FMP/FREE MUSIC PRODUCTION - An Edition of Improvised Music 1989-2004

FMP CD 118

Excerpts from a conversation between Felix Klopotek and Peter Brötzmann
on 21.12.2000 in Peter's flat in Wuppertal-Elberfeld.


Klopotek: What I find exiting about your new recording is that Kondo brings a strong Rock and Funk aspect into the music. There are some trio passages where Kondo plays with Parker and Drake and where especially Drake plays very straight, very driving within the context of free Improvisation. It reminds me of "Last Exit" (legendary Free Rock/Jazzpunk Band with Brötzmann, Sonny Sharrock, Bill Laswell and Ronald Shannon Jackson, F.K.)

Brötzmann: It just developed like that. When did we do the first recordings with the quartet? 1993, seven goddam years ago. It's logical that ideas and thoughts of musicians shift over the years. In Kondo's case away from the more jazzy references towards various sound areas, electronics but also towards more harmonic and simple solos. You mustn't forget that Kondo and Hamid still play with Laswell and that for him music is definitely in the direction of Groove. This is imported into our quartet. Which is okay because we are always open to these influences.Actually, I am a purist really, always have been. Hamid, William and me also work as a trio, when Kondo is off doing his Dalai Lama thing. There is so much to discover when you're playing together - the new rhythms Hamid has worked out and what William brings in with his minimalism, it's not finished by any means. But it's always refreshing when Kondo makes us think of other things.

Klopotek: "Die Like A Dog" became known for its homage to Albert Ayler. How did that come about?

Brötzmann: It wasn't clear to us that we would find ourselves right in the middle of an Ayler-wave. The man was forgotten, the subject was passé. It was really quite simple: Kondo and I had made a night of it - once again. At that time he was still quite often in Amsterdam. During our session we talked about everything under the sun and kept coming back to Ayler. We agreed that he should be brought back to peoples' attention.

Klopotek: Did you have a Tribute-to-Ayler-Band in mind?

Brötzmann: No, we weren't that dumb. It was never about using the old themes or to revive the old times. It cannot really work. Even in our first phase of "Die Like A Dog" there are only fragments of themes, second-long quotes we use. No, it was about the basics, the spiritual foundations of Ayler's music. That's what we were going for, and in our own way.

Klopotek: For you, what are these basics?

Brötzmann: First of all it is about your own story, your own biography. This is where Ayler and - on a different level - Sonny Rollins are just simply much more important than Coltrane. The last decades were marked by Coltrane's influence, Ayler was forgotten, Rollins was forgotten and Ornette was a lone wolf. I just wanted to point out how important Ayler was for my way. A very personal thing. The more I worked in the States over the last years, the more I realised where this music is coming from. Say you go to church Sunday morning in Atlanta, you suddenly realise that what Ayler played is not pathetic or bizarre. It comes from the sermons and also from the stories which they tell. They're very simple stories. That's what interests me, what I work on. Although my entangled European path couldn't possibly lead to this kind of simplicity. You're always interested in what you don't have. Okay, this sound's banal. But you only have to listen to Ayler's first ESP-records, with what kind of love and desperation this man played his own stories - and also what honesty. These are three things which are important to me, which touch me. And therefore, dare I say it, there is a connection between our kinds of music.

Klopotek: Quite a long time has gone by since the Ayler homage. You're in the middle of recording your fifth CD, you tour regularly, the festivals want you - a nice little success story. Was it clear to you then that the group would develop like that?

Brötzmann: It wasn't planned. We just noticed that it is a group which works without too much talking, without too many discussions. And, obviously, the audience feels this as well. If I look back at 35 years of being a musician, there was the trio with Fred van Hove and Han Bennink, until 1976. Then the duo with Han, at the beginning of the eighties the trio with Harry Miller and Louis Moholo and, from '86-'89, "Last Exit". And in between? Well, I tried a lot of things, a lot of treading water. But these groups, they worked like "Die Like A Dog" later. With the quartet it was clear after the first gigs: this works now. "Die Like A Dog" fits in the tradition of those previous groups. All the guys are ambitious. William throws himself into his social activities in the Lower Eastside, Hamid is in huge demand as a drummer, everybody wants to get on stage with him. And Kondo hangs out all over the place. Recently I bumped into him in Kyoto where he was playing a fucked-up samurai on some film set. But we all get back together again, we do at least one tour a year. It carries on because we all want to.

