Damn, listening to …The Worse The Better makes me wish I’d been there! At Cafe Oto, that is, on the night this 40-minute non-stop live set was unleashed on a bloody lucky -and discerning – audience and recorded for posterity on this, the first release on the great London venue’s OtoRokku imprint.
I’ve seen veteran saxophonist Peter Brötzmann at Oto twice now, once supporting Keiji Haino and once at the head of a trio of his own, so you’d think I’d have no need for petty jealousy of this album’s audience. But Steve Noble and John Edwards are not any old rhythm section, but rather two of the world’s greatest musicians, and the interplay between the three old hands on …The Worse The Better is simply stunning. It doesn’t matter that one expects such class at all times from Brötzmann, Edwards and Noble: when you hear it on record, it takes your breath away. So imagine hearing it live.
…The Worse the Better showcases Brötzmann in full barnstorming free jazz/fire music mode, which in itself differentiates this recording from the two more improv-y shows I saw. The trio kicks off in full flight, a graceful avalanche of toms and cymbal crashes carrying PB’s rip-roaring, open-ended sax solo whilst Edwards runs his hands up and down the neck of his double bass, a loping, insistent groove that anchors the piece whilst also jumping around in total freedom. The case for Brötzmann being more subtle than he is given credit for is undeniable, but it’s also always thrilling to hear him run his sax ragged (especially when one considers the man’s 70 years old!), and with such an expansive yet solid foundation underneath him, he really lets loose on …The Worse the Better.
Around the halfway mark, the trio does relax into a more restrained pace, effortlessly transforming the piece into a sexy, almost “classic” jazz swing and, in the tradition of Bill Evans or Kind of Blue-era Miles Davis, each player gets a chance to shine with a solo. Again, one can only marvel at the ease with which all three marshal the transition, trading the spotlight as they understandably take something of a breather. Things quickly accelerate again and, as they noisily gallop to the finish, the piece is ripped asunder in total freeform fashion, as Edwards drags a bow across his strings, Noble kicks up a storm of metallic clatters, and Brötzmann pushes his horn – and lungs – to the limit with a squawking, screaming final flourish.
I have often basked in the glow of a truly great show at Cafe Oto, and wished it had been preserved for posterity. Hearing …The Worse The Better on record may not really compensate for missing out on being there in person to witness these three giants of modern jazz, but it goes a long way towards helping one recreate the moment.