Wow, this was a really spectacular evening’s entertainment. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen Brötzmann play over the last three years, but I have to say that this was probably the finest of the lot. On this occasion everything just fell perfectly into place, resulting in a non-stop 90-minute tour de force of overwhelming power and intensity.
For non-stop is what it was. No short pieces, no interval, just one endless oceanic tidal wave of brutally organised sound. Nilssen-Love (drums) and Pupillo (bass guitar) were a rhythm section to take your breath away, ceaselessly inventive and frequently locking into a lashing, irresistible groove. Kondo was a vital, turbulent presence on trumpet, his squalls of sustain often fighting for supremacy against the forceful blowing of the saxophonist, whose looming and thunderous playing is still unparalleled.
Total improvisation of this kind is extraordinary to listen to and, equally, to watch. You find yourself wondering, how do the players know when to take it up, take it down, drop out, start, stop? Answer: they listen to each other in real time, they respect each other, they know how to interact with one another for maximum power and impact. This is the kind of awareness that only comes with years of intuition and mutual understanding. It’s the one thing that makes improvisation such a vitally important and creative act.
Kudos to all those people who turned out for this concert, a nice mix of young hipsters and grizzled old jazz fans (I’ll leave you to decide which of these groups I fall into). The latter didn’t seem particularly comfortable amid the Fluc’s distressed concrete aesthetic, but they came anyway because they know what magic this music is capable of conveying. What annoys me are the hordes of avant rock and noise fans who like to see themselves as in thral to the way out and the extreme, yet wouldn’t cross the street to see a performance of free jazz or improv (in the unlikely event that they even knew it was taking place at all). Such people are merely ignorant of the fact that this music serves up sonic extremity and wildness of a kind that nothing in the rock world has ever come close to emulating.
Another highly charged evening of out-there rock from the reliably energetic Primordial Undermind. Technical problems beset the early part of the set, but once they had been overcome, the group settled into a powerful groove and couldn’t be shifted from it. The set seemed slightly less frazzled than the last time I saw them, with the long, spacey freakouts taking a back seat to a more Velvets-y, garage rock sound. Eric Arn’s occasional vocals sounded a little flat and weedy to my ears, and I found myself wishing that there had been fewer of them. As a guitarist though he has few equals, his savage riffing and splintering solos leading the group into maze-like vortices of sound. Meanwhile, the whizzy analogue effects and the swirling abandon of the cello both added a unique dimension to this most singular of Vienna rock outfits.
A mixed bag of artists for you this month, all of them testifying to the enduring power of the song. First up is waif-like Austrian singer Marilies Jagsch, whose concert at the Haus der Musik is promoted by the Vienna Songwriting Association – the people behind last November’s excellent Bluebird Festival, at which she also played. Faced with the unenviable task of playing support to Okkervil River, Jagsch acquitted herself with great strength that night. There’s a palpable sense of intensity and desolation to her songs, which she writes and sings in English. Sounding not unlike British singer-songwriter Beth Orton, Jagsch plays delicately wrought acoustic guitar and occasionally bursts forth with passages of powerful dissonance. Songs from her long-awaited debut album Obituary for a Lost Mind are sure to get an airing.
The Tiger Lillies are an unusual three-piece group from London with roots deep in cabaret, gypsy music and French chanson. They’re best known for their music for the opera Shock Headed Peter (based on the German children’s book Struwwelpeter), on which their humorous yet nightmarish songs provide a suitably creepy soundtrack. In 2003 they followed it up with another successful project, The Gorey End. A collaboration with revered string group the Kronos Quartet, this was an adaptation of macabre stories by the American writer and illustrator Edward Gorey. Revelling in the bawdy traditions of vaudeville, the Tiger Lillies have a gift for transforming the places they play – in this case, the sorely atmosphere-lacking Szene Wien – into pleasantly disreputable cabaret dens.
Anne Clark is also British, although like many artists of her ilk she has found larger audiences for her work in continental Europe than in the UK. Less constrained by the dictates of fashion, and with a considerably less oafish media to contend with, European audiences are more receptive to Clark’s diverse and experimental range of styles. A poetic songwriter and gifted pianist, Clark’s output ranges from dance music and torch song to more elaborate orchestral pieces. Most often, though, she half-speaks, half-recites her lyrics to a stinging electronic accompaniment that places her within the European dark wave tradition. She has collaborated with the likes of John Foxx, the former leader of Ultravox, Vini Reilly of the Durutti Column and Martyn Bates of Eyeless In Gaza – all, like her, mercurial songwriting talents whose work rarely attracts the attention of the mainstream. Having just released her first album in twelve years, The Smallest Acts of Kindness, Anne Clark is assured of a warm and enthusiastic welcome in Vienna.