[8 May 2000]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Peter Brotzmann Sextet & Quartet’s “Nipples,” the first track on the recently reissued CD of the same name, starts off with a percussive noise and a saxophone in overdrive, immediately playing all over the place. Guitar, piano and bass arrive as well, and the musicians blast their way into a sound full of energy and openness. They sound to me like they’re playing together and separately at the same time. In your ears you can isolate each instrument and in each case you’ll hear a musician soloing like crazy, playing a dizzying path of spot-on notes. Listen to the whole, however, and you don’t get the mess that you might expect with six musicians each blazing his own path. Instead you get a new kind of cohesiveness. Everything fits together in an interesting way, without being planned to fit together, at least not in the conventional way that musical numbers are planned out.
This track and the other one on Nipples were recorded in April of 1969 and fit in the category of old music that sounds like it could have been recorded yesterday. Or today, tomorrow or in the next century. It has both the wild energy of the best rock music and the timelessness of something new. It also has a historical place in free jazz, though that I can’t pretend to be the expert who can deliver all of the details. Free jazz is something fairly new to my ears, which is one reason it’s so amazing how easy Nipples is to listen to. This is intense, wild music, but to me it doesn’t sound as uncomfortably noisy as free jazz potentially could sound to someone not accustomed to its form.
The historical significance of this release, as I understand it, is that Nipples is the only recording ever made by this particular group of musicians, including not only saxophonists Brotzmann and Evan Parker, but also guitarist Derek Bailey, pianist Fred Van Hove, bassist Buschi Niebergall and drummer Han Bennik, most of whom have carved out their own spectacular places in the history of jazz and avant garde music. It also was has been out of print for 30 years, and therefore has been a much-sought-after rarity.
The second track, “Tell a Green Man,” features the quartet, the sextet minus Derek Bailey and Evan Parker. It’s slightly slower and showcases the bass and percussion aspects more, but has the same unique textures and quality musicianship of the first track. The liner notes include a hand-written note (presumably included in the original album notes) from artist Nam June Paik stating that he owns only 10 records, including Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart, and Brotzmann, and that Brotzmann’s records “stand up very well among those masterpieces.” That’s a notion I can understand; I’ve yet to hear any of Brotzmann’s other records, but this recording is jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring and beautiful.