Brotherhood Of Breath
Bremen To Bridgwater


A decidedly split story, their life being quite tragic ("voluntary exile" from South Africa due to racial reasons, financially precarious living conditions in the UK, the long-before-their-time deaths of most key musicians of the line-up), while their music was (and is!) one of the most joyous and alive in the whole history of jazz. Chris McGregor's Brotherhood Of Breath: an incredibly creative ensemble, with its original mixture of highly sophisticated African rhythms and Ellingtonian harmonies, where the brotherhood of the collective was a precondition of the freedom of expression of the individuals. Excellent musicians like McGregor (piano and composition), Dudu Pukwana (alto sax), Louis Moholo (drums) and Mongezi Feza (trumpet - a name that's quite familiar to fans of Robert Wyatt's Rock Bottom) found in Harry Miller (double bass) and in some of the most beautiful names in the "new English jazz" (Harry Beckett, Marc Charig, Nick Evans, Malcom Griffiths, Mike Osborne, Evan Parker, Alan Skidmore, Gary Windo...) the perfect counterpart for their music.

Market forces haven't been kind to the group's history. If I'm not mistaken, up to three years ago - when Cuneiform released Travelling Somewhere, an excellent CD that featured an unreleased concert from 1973 - the only available album was the joyous Live At Willisau, which had been an artistic success in spite of a below-than-average recording quality.

Bremen To Bridgwater is the indispensable, very long double CD (as long as two double LPs from way back) which presents different (and complementary) aspects of the group's history than those offered by Travelling Somewhere and that is partially derived by live sessions recorded by - and coming from the archives of - Radio Bremen. The first concert - eight pieces dating from 1971, about 50' long - opens with Funky Boots March, whose theme will be quite familiar to fans of Gary Windo; all is excellent (Kongi's Theme, Now, The Bride, Do It...), the concert showcasing their beautiful ensemble work. Two long pieces (almost half an hour) from February 1975 offer a line-up that's a bit different and fine musical ideas; all this makes up for a less than stellar sound quality.

Recorded in November 1975, the concert featured on the second CD offers a quite different line-up - and a different way of conceiving the collective, perhaps? - and a very different recording method; hence, in so differently from the 1971 concert - where one had the impression of watching the group from the first row - here it seems that one is listening to the group while sitting on the drum stool! So we have the rhythm section that's more to the fore, plus the soloists. Curiously, the slower tempo of the version of Now that appears on this CD makes the piece sound not too different from some Mingus pages. And dig the fantastic cymbals work by Moholo on Untitled Original!

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2004 | March 9, 2004