Thursday, December 27, 2007

96 glimpses and looming ninetets

this is (at least in the northern hemisphere) a time of year which provokes much reflection in many of those who reflect; but i'll keep all that to myself for the time being.

it's also a time of year when money gets spent and people buy things, in countries where the promise of happiness is based on ownership. so, anyway, leo had a sale (still on i think) and i bought some things.

actually my first raid on the leo's sale yielded composition 94 for three instrumentalists, a delightful unearthed gem which will probably get written about at some point. but i later found myself ordering all three double volumes of the yoshi's ninetets (gtm, '97) and throwing in composition n.96 while i was at it. these arrived, with considerable felicitousness, on xmas eve... but it's not until tonight that i got an opportunity to do more than fetishise the objects themselves. only one hour of listening time, it had to be comp. 96 really.

now, the maestro doesn't play on this smallish (37-pc) orchestra recording, but 96 (dedicated to the recently-deceased karlheinz stockhausen) is such a major landmark/reference point in the collage structures of the 80s and early 90s that it has to be reckoned with, and this is the recording we have of it... and a very interesting piece it is too. it did not get (anything like) my full attention - at this stage i just want to start listening to it, get it into my system so that elements from it will ring bells when i hear them quoted later; over time i may hope to acquire a detailed understanding of the piece itself, but i'm not worrying too much about that for now.

the first section was quite strange and actually did focus my full attention onto the music at times, because it was uncannily similar in some ways to some of zappa's orchestral writing, or at least it seemed so to me; big clashes of sound thrown up against each other, lots of tension and anxiety, very "difficult" or dissonant and complex tonalities... ok, i'm sure i could be describing any number of modern composers there; it just reminded me of zappa, which i was not really expecting (although, come to think of it... hmmm, see comments).

however, the way the piece evolves is really entirely different from anything i have heard fz do.

if any readers want to fill me in on some details wrt stockhausen, please do - for the moment i don't have much to go on, but that being the case it's surprising how closely b's homage mirrors one account i have read, that of clarinettist anthony pay (in bailey, improvisation) who worked with stockhausen as part of the london sinfonietta: i took away (besides the memory of the taboo-breaking trumpet-player) an impression of a composer concerned to chart the course of the universe, however that sounds in the telling, (among other ways) by interspersing episodes of order and chaos, or stasis and movement... and that's very much how 96 comes across during this first airing. when the music settles it stays still for some time, and sounds as if it could do so forever; but growth emerges from stasis and the transitions back to dissonance and clash do not seem forced, but organic... this is a tantalising piece and i want to go back to it before i try and say anything more about it.

the ninetets... well now, in more ways than one these are leading up to the iridium box: six performances on three nights, six (six!) reedmen, nine players subdivided into three trio sections, each with its own leader... important recent collaborators... essential! i'm delighted to have these, but have not yet had time to listen to any of them and for the moment i'm content to keep anticipating.

reading steve day's listening diary in the notes gave me an awkward twinge or two, i must confess... hey, you mean some people get paid for doing this? ;-)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

october 07 braxtothon... day seven (1)

funny, i was expecting a gap here... but in the end my schedule has wiped itself clean and suddenly it's day seven, which means it's 1974. so that means standards, right? well no actually, it doesn't - i haven't got those steeplechase sets and although they are very highly recommended by some people, i'm not sure they would figure on my list even if i had them. when it comes down to it, a date on which braxton filled in for dexter gordon to play a bunch of old chestnuts from the american songbook... well, it's not going to tell me much about the man's own ideas, although it might in theory tell me yet more about his playing - i will definitely be interested to hear these curiosities at some point, but i don't really feel that's what i'm missing at this stage.

no... but we are staying in europe, and jumping forward less than a week in time (from the steeplechase date)... to the beginning of june, and the moers new jazz festival.

first session: solo - live at moers festival
date: 1st june 1974

restructures link

- this, really, is my first proper solo concert - although surely there must have been more than this (five numbers and a whimsical encore) on the day... but as a collective (very bold) statement, it is rather handily meal-sized and makes me tremble somewhat at the thought of trying to digest an entire banquet... well, there will be time for banquetting... meantime i am left with a smile on my face, a slight ringing in my ears and the need to try and tackle the performance rather than the material - and i mean the performance as a whole, not those alluring little details.

