Mental Shake is the tenth Otoruku release, and brings back together the trio of sax/reed player Peter Brotzmann, bassist John Edwards and percussionist Steve Noble. These three were on the previously issued Otoruku release The Worse, The Better, recorded live in 2010 at Cafe Oto, London.
Brotzmann is joined here by Jason Adasiewicz, an American vibraphonist, composer and drummer who has played with Ken Vandermark, Mats Gustaffson, Stafano Bollani and many more. Together with the long-established pairing of Edwards and Noble, it makes for one powerful quartet. Mental Shake was recorded live in August 2013.
Peter Brotzmann, of course, is one of the great free-jazz pioneers. Beginning in the 1960s, he established a unique playing style and he has been kicking the doors of improvisation off their hinges ever since. He is original, powerful and a delight to listen to and speak with, always retaining a sense of surprise and delight that he has achieved the position he now occupies as perhaps the frontrunner of free jazz. He has performed with most all of the major free players and remains a total joy to hear.
John Edwards is a phenomenon on bass, with a mind-blowing technique and range. He has played with many great musicians and is acknowledged as one of the key musicians of the present scene. Steve Nobel is decisive, precise and inventive, having collaborated with many major musicians. He is perhaps one of the most sought after drummers in the UK. Bringing these together with Adasiewicz was a brain wave.
Mental Shake opens with a gorgeous sax over an Eastern-feeling percussion rhythm. The rhythm is relentless, and Brotzmann’s sax intensifies gradually over the top. The percussion backs up the sax perfectly. After several minutes, the mood and feel changes for a percussion section, and a change in direction — then it builds again. Brotzmann’s sax alternately wails laughs, screams and quivers, changing from melodic interludes to sharp staccato notes — and all of it is played with an intensity which pulls the willing listener along. Yet, it never falls off the cliff’s edge. There is a coherency to the music which speaks of musicians listening and in tune with each other on an intuitive level.
Adasiewicz’s vibraphone has an uncanny knack of emerging on its own every so often, filling gaps effortlessly with sustained notes. Once you tune into it, you can hear it right the way through, underpinning the other musicians. It adds an other-worldly element to the music and is very effective. Brotzmann uses the taragoto (a Turkish reed pipe) over the percussion and vibraphone in one section to create a distinctive atmosphere.
The delicate interaction of the vibraphone and percussion offers a light and mesmerising section around the 24-minute mark, but it does not stay light for long. Soon the bass of Edwards gently intervenes, then Brotzmann joins and the quartet comes together to create a gradual crescendo heading headlong towards the final section. And what a final section: Brotzmann cajoles his sax to alternate between a shriek, a chortle and a whisper, before ascending into what can only be described as Brotzmann-esque exploration and improvisation.
It is beautiful, and the other musicians pour delicious sounds behind him as he drifts off into almost total abandon. Brotzmann takes his sax to every extreme, forcing the lowest and ever higher, almost impossible notes out of it. Then suddenly, it is the sax and percussion. There’s a brief emptiness of sound, before the vibraphone starts almost tentatively, then takes over. What follows is another brief delight, as Edwards’ bass comes to the fore.
There is a surprise swing-like interlude just before the end of the album, but with an improvised twist. Brotzmann takes the tune and, for a moment, the quartet sounds like they are playing in a strip joint. Then, the tune is ripped apart, improvised to an inch of its life and never allowed to recover. The project ends in controlled mayhem from all concerned.
Mental Shake is sheer delight, showcasing a quartet seemingly made to play together. It is one of those rare recordings where a sense of delight and joy pervades right the way through. There are no ‘numbers,’ no pre-determined breaks or arrangements — just four musicians at the height of their game, playing together and providing beautiful, delicious entertainment. This is what free jazz is all about. Period.