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Machine Gun is pretty much ground zero for a certain strain of European free improvisation: the explosion that sparked a thousand future fires. Peter Brötzmann is of course the headline figure here, but his Octet also contains such fantastic players as Han Bennink, Fred Van Hove and Evan Parker, all playing their hearts out. High energy reissue on vinyl from Cien Fuegos.

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Machine Gun by Peter Brötzmann Octet
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9/10 Robin Staff review, 08 May 2018

Machine Gun is the ship that launched a thousand skronks. A collection recorded live in 1968, it is considered by a great many as the formative touchstone in European improv, a record of daring, free-reign mayhem. There’s about a thousand reasons tenorist Peter Brötzmann is a household name in the genre; this is one of the very first, a screeching, blissfully chaotic record with the hidden noise-anthem potential of Ornette and Albert beating in its secret heart of hearts.

Brötzmann’s enviable machiavellian timbre is well known, but he gets as much out of his instrument as he does his collaborators: here his horns are met by Evan Parker’s and Willem Breuker’s, as well as two double basses, two drummers and a piano. Perhaps called ‘Machine Gun’ because of its scattering sonic spread? This is a cacophony crafted from double-ups, noise mirages, their clattering collaborations offering the potential to really fold in surprising textural shifts by bringing players in and out of the scene.

The joy of this record is its improvised contradictions: an ensemble realising themselves as an ensemble, even in this dissonant framework, creates moments that feel jubilant and thematic, a collective screeching fanfare rolling through the stilted, meandering, squeaking, cancelling sounds around it. The aggressions make the record almost accessible: the staggering, gnawing double bass plucks and pulls work against the shrill, saxophone trilogy as if part of the same rabid pack of sound. 'Machine Gun' is an ugly, timeless classic that boldly dares your ears to hear everything.


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