first thing which comes to mind: the one totally new aspect of b's playing, the extra dimension revealed here (and i'm sure it would've been earlier if i'd had the recordings to choose from) is the tremendous variation in dynamics - this the one aspect of the solo language which is not fully apparent when the soloist is accompanied, and i can now add it to the variations in tone, timbre, pitch and attack (etc) which are already part of my understanding of the solo vocabulary.

of course this just adds yet again to the range of possibilities open to the voice at any given time - and (if this were possible) hence adds also to my admiration :-D

i have to mention eric dolphy again - the aacm was very much in favour of solo performances for *any* player, we know this... but still... i hear time and again the spirit of dolphy hovering around the proceedings (the time to examine this connection in depth is perhaps almost at hand) and feel that a part of the master's motivation, however unconscious, was to equal dolphy and then surpass him... of course, there were other possible rivalries - braxton was not the only altoist to experiment in those days, hemphill and lake were already at it and mitchell and jarman were long since established... there were sound scientists in europe too... every concert for braxton must have brought with it a certain urgency to demonstrate his total mastery of his chosen primary voice... at least, that seems to be what happened and i don't suppose there was anything accidental about it. at this point, at any rate, there are no fluffs or misses at all, every utterance seems to come right from the centre.

in among the six very different pieces, i'm going to pick three briefly - the first (comp. 26b*) is the longest on the album and seems to contain within it enough variety to encompass the entire vocabularies of many lesser players... each time a new idea is revealed it is quickly folded back into the mixture, the samurai sword being hammered out and melted back down again and again; even the high-pitched squeaks which dominate the fifth minute seem to be very precisely controlled (and the audience responds noisily to every brief pause); the second (comp. 26h*) is another beautful ballad, on which (as always) b. adopts a mellifluous tone quite distinct from his "basic" alto voice, yet recognisably his - using sweetly-timed pitch-bends, he manages to tell the ballad story while still imbuing the telling with the curious intelligence which so characterises him; the soft tremolo effects in the second half of the piece are pretty astonishing, very compelling evidence of complete control; and finally the tiny encore itself, labelled comp. 26g* but little more than an altissimo squeal, protracted and extruded over the course of maybe ninety seconds, tastefully bestrewn with a smattering of subvocalisations for good measure - so that the delighted audience is left in no doubt that they have just witnessed a master at play, as well at work.

i am glad, then, of the smaller size of this performance, glad that this is the way things have worked out. when next a solo set presents itself to me, it will be longer; but by then i shall be better placed to accommodate it.

(chances are the solo sets could all be CCCC... i don't really see any point in grading them. has anybody ever heard a poor one? on the other hand, this being short and out-of-print... it's not gonna top most "recommended" lists i guess)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

october 07 braxtothon... day six (2) (part two)

[châteauvallon 1973 continued... see here)

there was an encore - or possibly only one number was broadcast from a later set, but at any rate we still have comp. 23d*, which i think of as "the ornette one", as it begins with a phrase which sounds as if it belongs on the shape of jazz to come (and indeed nearly quotes "peace") before turning its head and walking in a different direction, yet returning to that same place; wonderful unisons again on this, and (for what it's worth) this one really swings. b's solo - again, i have to say i hear parker and i hear dolphy and i hear braxton pushing through both and out the other side, into a territory he has already explored at length and in depth before anyone else got there, even found the door. like his predecessors, he plays shapes in his solo and can twist them into all sorts of weird and wonderful configurations without spelling chords or in any way creating a melody - how does he do that? it's beyond me, but look, wheeler can do it too, all angles, never anything other than free yet always turning back in on himself; one would scarcely guess this was wheeler at all (though his high smears would eventually give him away) - this wonderful piece, thoughtfully written and superbly presented, might be the highlight of many a performance; here, by contrast with what we've heard, it's more or less a party piece, just tossed off like an easy number to wind down - and yet it's so good, that "sideways" motif before the ending just marvellous (and surely self-consciously a dolphyism, could almost be from out to lunch this time). yeah, sounds like an encore to me... may those who were there cherish the memory...

