he marathon, lung-bursting howl of Peter Brötzmann’s Machine Gun, which the saxophonist self-released on his BRÖ imprint 50 years ago, captured the anxiety of a generation grappling with the Vietnam War and civil unrest. The emotional and political complexity it was born from still resonates today.
Before he entered the world of music, Brötzmann was studying to be a painter in Western Germany and was associated with Fluxus, a radical art movement influenced by John Cage and informed by an anti-commercial sentiment.
“[With Fluxus], I was involved with various creative people—playwrights, actors, dancers and so forth,” he recalled. “All we talked about was how to get rid of the old structures.”
A perennial jazz fan, the stage provided Brötzmann with a more suitable home for his artistic vision than a pristine canvas. From the outset, as captured on his 1967 debut For Adolphe Sax, Brötzmann’s violent and experimental approach was fully on display.
“On the continent, it was hard-bop time. Art Blakey was always touring Europe. But so were Charles Mingus and Eric Dolphy. That was something for our ears,” Brötzmann said.
After gigging for years, two landmark performances with his trio at the Frankfurt Jazz Festival landed Brötzmann the opportunity to put a bigger band together. Alongside the drummer and bassist from his original trio, he brought together players already firmly established within the German and Dutch avant-garde, including Han Bennink and Willem Breuker, of the Instant Composers Pool. Brötzmann also recruited rising British reedist Evan Parker.