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Aoyama Crows is the fifth album by Peter Brötzmann's Die Like a Dog Quartet. Saying the music can still surprise would be a lie. But that doesn't mean it lacks excitement, on the contrary. The performance, recorded at the Berlin Total Music Meeting in November 1999, contains all the elements necessary for an enticing free improv session. The rhythm section formed by Hamid Drake and William Parker is tried, tested, and true. The drummer can oscillate in and out of a pulse with incredible ease. Here he often turns on a groove, taking a Miles Davis-esque fusion direction when trumpeter Toshinori Kondo plays one of his spacy solos. The bassist's thunderous floorings are legendary, but what stands out in this recording is his arco work in the third of these four untitled pieces. For ten minutes he steals the show. Lately, Kondo has been churning out more accessible music, not because he makes compromises with the mainstream but simply because he infuses his playing with a funkier attitude. It leads to rewarding moments in the first track and a memorable section in track three, during which Drake and Parker lock into a groove to back his solo. His electronics also widen the group's sound palette. As for Brötzmann, he plays up to the standards he has established over the years, lacking maybe a bit of the overenthusiastic energy he is known for -- but that only leaves more room for the trumpeter. Aoyama Crows is a satisfying and entertaining album -- yes, entertaining, let's not be ashamed of it, please! (AMG, Francoise Couture)