and that's that. but, really, there is still time for:

dessert: comp. -2* (news..., tr. 4)
date: 7th december 1973

"-2" eh... that's not all that helpful... still, there is more info in the liners (where i often have to peek during these news bulletins): it really belongs in the 23 series at least chronologically, but for some reason got left out of the numbering... this performance is a one-off, at least in the discog: an ad-hoc quartet for a concert in nantes matching braxton and wheeler with pianist antoine duhamel, dodecaphonic composer (it sez ere) famous for his soundtracks, and french/algerian bassist françois mechali - these two, writes martinelli in the notes, "often played contemporary music together, whereas very few traces remain of their jazz and improvisational music. the collaboration of this duo with braxton nonetheless went down in history..." (actually mechali had already worked with braxton: he was one of two bassists in the 1972 creative music orch.)

the piece begins with a little three-note phrase from the leader that sounds uncannily like the opening of parker's "all the things..." (dial masters) for a second, though that's dispelled at once, the train of thought lost even as the triple-pattern recurs, the bass very soon off on a prowl, not a walking bass in the jazz sense, more a running bass, an urgent pulse creating no little tension - and the line which is then revealed is startlingly full of that tension and its various attempts at release: "arresting" is the word which sprang to mind, full of shrill attacks from the reed, the brass and the piano as the bass stabs urgently along with its own (secret) agenda - this strikes me at once as another "proto-pulse track" (like the warne marsh piece from tokyo), and the friction between the theme and the pulse generates (yet again) a phenomenal solo from mr anthony braxton... fountain of solos... duhamel gamely plucks away the whole time, refusing to be cowed into silence, but (inevitably) more in tune with mechali than with the soloist - yet b. is in playful mood here and from time to time in his solo he seems to let slip phrases, or fragments, of what could almost be pop songs. duhamel unleashes a clangorous solo of his own once braxton has finished - he seems unable to break away from the bass, though; pity, because when wheeler takes over and starts being free, mechali responds by ratcheting right up through the gears, forcing the pace and generating unexpected heat... a strange piece this, then, leaving me unable to shake that "all the things..." flashframe, one theme which is right out of the professor's lab (and a nagging pulse to go with it) versus another which seems almost semi-recognisable as a ballad... schizoid, and strange, and it's over before i could get near the bottom of it.

(i already done told you, news is CCCC stuff... no grading for the airshot recording - but let's be serious, those of you who didn't already have it will want it by now)

distractions: more dogs
write-up: hahahahahahahahahahahahhhhhh

functional stack

my own first experiment with a braxton playlist didn't go too swimmingly, but it did teach me one thing: this pulse track business (or rather proto-pulse track business) goes back further than i'd realised and is more pervasive. i had unknowingly lined up several of these early prototypes on the spin: comp. 6a* which left me impressed but a bit flummoxed in the listening session (*see comments) is exactly that, a pulse-track-versus-band precursor, holland arcing out a stabbing pulse while the rest of the quartet does something parallel - inextricably linked but still basically different. i didn't have time to waste putting the playlist into a decent order so just chucked em in... but that was followed by 23m* from the tokyo album and that in turn by comp. -2* from news, the one-off quartet with wheeler, duhamel and mechali... three of the buggers in a line... normally i would never employ such crude sequencing ;-) but then as i said in a recent comment, i try not to spend much time on lists these days.

bearing in mind that it was a multiple-stop, on/off experience anyway and therefore pretty compromised, i got quite a bit from it really - and the uptempo cookers (23b* and 6i*) sounded superb. again, further elaboration to follow in the comments. meanwhile - if anyone has a (pref. road-tested) braxton playlist they wish to share with everyone... that would be great! my initial impression was that it just was not gonna work at all but i am sure that need not be the case.

an aside

so, apart from the predictable conclusion that untrammelled loquacity wears most readers down (i'm still faintly amazed that anyone reads this blog at all... the idea that some people have read all of it is almost unbelievable), and besides the hugely intensified love and respect for the man and his work which resulted from the temporary monomania which overtook me in october (and to a lesser extent since... echoes of it)... what did i learn?

one thing i realised weeks ago was that i blew a good opportunity to make excellent progress towards one of my supposed goals, namely to achieve a better understanding of b's composition as such... at the outset, not wanting to prejudice any of the listening sessions, i stopped reading any criticism or discussion of the music i was about to hear, including liners (the one exception being news - necessary, in that instance, to sort out the chronology etc) - nothing wrong with that, but to complete the learning process i would surely have benefited from reading up on the material AFTER i had completed my own write-up... this didn't occur to me until way too late. partly, i suppose, i had limited time as it was, and needed breaks in between so as not to short-circuit my brain (which was already reacting weirdly)... at these times i would not have felt much like sitting and reading liner notes; and the whole project needed to be driven forwards (a digression here into chinese five-element theory would see me describing the qualities associated with wood... but this is as far as that digression gets) so as not to stall immediately: i was too caught up in the need to press on to be able to sit and peruse in that way.

still... it's a bit late now, too much ground to cover - so i do regard this as a missed opportunity as i say. (i have caught up a little bit since, but i'm not about to attempt anything comprehensive at this point...)

