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


Peter Rüedi


Those who listen to this music for the first time may find it hard to believe that it is the spontaneous recording of a concert, an un-manipulated live process. This record enables us to share the fundamental experience of two musicians at a particular moment in time and state of consciousness. It is a document of their immediate creative ideas which are just as valid now as they were at the time of playing.

Both Werner Lüdi, born in Poschiavo, in the south of Switzerland in 1936, and Peter Brötzmann from Remscheid, who was born in 1941. are founders of what was, in the sixties, to become the last rebellion of an avant-garde striving to escape from the dead-end routine of the theme-solo-theme. An avant-garde worthy of the name, an avant-garde which saw itself as such. It is no coincidence that the two saxophonists were autodidacts - one on the alto, and the other on the tenor saxophone. Their virtuoso playing, the way they use their horns to the full to express themselves (even to the point of using the key-caps as percussion) is the opposite of academic artistry, although it is artistic as well. The label "Free Jazz" was promptly applied to improvised music in order to give the unbearably unpredictable a name under which it could be filed away, and thus made less frightening. For the initially perplexed jazz fans "Free Jazz" meant anarchy and vitality, audience abuse, "painting the town red", and if nothing else a "bloody good" or "depraved" regression from the music of civilization back to the primal scream, according to one's point of view. In Bert Noglik's "Jazz Werkstatt International" Brötzmann says: "I remember one particular evening in Düsseldorf where in the end only the Swiss alto-saxophonist Werner Lüdi and I were left on stage. All the others were in a state of shock. At that time our performances at festivals and concerts were often laughed at, not only by the audience, but also by other musicians, musicians who later enjoyed playing with us."

Looking back, the era in which Free Music meant revolution, and provoked real scandals, is no more than a sentimental memory. Sentimental, but full of respect. For of course it was from its very beginning something different, more than just a vociferous declaration that dilettantism be called art (which is what a lot of people thought, and sometimes could even provide examples for). The turning point came soon enough. We know the results: the prevailing postmodern, general indifference, the don't care attitude, the hypocricy and the lack of ideas which forced people to revert to the catchphrase "neo-traditionalism" which they subsequently sold as respect for ancestral heritage (not even stopping at the cotton-pickers). The prevailing spirit, anywhere, is one of mediocrity. The snuggle up to global melodies as if they were cashmere by Armani and sneer at the founders of Free Music. Even the term "old sixty-eighter" has long since become an insult.

The music played by this duo gives me hope for the future. It is, as it were, the ultimate proof of just how stupid the present mania for aping youth is. How often do we hear "Don't trust anyone over thirty"! In their musical dialogue, Brötzmann and Lüdi create an art which incorporates familiarity, knowledge and experience (and I do not just mean self-knowledge). Both of them, each in his own way, have retained the passion which set the signals at that time (Lüdi withdrew for fourteen years whereas Brötzmann actively rebelled). In addition, this recording combines great intensity with an astonishing awareness of form. Form which has been neither calculated nor copied, not even borrowed from their own reserves (a writer, Chandler once wrote, has reached rock-bottom when he starts to copy his own works). Spontaneously developed from. This development is far removed from the crazy frenzy of expression which some Free Jazz musicians used to indulge in "jusqu'au bout du souffle". It is a sequence of relatively small, well-defined forms whose proportions are so well balanced that it is hard to believe that it was not for the most part composed or even edited afterwards.

This music portrays anger, opposition, persistence. It consists of a mass of single combats, conflicts and personal victories. That too. Brötzmann/Lüdi do not forget their roots. Their music is, however, often very gently, yes even tender. It is a music of contrasts. Solemn sound and unruly expression (both saxophonists put a lot of "body" into their music, and both have a liking for low registers, at times it is difficult to distinguish Lüdi's alto from Brötzmann's tenor) are accompanied by encounters at the other end of their musical world, whispered enticingly in the most serene pianissimo.

This music is "special" to the extreme. The two saxophonists do not accost each other with their obsessions - they listen to each other, even when playing together and even when they seemingly withdraw into themselves. Thus we have a performance of brothers. Only people with self-esteem problems are afraid of being challenged by someone else's violent statements. This cannot be said of Werner Lüdi and Peter Brötzmann.

Translation: Margaret Neuendorf

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