Peter Brötzmann & Heather Leigh, ‘Sex Tape’

Posted by on October 5, 2017

sex tape brotzman leigh

Trost Records, 5.1.2017

On a rain-slicked early summer evening during Burlington’s Discover Jazz Festival, a not-quite sold-out crowd sheltered in the low-lit depths of a basement cabaret for a concert proffered as “music for turbulent times.” Free jazz pioneer Peter Brötzmann and pedal tormentress Heather Leigh were in town touring Sex Tape, a one-song romp of mesmerizing tantrums and sweetly violent bellows, on one of few US dates. On stage, the duo’s instruments held the light, Leigh’s steely desk of strings and Brötzmann’s table of horns, two saxophones — alto and tenor — and a b-flat clarinet. The musicians stepped to them in silence.

Brötzmann is certainly responsible for much of the rapid dissonance adopted by bands like Lightning Bolt, Guerilla Toss, and other denizens of the not-so-sleepy boroughs of impassioned improvised noise. From his late-sixties records like Machine Gun and Nipples to his late-eighties noise supergroup, Last Exit, and beyond, he’s racked up an actually unbelievable discography.

Heather Leigh is a newer enigma, who since the nineties has crafted a feverous and often fuzzed-out tone. Her many collaborations are similar only in their unexpectedness and her solo debut, I Abused Animal, is a study in solemn transfixion. On stage, the West Virginian coal miner’s daughter cut a stark contrast to her imposing German partner. Brötzmann looks always like he woke up with plans to kill you.

Sex Tape live followed the same duet explosions and solo tradeoffs heard on-record. From the first few seconds, the duo is climbing gears, Leigh’s howls underpinning Brötzmann’s series of panicked bursts. They don’t shift to relieve ascending tension until their twin engine screams to the point just before some unfathomable eruption. It’s easy to imagine Brötzmann’s eyes shooting from his skull if he didn’t keep them clenched.

At times Leigh’s pedal steel sounds like a steamship baying out through a clogged harbor, rendering a sort of affirming despondency. Elsewhere, she’s like light on water as seen from below, a space Brötzmann navigates with apprehension and a sort of bewildered duty. Unlike the rapid, scale-ripping note tornados of his previous endeavors, Brötzmann here is still plenty manic but more husky and pleading. He steps to the edge of melody like pissing off a cliff, mockingly divorced from any consequence he’s not prepared to splash in the face of. Leigh’s twang, meanwhile, is less Buddy Cage than it is Deliverance, a pervasive evil that translates wonderfully live and, on this particular night, cast out a handful of audience members ill-prepped for turbulence.

Partitioned by a set of brief lulls, Sex Tape’s single track breaks down into three sections. On the last of these, Brötzmann is back to his thrashing, Leigh to her steady undulations. While warping her strings into themes she wastes no time working to develop, she tries on riffs only to kick them off the moment they seem to fit. On her final solo, she shifts to a nightmare blues and bleeds her notes of their pitch. The record’s big peak comes in a Sisyphean fit, with wild ascents scaled to a wailing climax. Two synchronous sighs fade the record to its close, while back in Burlington — after an encore — the remaining acolytes clapped in bliss and exasperation before stepping back into the rain, the fresh drawl of death and sex screaming in their heads.