Pillow: Plays Brötzmann

One notices the magnificent cover (the first ever by Dutch graphic designer Karel Martens) first, of course, but the musical contents contained within are striking too. Plays Brötzmann is the first album in four years from Chicago's Pillow, the recording the group's version of a composition by Peter Brötzmann. With the free-jazz saxophone and clarinet player having recorded and performed with the likes of Cecil Taylor, Han Bennink, and William Parker, one expects Pillow's album to be a daunting set of caustic improvisations. Not so: while it's inarguably challenging music that demands (and commands) one's attention, it's largely approachable, even if it hardly sounds like Brötzmann at all (do brace yourself for some abrasive shrieks ten minutes in, however). Pillow's a quartet, incidentally, made up of cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm (also a member of the Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet), Michael Colligan on, ahem, tubes and dry ice, and two members of Town & Country: Liz Payne (bass, viola, percussion) and Ben Vida (electric guitar, trumpet). Though the players are individuated by instrumentation, one gets the impression they're more interested in generating a collective sonic mass than in individual soloing. The album itself is comprised of a single piece (“Images”) that unfurls through eleven stylistically contrasting parts, some caustic and raw (the opening two), some lyrical (three) and meditative (five, nine), plus a few gamelan and rustic moments even crop up along the way too.

April 2006