By: Jamie Jones
Released on September 27, 2016 via Lovers & Lollypops
Black Bombaim must be a sociable bunch. Since their first full length release in 2009 they’ve put out almost as many collaborative records as they have pure Black Bombaim offerings, seemingly ready and willing to combine their heavy psych rock stylings with any accommodating suitors at a moments notice. Peter Brötzmann isn’t even the first or second legendary saxophonist to pair up with them – Steve Mackay, whose turn on Fun House is for many the high water mark of brass on rock records, turned up for a track on guest heavy album Titans, whilst Rodrigo Amado collaborated on a track for Portuguese webzine Bodyspace’s 10th anniversary compilation and enjoyed it so much he cropped up again on ‘Africa II’ from 2013’s Far Out. But for all the co-conspirators Black Bombaim have played with so far it’s safe to say none of them are quite like Brötzmann.
Having been releasing music since 1967 and being seemingly open to anything over his 5 decade career it’s far from Brötzmann’s first rodeo when it comes to playing in a rock band set up. Hell, he was in one for a while in the 80s – though not exactly a conventional rock band, Last Exit were wild and heavy enough put most of the so-called rock stars of the era to shame. And after working with Japanese psych/freak rock nomad Keiji Haino and avant-guitar king Derek Bailey there can’t have been much Black Bombaim, as good as they are, have up their sleeves that could have surprised him. Not that it would have really mattered if they did; ‘pt.1’ of this 5 piece opus (4 without the extra track on the digital version) finds neither Brötzmann nor Bombaim seemingly interested in knotting their styles together. Working with a veteran free-jazz maestro was never likely to be as simple and happy a marriage, and from the opening raw blast of saxophone, with Brötzmann’s trademark rough timbre immediately thrust front and centre, the gauntlet is thrown down. This clearly isn’t going to be a friendly little jam.
So it proves over the following 47 minutes. When Black Bombaim join in their stoner psych jamming is as lithe and labyrinthine as ever and they briefly intertwine Brötzmann’s playing with quite nicely, but soon his uncompromisingly free style wanders off on a tangent of it’s own. Whilst they’ve never exactly been easy listening Black Bombaim are made to sound positively tame when combined with Brötzmann’s powerful, iron lunged bursts of noise. It’s easily the most abrasive things they’ve been involved in, and those expecting the sprawling but ultimately straightforward jams of their other records might be put off by Brötzmann’s sonorous, imposing contribution. When the meaty, metallic bass introduces ‘pt. 4’ starts up they might be hoping for a pleasing background psych jam to kick off and hang in the background unobtrusively. But that’s just not how the man plays.
That’s not to say it’s all avant-noise. ‘pt. 2’ starts off as a merry little boogie which Cream would have been happy with and Brötzmann comes close to joining in for a while before inevitably launching an attack and ripping it up. On ‘pt.3’ the chords are played slowly enough to qualify as doom and Brötzmann obliges in making his sax sound like the gnarliest doom vocalist, screeching like a tortured swan. Black Bombaim’s ever impressive rhythm section keep the groove swinging, low and mean, but as heavy as they go the veteran is more than up to the task, pushing his sax’s range right to it’s limits.
By ‘pt.5’ something of an understanding has been established – Black Bombaim give a faintly sinister platform for Brötzmann to operate upon, still unafraid of going off into wild, cosmic passages but giving his free-expressive sax playing room to breath. He in turn takes a back seat now and again for them to establish their more conventional groove-laden rock and stretch it out in typically cosmic fashion. It’s an interesting journey getting to that point, for large chunks of which it sounds like the ostensible collaborators are playing past each other, each with their own agenda and styles with no intention of giving any ground. At times this is thrilling – but there’s no denying that at times it just grates.
The listener’s tolerance for wild, skronking sax completely unbound by convention will dictate how much they get out of this record. But it’s impossible not to take a step back and admire the prowess of those involved. Black Bombaim get more assured in their psych meanderings with every record, drawing from an ever widening pallette, whereas Brötzmann is just a force of nature, every bit as irrepressible as he has been for nearly 50 years. It’s a full blooded collaboration with all parties hell bent on sonic exploration and not all that interested in how far you’re willing follow them. For Bombaim the result is their most challenging offering yet – for Brötzmann it’s another day at the office. And for the listener it’s one wild ride – if you have the stomach for it.