Soldier Of The Road
SOLDIER OF THE ROAD is a combination of Bernard Josse’s skilled direction and Gérard Rouy’s thoughtful forty-year documentation of the career of German free jazz musician Peter Brötzmann, saxophonist and clarinetist. Interspersed with performances by various line-ups of which Brötzmann has been part, it’s packed with compelling interviews with Brötzmann and his past and present band mates. Brötzmann’s paintings and other visual art, a lesser-known aspect of his work, make a striking backdrop for the film’s narrative, which loosely follows the chronology of his career.
Already a visual artist as a street kid growing up in Poland, Brötzmann says, “I came to the music because it came from another world, because I didn’t want to have anything to do with the world behind me.” He describes seeing first Russian uniforms in the marketplace, and then German ones, while his father waited out the war as a prisoner in Russia. “Free [in the context of post-war Europe] has a different meaning than only an aesthetic process.”
SOLDIER OF THE ROAD is visually and aurally so well arranged; each interview or performance flows into the next. Words and music are meditation on one another, and a playful ferocity of spirit emerges. While Fred Van Hove plays piano along with a record, a cat jumps on the table and bats at the needle; the ensuing screech carries us into the next frame. Glorious, cathartic tension builds in the musical performances, a jubilant, controlled freneticism that seems to ebb away in the interviews, as Brötzmann relates anecdotes and observations in an earnest, yet somewhat emotionally removed manner. The intensity is still there underneath, however. “The human, the single soul, the shitty life of most of the people,” he says, “this makes me as angry today as it did fifty years ago.”
A multi-sensory celebration of vibrant kinetic energy, SOLDIER OF THE ROAD is a chance to experience Brötzmann’s musical range and talent, but it’s also a vivid portrait of the musician and his companions on the journey to make something new from old forms. “Destroying things in the arts,” Brötzmann says, “it’s always the first step.”
SOLDIER OF THE ROAD screened from February 13-16 at Seattle’s Grand Illusion Cinema.
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