* * *

typing seemed like such a chore recently - i'm a fast typist but not a real one, usually have plenty of corrections to make afterwards so it can get pretty tedious at times... i always said there was no way i would write for a living (even being an undergrad almost gave me a nervous breakdown, by that point i couldn't be bothered to work at all most of the time so the few essays which got done had to be dragged out of me in an excruciating slow torture... of course, occasionally i would be totally inspired and the words would write themselves... this back in the days when people still wrote longhand, that used to get on my tits also after a while). now - that meant that suddenly all the various ideas i had outstanding for posts (the first of several on dolphy, one on steve lacy, one about my listening relationship with dave holland, etc etc) became nothing more than items on a mental list; and the two "saint and sinner" gigs never got written up either (they still will though). i also started writing about the woody shaw album the iron men some days ago... and never finished that either. sorry readers, you're just going to have to bear with me here... all these things shall pass; until then and in the meantime, the remainder of the braxtothon (phase two) will continue to run during this coming week. if you are one of the strange people who actually read this stuff, do drop in and say hi!

Friday, December 14, 2007

october 07 braxtothon... day six (2) (part one)

preamble: where we we? oh yes, the empty years... this 1973, which began so promisingly in tokyo, has yielded (at time of writing) nothing else to the official discography at all - apart from one more beautiful fragment in december (c/o news from the 70s once again... that really is worth buying if you don't have it already!). where are the quartets? these are the times we would love to hear about, and the concerts we would all love to hear... right? those three numbers on complete 1971, then - what happened? no more quartets.

well, of course i do have at least one...

second session: châteauvallon 1973 (radio broadcast)
date: 22nd, 25th august 1973 (see below)

for further info, please go here:

(thanks again to frédito for getting this out..!)

here we are then, a 1973 anthony braxton quartet with some unexpected names (jfjc and shaw) in addition to wheeler... this has gotta smoke, right? right. this really does kick posterior... indeed the only problem with this, from my current pov, is that the repertoire for the quartet includes all of side one of new york, fall 1974, an album i supposedly don't yet know exists, if you see what i mean... but screw that, i heard that album recently, twice on successive days in fact, i can't exactly unremember it... what i will do for now is avoid talking much about the writing and concentrate more on the performance, the way it takes shape - why is this document so fascinating? because he was already doing these 45-min suites with several different sets of materials linked by transitional passages and (presumably) brief explorations of secondary pieces as well... you know, the stuff he isn't supposed to be doing yet, but here it already is.

actually the french radio broadcast begins with a single three-minute piece from a solo concert on the 22nd - it's introduced as "ruby, my dear" but, er, if it really was that then all i can say is it strays very far from the source... in any case it's a lovely ballad(ish), full of trills and playful mastery... of course it would be nice to have more than one short piece from this performance, but one is better than none at all.

the quartet, as i say, consists mostly of one extended suite. at least three compositions are explored (later on, specifically 23c* and 23b*, but a very different one at the start; there is also a (very) fast line extension some way in, which cannot possibly be "just" a transition), and a great deal of ground is covered... the radio announcer seems suitably awed by it, anyway, and so does the audience. indeed - they always do: so why did the message not get spread?


* * *

the opening theme sounds briefly familiar, annoyingly (though it could well be, i.e. from the last time i heard this..!) - but i can't name it; it begins with b. and wheeler sketching out one of their spare-yet-tensile lines, two voices which work very well together... but not for the first (or last) time the fruit of the faithful sideman's labour is precisely this, that his leader is inspired and therefore takes off at once on a long solo, requiring full steam ahead from the engine room while leaving poor kenny to stand and absorb for several minutes. but what a magisterial solo, on sopranino sax... very early on b. finds some distinctive "falling" phrases that he likes and this discovery launches him (and jenny-clark) right outside, right away. shaw is one of a number of drummers for whom the resulting roiling, squalling tessitura would have been home from home (he fits in quite well throughout... probably doesn't quite distinguish himself as well as wilson the previous year... but we will get another chance to hear shaw, later in the decade...) - the drums push the pace harder and harder, the bass still playing figures at this stage, the reed speaking in tongues of fire - by five minutes in we are GONE (and wheeler is nowhere to be heard), finally by eight minutes the backing dies away, the reed lapses into isolated squeaks... and then just keeps going, unaccompanied, spelling out its impossible song... somehow wheeler is still ready to play after all that (i don't know how these guys do it, but i guess they must be listening intently)... finally there is a shift....

