|Recorded on 3 November 1999 during the Total Music Meeting at Podewil, Berlin.
Touring taxes the constitution and spirit. Slogging strength-sapping miles from city to city, dogged by the inherent and often ardent expectation of performing at peak levels of stamina and intellect, it's a wonder that improvising ensembles find the means to pass muster each night. Such is the sobering reality lost on many a music fan. But even running on fumes, this particular quartet packs more of a punch than most others able to access the enviable advantages of a full fuel tank; Peter Brötzmann's honest appraisal in the liners of the band's diminished powers on this particular date is hardly borne out in the Blitzkrieg barrage that constitutes the music.
These four may have been feeling the debilitating effects of jet lag, sleep deprivation and hunger during their performance, but these mortal ailments hardly damper the ecstatic nature of their improvisations. If anything, their collective sound is laid bare and expanded under the aegis of exhaustion as they plumb regions of expression hardly probed in the past. Kondo is especially emancipated by the circumstances, opening up a satchel of ideas at the music's inception that takes the tonal properties of his instrument light years past conventional limits. Comparisons to Electric-Era Miles are perhaps inevitable, but these kinds of convenient tethering points slip hopelessly short of the mark.
The opening salvo is an all-caps assault on the auditory senses. Vapor trails and splenetic raspberries fire forth from the bell of Kondo's trumpet, trumping any and all who might try to scoff at his electronic accoutrements (this reviewer included). Parker and Drake seem the most affected by the enervating circumstances surrounding the date and the pair resorts on occasion to lock-step vamping, carving out monolithic syncopations. But listening to these two seize upon a groove, even when it arises from the crutch-like purpose of supporting their lagging energies, is an experience to savor and relish in the larger scheme of things.
The horns ease up eight minutes into the maelstrom, sounding a somber anthemic summation before retreating to their respective corners and leaving Drake and Parker to dance in a boiling whirlpool of rhythmic magma squeezed jointly from strings and skins. But the interlude is short-lived, as Brötzmann resumes in a furnace-hot howl of churlish shorn phrasings trailed closely by Kondo's manically tremulous brass. Another eight minutes later, the fury subsides and Kondo's horn takes on added arena-size dimensions via amplification against the sliding syncopations of Parker and Drake. Brötzmann comes in under the wire on taragato, but the trumpeter again seizes control, smearing his kilowatt-suffused lines into a livid pastiche of bent bleeding tones. The groove is relentless and the pathos Brötzmann spits from his reed with just a handful of elongated notes captures the ear in a cage of irrepressible emotion. It's a lyrical side he rarely shows and it's tempered by the coarser tendencies of his usual course. Seconds are swallowed up and Parker's hummingbird arco work flutters to and fro, eventually checked by the reedist's inquisitive clarinet. The bassist sculpts a self-perpetuating ostinato in the closing minutes calibrated closely to Drake's staccato cymbals and inevitable silence arrives, but the band does not go quietly. A brief coda works the final crowning rant, an epilogue short in duration, but smolderingly emphatic in its announcement of the four's refusal to cave to their collective fatigue.
Ranking this release within the modest, but masterful folio, it necessarily falls behind such emblematic entries as their incantatory debut (also on FMP). It's still a meaty effort backed by plenty of thrills. Well worth the ticket price and testament to the fact that this ensemble still has much more to say. - Derek Taylor