Peter Brötzmann is a saxophonist capable of producing improvised lines of depth and sensitivity while informing them with enough raw power to make a lesser saxophonist wilt. Brötzmann's playing has little of the arbitrariness one associates with other similar tenor saxophonists like Charles Gayle or Ivo Perelman; Brötzmann possesses a surety of tone and a melodic center characteristic of a focused musical conception. While there is no lack of spontaneity in his music, Brötzmann's concern with motivic and melodic reiteration gives his playing a palpable sense of direction. Indeed,Brötzmann's obsession often serves as a pivot upon which an ensemble turns, making him a consummate team player, in addition to being an affecting soloist.
Brötzmann was first a visual artist, attending the Art Academy of Wuppertal. A self-taught saxophonist, he began playing with Dixieland bands beginning in 1959. In the early '60s he became involved with the avant-garde Fluxus movement. He began plying free jazz around 1964; in 1965 he played in a group with the virtuoso bassist Peter Kowald and the Swedish drummer Sven-Åke Johansson. The next year he played with Michael Mantler and Carla Bley's band and became associated withAlexander Schlippenbach's Globe Unity Orchestra. In 1969 Brötzmann helped form FMP, a long-lived free jazz label and presenter that issues recordings and sponsors live performances. In the '70s,Brötzmann would play and record with pianist Fred van Hove, drummer Han Bennink, trumpeter Don Cherry, and trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff, among others. His circle of associates would continue to widen; in 1986 he would play (with drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson, guitarist Sonny Sharrock, and electric bassist/producer Bill Laswell) in Last Exit, a metal/free jazz group that enjoyed brief success. By the late '90s, one would be hard-pressed to name a prominent free jazz musician with whom Brötzmann had not played.