Graded on a Curve: OXBOW & Peter Brötzmann, An Eternal Reminder of Not Today/Live at Moers

Talk about your legendary collaborations. People are still talking about the Bee Gees’ 1942 collab between KC & the Sunshine Band and Hideki Tojo that brought us “Banzai Shoes” and “I’m Your Kamikaze Man.” But even it pales in comparison to this year’s mating of San Francisco noise rock band OXBOW and German avant garde saxophonist and clarinetist Peter Brötzmann. During the live concert at the annual music festival in Moers Germany captured on this 2022 LP, OXBOW and Brötzmann produce some of the most emotionally powerful music of this or any year, and if your tastes run to either experimental noise rock or jazz this is the album for you.

Since the tail end of the 1960s, elder statesman Brötzmann has produced some of the most abrasive music in all of jazz, both as a band leader and in collaboration with a wide variety of artists. His 1968 release Machine Gun remains perhaps the most effective room clearer of all time, and his mid-eighties to early nineties LPs with free jazz supergroup Last Exit, which included guitarist Sonny Sharrock, bass guitarist Bill Laswell, and drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson, released five albums of ear-molesting genius.

OXBOW’s gut-wrenching and downcast music is the result of the tortured vocals of Eugene S. Robinson, the nerve-fraying guitar of Niko Wenner, the heavy bottom of bass guitarist Dan Adams, and drummer Greg Davis. Robinson is a Renaissance man who cuts an impressive figure—not only is he a giant of a man and real-life fighter and author of Fight: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Ass-Kicking but Were Afraid You’d Get Your Ass Kicked for Asking, he’s written for scores of top-notch publications, appeared on television and in films, and engaged in too many other creative ventures to list here. He likes to take his clothes off on stage and has been known to put unruly audience members on the injury list. Call it suicide by lead singer.

The addition of Brötzmann is an inspired choice—his frenetic saxophone adds a dimension of barely controlled chaos to the band’s noisily cathartic music. Brötzmann—whose playing here shows the definite influence of one of his chief inspirations, the late Albert Ayler—features lots of skronking and squealing that perfectly complements and sometimes provides counterpoint to the band’s often slow grind and Johnson’s spontaneous and powerful ad libbing.

He can go from world-weary to a scream in an instant and frequently draws out his words and barks out his syllables. And occasionally he’ll sink into the mix, allowing Brötzmann’s foghorn sax and Wenner’s off-kilter guitar—which he tortures to produce rapid-fire sheets of discordant noise—to take center stage. Meanwhile, the rhythm section stops and starts, lets things build and abruptly lets them drop, and in general provides a bottom that is as much prime mover as it is anchor.

There are likely plenty who would argue that Oxbow isn’t a rock band at all. But no one’s going to mistake “A Gentleman’s Gentleman” for anything but high-velocity noise rock, and the same goes for the pounding and feedback-drenched opening of “Cat and Mouse.” The monster “Host” will appeal to your discriminating and open-minded metalhead, especially those receptive to the song’s frequent shifts in both tempo and dynamics.

A hideous person out to push my buttons might even go so far as to label the music on An Eternal Reminder of Not Today/Live at Moers progressive rock. But they risk having my hurl a copy of Fight: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Ass-Kicking but Were Afraid You’d Get Your Ass Kicked for Asking at their head. (I would run away afterwards, of course; I definitely fall into the category of those afraid to get my ass kicked for asking.)

An Eternal Reminder of Not Today/Live at Moers is the most powerful and original piece of music you’ll hear all year, period, and marks a triumph for both OXBOW and Brötzmann, who at age 81 remains every bit the force of nature he was when he began his career. You can’t beat the album for raw power, emotional force, and sheer creativity. It seems unlikely OXBOW and Brötzmann will join forces again, although I hope I’m wrong. Regardless, it will be an adventure in itself to see what directions they head in next.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

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