The Rough Guide to Jazz
London 2004


Ian Carr: The Rough Guide to Jazz
London 2004

John Wolf Brennan
Piano, prepared piano, pipe organ,
melodica, conductor
b. Dublin, 13 Feb 1954.

Brennan has a strong classical music background. His mother was a leading classical singer in Ireland, while his father was an accomplished pianist. Brennan’s brother, Peter Wolf, was a founder member of the successful art-rock group Flame Dream (early 1970s-1986), and in 1974 Brennan was also briefly a member of that band.
In 1961, Brennan’s family moved permanently to Switzerland, where he went to school in Lucerne. He began piano lessons in 1965 and continued through his teens. His discovery of The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Cream, Miles Davis and Hendrix inspired him in 1970 to take up bass guitar and join Crossbreed, a blues-rock band. By 1974, he was playing electric keyboards, and after his short stint with Flame Dream he turned to jazz-rock, then went back to acoustic piano to play music that included African, Indian and Irish elements.
In 1977 he formed his first free-improvisation jazz group, Freemprovisations, with trumpeter Peter Schärli; the troupe ranged from a duo to a quartet. From 1979, he began leading other groups, beginning with the quintet Impetus, which had the unusual line-up of violin, recorder, saxophone, marimba, guitar, bass guitar, drums, piano and electric piano, and which recorded his first LP, Opening Seed. In the 1980s he led groups ranging from duos to big bands. 1988, though, was a crucial year, during which Brennan lived for six months in New York, recorded two duo CDs, and married Béatrice Schmidlin, a Swiss classical pianist.
In 1989 he formed a more permanent quartet, Pago Libre, with Steve Goodman (violin), Lars Lindvall (trumpet and flugelhorn) and Daniele Patumi (double bass), which toured Germany, Austria and Hungary. The following year Pago Libre was augemnted with leading Europeans, making it a thirteen-piece big band. In 1990, Brennan also made a solo piano concert tour of the Ukraine.
During the 1990s there were more tours, festivals, different groupings of musicians, and more compositions. In 1995, he performed solo piano recitals in Moscow and St.Petersburg, and a year later toured Russia with Pago Libre. In 1997 a fellowship from the Swiss Arts Foundation enabled him to live for six months in London’s Eat End, which resulted in his solo piano album The Well-Prepared Clavier, and HeXtet... Through the Ear Of A Raindrop. Brennan also performed and/or recorded with other British musicians while in London, including Eddie Prévost, Simon Picard and Elton Dean. Although his favourite pianists include Bill Evans, John Taylor, Gordon Beck, Keith Jarrett and Carla Bley, he was probably more influenced by non-pianists such as guitarists John McLaughlin and Fred Frith. Brennan now resides back in Switzerland, but continues to compose for a wide range of conceptual settings and installations environments.
Brennan is a virtuoso pianist and improviser, and an excellent composer, whose work combines elements from jazz, rock, ethnic and classical music. His recorded output is large and ever-growing. [IC]

Christy Doran/John Wolf Brennan
• Henceforward (1988; Leo Lab).

Doran is a fine guitarist and also a gifted composer. His rapport with Brennan is excellent and the duo’s twelve performances of original compositions cover the emotional and musical spectrum, from the romantic melody and resonant harmony of “Cascades“ to the ebullient free improvisation of “Collages”.

John Wolf Brennan
• Moskau-Petuschki; Felix-Szenen (1997; Leo Lab).

Of his forty theatrical works, these are the only two which have been issued on disc, and Brennan regards them as his best. Using two violins, a French horn doubling hand-horn, plus Lars Lindvall (trumpet and flugelhorn) and Daniele Patumi (bass), and voices, Brennan creates 35 allusive and atmospheric pieces which, even without knowledge of the texts for which they were written, are compelling and profoundly focused.

• HeXtet:... Through The Ear Of A Raindrop (1998; Leo Records).
Brennan here works with some of the strongest musical personalities on the international scene – soprano and tenor saxophonist Evan Parker, singer Julie Tippetts, trombonist Paul Rutherford, bass-clarinettist Peter Whyman, and drummer Chris Cutler. Brennan plays piano and prepared piano in this project, which mixes Brennan compositions based on various poems (from Seamus Heaney to Shakespeare) with improvised commentary on the text. Brennan’s piano, prepared or not, is often a focal point in the proceedings, and the response of the improvisers is superb.

• The Well-Prepared Clavier (1998; Creative Works Records)
Brennan play piano or prepared piano on 24 short pieces that are like a kind of musical diary, in which the poetic and abstract create a bracing tension.

back to top of page

 


 

CH-6353 Weggis