No one could complain of being misled by the name of Full Blast, the trio formed by saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, bassist Marino Pliakas and drummer Michael Wertmüller. Displaying a similar to-the-point quality as found in early Brötzmann releases titled Machine Gun and Balls, Full Blast’s appearances and recordings since their formation in the middle of last decade have been masterclasses in charging every microsecond with a furious momentum. Even when adding new elements to the template – for example, the ominous industrial textures brought in to the latest album Risc (2016) by the German sound artist Gerd Rische (who died shortly after the record was completed) – their inherent dynamic remains as accurate and propulsive as a three-pronged missile. Brötzmann, of course, needs little introduction. One could flippantly say that the sheer force, velocity and unmistakable timbre of his lungpowered expression provides sufficient warning that he’s in the vicinity. But really it’s his status as a true powerhouse of free jazz that speaks for itself, over a half-century of creativity in motion that has surged ceaselessly through solo performances, collaborations, duos, trios, quartets, octets, bands, orchestras and sleeve artwork.
He finds a fitting foil, then, in Michael Wertmüller, whose drumming embodies similar unseen battles between the gods of precision and wild abandon. Having studied at the Swiss Jazz School in Bern and lent his skills to various orchestras, Wertmüller first came to wider attention in the 1990s as part of the group Alboth!, blending jazz complexity with industrial grind and the controlled attack of metal. Already proving himself a master of rhythm thus, after a stint studying with Dieter Schnebel in Berlin, Wertmüller started to dissect time into ever-smaller slithers.
Using computers to aid his composition, he created works such as die zeit. eine gebrauchsanweisung. (‘time. a user’s manual.’) (2000) in which each of the 15 musicians performed in their own bespoke time signature, reading the score from a scrolling screen. Bringing such an exacting compositional style into Full Blast’s realm of in-the-moment music-making and split-second camaraderie sounds like a potential recipe for disaster, but Wertmüller pulled off the feat when Full Blast, aided by Ken Vandermark, Thomas Heberer and Musikfabrik’s Dirk Rothbrust (who also steps into Wertmüller’s drumming shoes for this hcmf// performance), performed a piece based on a 50- page composition of his at the NOWJazz sessions of the Donaueschinger music days in 2010. Subsequently released as the album Sketches and Ballads, billed as Full Blast & Friends, the work was full of Wertmüller’s trademark complex timings yet left room for spontaneity to flourish. Its title a knowing nod to the gulf apparently separating the worlds of contemporary composition and free improvisation that Ensemble Musikfabrik and Brötzmann symbolise, antagonisme contrôlé promises to bring both together, forcing them to occupy the same space while maintaining the inherent character of each. As always, without compromise: expect sparks to fly.