat a piano and, to its right, a drum set. Suddenly, a few minutes after 8:00 o’ clock, Han Bennink began a frenzied assault on the drum set. He accompanied himself by furiously blowing a shrill whistle. This torrent of sound was soon joined by Peter Brotzmann, who urgently explored the upper registers of his clarinet. After five minutes of frenetic blowing and drumming that turned both their faces beet-red in color, they stopped.
The second composition began when Han Bennink began playing a bugle. He then began to jump about the floor stamping on what can only be described as “frog clickers.” These are small metal toys that go “click-click” when squeezed. Next, he removed his cymbals from their stands and spun them on the floor. Then he bounced a tennis ball off his drums. As he bounced the ball, Brotzmann began to blow a slow bebop tenor sax. When Bennink began another tumultuous assault on the drums, Brotzmann fiercely attacked the middle and lower registers of his sax. The composition ended when it seemed they both would burst from playing, as their faces once again became bright red.
At the heart of their hour-long performance were four types of improvisation. First, there was the taking of common musical instruments out of their normal context. During one improvisation, Bennink plucked the strings of a violin while holding it between his legs like a cello. Brotzmann blew his saxophone mouthpiece only. At one time, Bennink threw a bagful of drumsticks at his drums. Later he played the drums while two cymbals were flying wildly around on top of them. Still later, he “played” the piano with the neck of the violin.
Another type of improvisation involved the taking of “everyday” objects and including them into the world of “musical instruments.” The “clickers” were one example. In other examples, Bennink banged two five-foot long wooden beams on the steps of a ladder. He blew through a long, cardboard tube that someone in the audience had brought. He stepped on pieces of wood so that they slammed to the floor. He kicked a tennis ball off the wall. He banged two rocks together.
Then there was the music created with musical instruments in combination with everyday objects. For example, Bennink bounced a ping-pong ball off the back of the violin. At one point, he was bouncing the ping-pong ball off the violin back while slamming the snare drum with a drum stick. He “played” the drums with long steel strips. He drummed on pieces of wood. He played the piano with a telephone book. He used the five-foot beams to “play” the piano.
Finally, there were the homemade instruments that they played. Brotzmann played his “brotzophon” (a mammoth baritone sax) and Bennink played what looked like an exaggerated clarinet that sounded like an oboe.
The nature and humor of this performance was truly unique. While Bennink was the more theatrical (and hence, the more noticeable), Brotzmann was the support around which the compositions flowed. The compositions received their intensity from the astonishing strength of his playing. I don’t know how this would come off on record, but no words can accurately describe their performance.
Randolph Savicky, 1977
Peter Brötzmann biography:
Peter Brötzmann (born March 6, 1941) is a German free jazz saxophonist and clarinetist.
Brötzmann is among the most important European free jazz musicians. His rough, lyrical timbre is easily recognized on his many recordings.
He studied painting in Wuppertal and was involved with the Fluxus movement, but grew dissatisfied with art galleries and exhibitions. He has not abandoned his art training, however: Brötzmann has designed most of his own album covers. He first taught himself to play various clarinets, then saxophones; he is also known for playing the tárogató. Among his first musical partnerships was that with double bassist Peter Kowald.
For Adolphe Sax, Brötzmann’s first recording, was released in 1967 and featured Kowald and drummer Sven-Ake Johansson.
1968 saw the release of Machine Gun, an octet recording often listed among the most notable free jazz albums. One critic has written Machine Gun offers “a heavy-impact sonic assault so aggressive it still knocks listeners back on their heels decades later.” The logistical difficulties of touring with an octet resulted in Brötzmann eventually slimming the group to a trio with Han Bennink and Fred Van Hove.
In the 1980s, Brötzmann flirted with heavy metal and noise rock, including a stint in Last Exit.
Brötzmann has remained active, touring and recording regularly. He has released over thirty albums as a bandleader, and has appeared on dozens more. His “Die Like A Dog Quartet” (with Toshinori Kondo, William Parker and Hamid Drake) is loosely inspired by saxophonist Albert Ayler, a prime influence on Brötzmann’s music. Since 1997 he has toured and recorded regularly with the Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet (initially an Octet).
Brötzmann has since recorded or performed with many musicians, including Cecil Taylor, Evan Parker, Han Bennink, Bill Laswell, Frank Wright, William Parker, Willem Breuker, Willem van Manen, Mats Gustafsson, Ken Vandermark, Conny Bauer and Brötzmann’s son, Caspar Brötzmann, a notable guitarist in his own right.
Han Bennink biography:
Han Bennink (born April 17, 1942) is a Dutch jazz drummer, percussionist and multi-instrumentalist.
Bennink was born in Zaandam, the son of a classical percussionist. He played the drums and the clarinet during his teens. Through the 1960s he drummed with a number of American musicians visiting the Netherlands, including Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins and Eric Dolphy (he can be heard on Dolphy’s final studio recording, Last Date (1964)).
He subsequently became a central figure in the emerging European free improvisation scene. In 1963 he formed a quartet with pianist Misha Mengelberg and saxophonist Piet Noordijk which had a number of different bassists and which played at the 1966 Newport Jazz Festival, and in 1967 he was a co-founder of the Instant Composers Pool with Mengelberg and Willem Breuker, which sponsored Dutch avant garde performances. From the late 1960s he played in a trio with saxophonist Peter Brötzmann and Belgian pianist Fred Van Hove, which became a duo after Van Hove’s departure in 1976. Through much of the 1990s he played in Clusone 3 (also known as the Clusone Trio), a trio with saxophonist and clarinetist Michael Moore and cellist Ernst Reijseger. He has often played duos with Mengelberg and collaborated with him alongside other musicians.
As well as playing with these long-standing groups, Bennink has performed and recorded solo (Tempo Comodo (1982) being among his solo recordings) and played with many free improvisation and free jazz luminaries including Derek Bailey, Conny Bauer, Don Cherry and Alexander von Schlippenbach, as well as more conventional jazz musicians like Lee Konitz.
Bennink’s style is wide-ranging, running from conventional jazz drumming to highly unconventional free improvisation, for which he often uses whatever objects happen to be onstage (chairs, music stands, instrument cases), his own body (a favourite device involves putting a drumstick in his mouth and striking it with the other stick), and the entire performance space — the floor, doors, and walls. He makes frequent use of birdcalls and whatever else strikes his fancy (one particularly madcap performance in Toronto in the 1990s involved a deafening fire alarm bell placed on the floor). He is also a talented multi-instrumentalist, and on occasion his recordings have featured his playing on clarinet, violin, banjo and piano.
Han is the brother of the saxophonist Peter Bennink.