Review Summary: ...and his neck is fucking bull-like
It might seem an odd addition when put up against jazz’ well-known metropolis hubs like Chicago, Osaka and Copenhagen, but the small town of Moers, Germany and its namesake festival have long since been the genre’s hallowed ground. From ’71 until today, the picturesque town of parochial Christian Democrats has been spending one cacophonous week a year under siege by free jazz musicians from across the globe. Some of the biggest and boldest vanguards of experimental music have recorded live albums from the festival, and its attached label sports fire-breathing sets from Anthony Braxton, Wadada Leo Smith and Roscoe Jenkins. In 2018, San Francisco noise punk brigands Oxbow and plutonium-lunged saxophonist Peter Brötzmann joined their ranks, laying to tape An Eternal Reminder of Not Today.
By Brötzmann’s own testament, he had not heard Oxbow’s music prior to being offered to jump in on their set, lending his contributions an almost totally improvisational bend. So for large swaths of these stretched-out agonized tracks, the listener might be fooled into thinking that they’re listening to an Oxbow live show in one channel and Brötzmann’s free form solo apoplexies in the other. If that seems disjointed, it’s because it is, and yet it all works to a near perfect level. It’s only a little futile to look for cohesion, at least in its orthodox meaning here, when both Oxbow’s brand of frenzied art rock and Brötzmann’s abstracted freak-outs have always travelled on contorted trajectories. During a post-show interview, Brötzmann, in his patently German phlegmatic tone, stated that had the collaboration felt off in any sort of way, then “Fuck it.” It is all the more heart-stopping then, when in terse moments, the music breaks from its bifurcated lean and plaits into a terrifying new whole.
The first of these juggernaut moments comes as opener “Angel” reaches its climax, Eugene Robinson’s crotch-first snarls twisting into Brötzmann’s skronk, reaching new heights of vulgar beauty. The show then proceeds at that same pace, offering brief valleys of control in an otherwise frantic lurch into the stratosphere. Oxbow trot out some of their best stuff from older offerings, stacking highlights from King of the Jews and Serenade in Red against their latest Thin Black Duke material. All songs become boiling sprawls, finding more and more room to heave, with the encore "The Valley" from Fuckfest in particular reaching twice its recorded length, simmering and simmering before an expected detonation wraps up the frenetic set.
There is tremendous video footage of the concert to accompany the album, offering everything you might expect from the pairing, the geriatrically-hunched Brötzmann stoically slicing away, as the taped-up Robinson shadowboxes and thrusts around the stage, losing clothing and gaining vitriol with seemingly every passing second. But the LP does almost as heady of a job projecting that chaos blind, an all the more impressive feat from a band in the fourth decade of its tenure and a man who even in his 80’s continues finding new layers of havoc extrication from his instrument.