Peter Brotzmann – Machine Gun (1968)

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Note: This is a slightly abridged version of the inaugural article in the long-running “Whack Jazz” series, first appearing on July 11, 2006 on a forerunner site to the Something Else! webzine. Machine Gun remains to me the gold standard for all thrash-jazz records, one that all other such albums are measured against. Peter Brötzmann himself have made plenty of great records since then but never completely recaptured the magic of these sesssions (although F*ck De Boere comes awfully close):

“Brötzmann, the tenor sax player, one of the greatest alive.”

– Bill Clinton,
when asked by the Oxford American
to name a musician people would be
surprised he listened to.

The Tet Offensive. The Democratic National Convention In Chicago. The MLK and RFK assasinations. And if 1968 wasn’t violent enough, West German avant garde tenorman Peter Brötzmann unleashed Machine Gun unto the world.

Unhinged, utterly devoid of subtlety. In your face. Of all the entries that may follow in my Whack Jazz series, none will be as extreme an expression of free jazz as this one, John Zorn’s Naked City with Yamatsuka Eye notwithstanding.

Major eruptions are followed by minor ones. Occasional rat-a-tat-tats on the drums by Han Bennink for the various takes of the title song is a simple reminder of the theme. The other saxophonists Willem Breuker and Evan Parker join PB for some impromtu faux choruses but despite everyone blowing at their hardest, Brötzmann’s tenor always manages to rise above the chaos; the man has steel lungs. Pianist Fred Van Hove is barely audible most of the time and even having two bassists…Peter Kowald and Buschi Niebergall…doesn’t make for a consistently strong presence on the low end, either, although where they are heard, they make the most of the opportunity. Just as the alert ear can begin to pick up some semblance of a simple melody rising from the chaos, the ensemble blows it up into total disintegration, as if to be playing an evil game of creating enemies for the pleasure of cutting them down; an influence of the then-living Albert Ayler.

Virtually all the players on this record were at the beginning of their careers and have since become some pretty significant jazz players in Europe and the world. Bennink himself will merit his own entry on this blog one day.

So while it’s pretty cool to say that Peter Brötzmann is a favorite tenor player of the former Leader Of The Free World, it’s even more cool to explore his music and discover how he’s become such a giant in both European jazz and free jazz. Machine Gun is where the greatness begins.

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on,, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at
S. Victor Aaron
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