Among his first musical partnerships was that with double bassist Peter Kowald. For Adolphe Sax, Brötzmann's first recording, was released in 1967 and featured Kowald alongside drummer Sven-Åke Johansson. 1968 saw the release of Machine Gun, an octet recording often listed among the most notable free jazz albums. One critic has written Machine Gun offers "a heavy-impact sonic assault so aggressive it still knocks listeners back on their heels decades later." The logistical difficulties of touring with an octet resulted in Brötzmann eventually slimming the group to a trio once again, the most notable and lasting one with Han Bennink and Fred Van Hove. In the 1980s, Brötzmann flirted with jazz fusion and noise rock in the avant-garde supergroup Last Exit. Brötzmann has remained active, touring and recording regularly. He has released over thirty albums as a bandleader, and has appeared on dozens more, with groups such as his Die Like A Dog Quartet (with Toshinori Kondo, William Parker and Hamid Drake, being loosely inspired by saxophonist Albert Ayler, a prime influence on Brötzmann's music), Sonore (a reed trio with Ken Vandermark and Mats Gustafsson) and Full Blast (with bass guitarist Marino Pliakas and drummer Michael Wertmuller). He's also recorded or performed with many other musicians, including Cecil Taylor, Evan Parker, Han Bennink, Bill Laswell, William Parker, Willem Breuker, Ken Vandermark, Conny Bauer and Brötzmann's son, Caspar Brötzmann, a notable guitarist in his own right.
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