Klopotek: How do you decide which recording should be used for the next CD? How does the decision process work?

Brötzmann: It's left up to me. I select the pieces and go into the Studio to do the mastering. In the early days we sent out cassettes the guys never listened to (laughs). They've got enough to do. So I decide. It sounds more authoritarian than it is, it is more a question of practicability. A lot of it is also a matter of money. We have never been in a studio, three days, three nights, no audience - we simply can't afford it. The possibilities which come up are usually organised by Jost Gebers in Berlin. And we have to grab them. In November '99 it was pretty tricky. Got up at four o'clock in the morning, somewhere in Sweden - Hamid was there, as well, we were on tour with our Chicago tentet - the flight was late - got to Berlin in the afternoon - Kondo came in from Tokyo, William from New York, so they both had their share of stress, as well. Then soundcheck, then play. Two sets, two hours. It was simply exhausting but, as I said: it just happened like that, we had to do it.

Klopotek: I saw it live. My impression was that you were fairly overworked and tired. I also mentioned that in a review that your performance didn't seem too rousing. When I listened to it again I was interested to see whether I should revise my initial judgements. In fact: it is really very interesting how the music changes between relaxation and over-exertion, that specific touchiness when you're overtired.

Brötzmann: That's how it is; and it's good that it's like that. It's a different situation - it had to go like that if you know the story of the travelling. If we had just been half asleep, if it had just slipped away from us, what we were playing, I wouldn't have paid any further attention to the recording. But, as a whole, the exhaustion makes sense; it creates a different kind of music, it has nothing to do with quality.

Klopotek: You still play without any pre arrangements. Could this change?

Brötzmann: I wouldn't say no if Kondo was to come up one day with a suggestion how one could put something down beforehand, either on paper or verbally. We would play it … and chuck it away afterwards (laughs). Or play it again and again, God knows. But it hasn't come to that yet, didn't have to. The good thing about this quartet is that the four of us are very different. We all have our different cultural, musical and biographical backgrounds. We negotiate these things through the music which is still spontaneous and marked by a considerable respect for each other. You don't have to put anything down.

Klopotek: A different subject. I read an old interview of yours recently. I think with Bert Noglik, must have been about 25 years ago. You were talking about Ben Webster, how he played until the end and died on stage, so to speak. You said that this was a prospect for you, as well: carry on until the end, until it's over and you just drop dead. But were you and your colleagues really aware that it would come to this, that you've been in this for 30, 35 years and that Free Jazz definitely isn't New Wave anymore. You said yourself that you were still kids when you started.

Brötzmann: I have always been asked this, even in the old trio times with Fred and Han, how long do you want to carry on? Stupid question, stupid answer: as long as possible! And it did go on for a long time, my youthful recklessness of those days has proven to be right, which is ok. It still works very well. Only: you show yourself a bit more consideration now, you accept that all this stress with travelling and high energy playing does take its toll. Dammit, what hard work it is! At that time I had watched Ben Webster's maybe last TV appearance. He was playing really nice tunes but there wasn't enough left to join in the chorus. Did he enjoy it up to the end? I think he just needed the few dollars which he got - hopefully. If I said at the time and if I still say it today that we'll just play until we drop, it's not because we're heroes. We have to. There isn't much else for us to do but to carry on playing. You don't make a fortune playing this kind of music. I just hope that I'm aware of it when my head and my body aren't fully there anymore and that I can afford to say, Brötzmann, that was it - the rest I'll keep to myself.

Translation: Isabel Seeberg & Paul Lytton

zurück / back