|Ian Carr: The Rough Guide to Jazz|
John Wolf Brennan
Piano, prepared piano, pipe organ,
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
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
• 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.
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