Peter Brötzmann’s flirt with Morrocan, Gnawa music began more than 25 years ago when he played with the late guembri (the two-stringed, camel skin-backed) player-vocalist Maâlem Mahmoud Gania and Drummer-percussionist Hamid Drake at the Unlimited Music festival in Austria (The «Wels» Concert, Okka Disk, 1997, and again in the same festival, in a quartet with Bill Laswell that was featured in the box-set Long Story Short, Trost, 2013). Four years ago, Brötzmann played with the brother Gania, guembri player-vocalist Maâlem Mokhtar Gania at the Angelica, Festival Internazionale di Musica in Bologna (The Catch of a Ghost, i dischi di angelica, 2020).
In November 2022, when Brötzmann was 81 years old and on a short break from his health problems, he met the Gnawa ghosts again, this time with guembri player-vocalist Majid Bekkas, known for his collaborations with Joachim Kühn and drummer-percussionist Ramón López and his Scandinavian Magic Spirit Quartet (with Goran Kajfeš, Jesper Nordenström and Stefan Pasborg), and again with Drake. Catching Ghosts documents the live recording from the Berlin Jazzfest.
Brötzmann plays here in his most soulful manner, with only brief hints of his familiar angry voice. He improvises on the Gnawa spiritual-religious incantations and chants, following Bekkas and Drake’s hypnotic and sensual grooves and opts to «disturb the themes, so other things happen» and in inspired ways that may become more interesting to him. And it works perfectly. The wisdom and extensive experience of Brötzmann, Bekkas and Drake, as well as their mutual respect and passion, make the four traditional Gnawa pieces seductive and engaging, without sacrificing the healthy tension. Catching Ghosts is an uplifting and life-affirming performance that draws its inspiration from the deepest and most spiritual roots of the blues as developed in three distinct cultures, three continents and three different concepts of time and timing.
Peter Brötzmann (ts, as, cl), Majid Bekkas (guembri, v), Hamid Drake (dr, perc)