The 2022 Jazzfest Berlin performance by revered iconoclastic reedist Peter Brötzmann, Moroccan Gnaoua adept Majid Bekkas (playing the two-stringed, camelskin-backed guembri), and Chicago-bred drummer Hamid Drake, documented as ‘Catching Ghosts’, is historic.
It’s a return to performance from 81-year-old Brötzmann after Pandemic years affected his health, recalling his prior Gnaouan encounters, like ‘The Catch of a Ghost’ with guembri master Maâlem Moukhtar Gania, and a 1996 meet with Maâlem Mahmoud Gania at Austria’s Music Unlimited Festival (Hamid there both times). It also is a triumph of musical universalism, made in the moment without even one rehearsal, proving that ‘free’ spontaneous interactions can transcend cultural lines, still deriving power from age-old traditions.
Improvising on incantations from Gnaoua liturgy, Brötzmann, Bekkas and Drake convey ‘Chalaba’, ‘Mawama’, ‘Hamchia’ and ‘Balini’ so directly that any listener gets the messages. Hear saxophone, clarinet and tárogató cries as summons and statements; feel drums awaken inner impulses; sense strings, plucked and strummed, tying it all together, and a voice stressing the songs’ immediacy.
Make no mistake: the music’s vitality and credibility are earned by its players’ decades of practice, career-long studies of heritage, and an embracing of the paradox that the past must be reinterpreted, anew.