Peter Brotzmann + Sonny Sharrock – Whatthef*ckdoyouwant? (2014)

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When Peter Brotzmann and Sonny Sharrock made live recordings in 1987, the results got tucked away in Brotzmann’s archives — until now. Retrieved and released on the Venetian label TROST, this collaboration between one of the true jazz greats on guitar and Brotzmann — who needs no introduction — is now available to all. A previous cooperation between the two musicians was released in 2003 on vinyl only on the Okka label.

Sonny Sharrock collaborated with Miles Davis, Pharoah Sanders and others during the 1960s before his career faded, but he enjoyed a resurgence when from 1986-90 he played in the free-rock-jazz-noise quartet Last Exit with bass player Bill Laswell, drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson and Peter Brotzmann. Sharrock died in 1994. Brotzmann, meanwhile, remains one of the most important saxophone players today and continues to play, tour and collaborate with many musicians.

Whatthefuckdoyouwant? has tracks numbered 1-11, but they merge into each other — creating an almost-seamless 70-plus minutes of free playing. The first section opens with a devastating solo by Brotzmann, later joined by Sharrock. Brotzmann dives between limitless sax playing and rhythmic, driving beats in counterpoint with the guitar. The rough timbre, so distinctive of Brotzmann, comes to the fore in many places so often, creating a quintessential sound. There is a lovely section where Brotzmann creates a hiatus by stopping at three notes and playing them over and over before going into what is almost a tune — for Brotzmann. Soon, however, the muse takes over and Peter explores the limits of his sax, taking the guitar with him. The guitar towards the end of this section is manic, played with blistering speed and twanging metallic gusto by Sharrock.

The whole album blends together the playing of Brotzmann and Sharrock to perfection. The two musicians listen and play with and off each other in conversation. Section five sees guitar and sax weaving around each other in a manic discussion making for perfect communication both with each other and the listener.

There are moments of bliss when either of the musicians emerges solo from the mania they create together. Track 6 of Whatthefuckdoyouwant? opens with a blinding solo from Sharrock, who uses echo and feedback to add to the music he creates. Brotzman joins him on baritone, with sympathetic lines over the top and Sharrock develops the rhythm whilst Brotzmann blasts, growls and menaces. This is experimental music at its brutal best.

Section 7 starts with a Sharrock section almost mimicking the sax lines just finished by Brotzmann — inventive genius. Then Brotzmann comes in buzzing like a bee, his reed is so loose, and the music sets off in a different direction. Weaving around the root chords, both players blend and play with each others’ lines in a short but very sweet section. A highlight on Whatthefuckdoyouwant? has to be Section 8, where both musicians interweave each other’s lines — imitating, conversing and mingling so that at times it is hard to discern sax from guitar. Section 9 sees Sharrock set the rhythm with heavy guitar thrumming before Brotzmann picks it up and flies with it, taking his sax to the limits of both ends of the range. He makes the sax laugh, squeal and talk creating a humorous section which the guitar then echoes.

This is something special. More than an album, Whatthefuckdoyouwant? is a conversation. The listener feels like an eavesdropper, yet they are brought into the conversation regularly. It is a recording about communication, listening, musicians in tandem in every respect.

Of the title? A bit off the mark for Mr. B, you might say. But then again, as ever, there is a story behind it. It is best told in Peter Brotzmann’s own words, with a little editorial discretion – from the liner notes:

“Being on the road with Sonny Sharrock — always a pleasure, a reliable, gentle man, never losing his countenance — until … It happened in Wuppertal near our night hang-out Cafe Congo. The night before we had played in town, we had to go 200 km down south by car with a driver/roadie from the UK. In the afternoon we met with our management Mr. X. Sonny had to discuss some business concerning a new band he wanted to set up and Mr. X had promised a lot of work for that. While working with Last Exit, Sonny finally got the recognition he deserved. The roadie and I were standing aside, waiting. The conversation got louder and louder; some verbal fight was on the way. Then, with a very fast move, Sonny took a razor blade out of the breast pocket of his sports jacket, unfolded it — all in one move — and shouted, “whatthefuckdoyouwant?, I slice you up, have done that before in Vietnam!” I never had seen before (and haven’t after) a face turning so grey and green, Mr. X — not used to exercise — turned around and started to run up the hill, the Obergrünewalderberg, quite a steeple chase, and never was seen again. The roadie and I had moved closer but before we could do anything the whole spook was over. We drove to the gig, finished the tour and Sonny was the gentle man he always had been.”

Sammy Stein

Sammy Stein

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Sammy Stein
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