on 9 August 2004
This is jaggedly painful listening. Whenever I've played this album (to the few brave listeners) the amazement comes when they learn it was originally produced in the mid sixties and played on acoustic instruments - I lost my last copy by lending it to a signed thrash metal guitarist who had never heard anything so aggressive.
What Brotzmann does here is pick an octet of the most free thinking and virtuosic experimental players of the era and provides layer after layer of increasing tension with the spirit that only 'straight to tape' delivers. A spontaneity which is embraced by all the players ending up with an album of incredibly accurate emotion.
The legacy of 'Machine Gun' can be heard in the great modern experimentalist such as John Zorn and the freedom and direction taken by participating players such as Evan Parker and Han Bennink have carried this spirit of musical freedom which we now have in all the genres. Brotzmann continues to be the loud wild man of free experimental scene - I can happily say that the best gig of my life was listening to him play acoustically with Paul Hession on drums and drowning out the disco next door in the late 90's.
Its not music I would listen to everyday, more like once every six months, but provides those other emotional things that music does that words can't provide. The sheer intensity and belief of what these players comes straight out of the speakers; bites you and then discards you leaving nerves jangling.
This record was once voted as one of the top ten most unlistenable in the world - its probably true; far too powerful for the gentle human soul!
on 27 April 2006
You know how, when you're an adolescent, you hear someone tell of this great band or album or song that rocks harder than anything else out there, so you track it down and maybe at first you try to convince yourself that it entirely shreds everything else you've ever heard, but when you're honest with yourself you have to admit that actually it's a bit weedy, or arty, or dull, or pompous, so you decide that life is just disappointing and that nobody out there has ever made anything that truly screams with all that life and energy and frustration that's coursing through you, until of course somebody mentions some track by so-and-so, so you go out looking for it, or you download it, and inevitably it turns out to be more than a bit lame, or plodding, or just plain old shrieky art nonsense, and the whole cycle starts over again?
Stop looking. You've found it.
'Machine Gun' is, for archivists out there, a seminal document of late 60s European more-or-less-free jazz. All these guys went on to have diverse and variously useful careers in their fields. What matters to the wider public is that this is arguably the most intense and concentrated playing ever put on record by anyone. The crucial thing here is that none of these guys are playing electric instruments; there are three saxes, a pianist, two upright bass players and two drummers. Between them they make most death-metal bands sound like Freddie and the Dreamers, because what you can hear on this record (apart from the fierce intelligence of the playing, which is the reason why it's never just boring) is the phenomenal energy required to make acoustic instruments sound like this. Any kid can take a 24-fret humbucker guitar off the wall, plug it into a distortion pedal and make chugging noises, but the Peter Brötzmann Octet demonstrate conclusively that that's cheating.
I so wish I'd discovered this album when I was 16, instead of now that I'm 35 - so many years wasted without having it in my life. Instead I had to listen to people like Big Black and the Stupids. (I perked up when I discovered Naked City, to be fair.) If your idea of jazz is of nice tinkly noises that you can perfectly happily put on while preparing the dinner (and I like 'Maiden Voyage'-era Herbie Hancock too, but it's not all there is to it), you won't like this. If you think that late Coltrane is a bit too mellow, if you're a disgruntled teenager who dresses in black and wants to know that somebody else out there feel the same way but you'd prefer not to have to put up with their lame-ass lyrics, if you just love high-energy playing and are in a feisty mood, then 'Machine Gun' will rock your world.
The highest compliment I can pay it? It's entirely worthy to be on the same playlist as the Hendrix track of the same name. And it was recorded earlier.