and what sounds like completely new material sees wheeler finally beginning a solo of his own... shaw now switching to vibes in order to get some real weird shit going on while the second bird gets to sing... again, this voice is high-pitched and very lithe and nimble, too quick to catch for sure; but all these peals of sound have brought the monster out of hiding, contrabass squawks and skronks now detonating beneath and behind the brass solo... by 12.15ish they are (sort of) playing together, the two horns trying a theme of sorts, but this leads to a long period of reflection, slow flux and regathering of momentum, a transition-phase while forces are regrouped: 15.45ish, squeaks and drums suggest a new approach and sure enough, the ensuing build-up sees the band at full throttle by 17mins, the sound suffering a little but everyone audible; this is a really high-octane fast line extension, everyone absolutely flat out by 18.30 when suddenly the horns drop out, the momentum is allowed to die off and at 19 mins a lovely swoop on flute immediately triggers the pause which precedes the clear statement of comp. 23c*, the agglutinator, which adds to itself each time its theme is repeated and grows in whole sections...

...surely they must be reading this one, it's just gotta be too hard otherwise, none of them put a foot wrong (although shaw sounds as if he's fudging it after a while) and this despite the ever-lengthening theme (which seems to go on a lot longer than the studio version)... finally a bass solo begins (24.45), but this is a lot hotter and more unpredictable than one of holland's and sure enough, the slapped harmonics attract the attention of the monster once more...what b. can do with this beast is nobody's business, astounding noises he can make with it... they duet for a while, a young warrior and a sea monster, and at length a crescendo of cymbals signals another entropic breakdown and another drift backwards into transition and sleep, dreams... sounds drop in and out... shaw worries the same obsessive, trudging attack... around 30.30 it grinds almost to a halt; then drums indicate the approach of yet another set of materials, and around 31mins we're off to the races with 23b*, the stop-time show-off piece which opens fall '74 so memorably... but here it is going to close the set, it is going to be played even faster than it would in the studio and it is going to last almost fifteen minutes.

- the pace of it - well, all of them love it apparently, everyone just rips into the theme and nails it. as always b. takes first solo and he peaks not once but twice, glorying in the power and drive of the hammering double-engine... a brief bass flurry sets up shaw's solo next, just a fast jazz drum solo really but he keeps up the momentum, and wheeler (as usual) begins with a lot more held back anyway, but quickly works up speed and gets so much flowing that this time one solo isn't enough, he returns for a second just when one is expecting the restatement of the theme - he had such facility, wheeler, and wide imagination... totally happy in free contexts; is he wasted, then? (it seems invidious to suggest it, since those who like his composing seem to like it *a lot*) - when the restatement does arrive, it is so ludicrously fast that at times they are all over the place, but the effect is still terrific... and it duly brings the house down.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

skewed vision

so... what did i do? exactly what i said i wouldn't, let it get to the point where it was becoming a chore, an item in bold on a to-do list... ludicrous... and as i refuse to feel any pressure with this particular project, i have simply let it drift for the time being...

i must admit that i was somewhat shocked by (negative) responses to sonny simmons' performances with tight meat; for a few days after that i departed in another direction entirely, scarcely thought about music for a while and certainly didn't do any writing. then i found that i no longer even felt like doing any writing... hmmm, interesting. well... these things do tend to be cyclical with me.

ANYWAY... fuck all that, this was all supposed to be about spreading the word, the gospel (if i can co-opt such a term at this late stage) of braxton... if i allow a sense of duty or obligation to get in the way of just enthusing about mr b's music then i have surely taken a wrong turn, somewhere along the line... recently a correspondent of mine very kindly filled in some gaps for me, four albums from the 1979-84 period which i had hoped would cast further light on (the development of) b's 20-year experiment with the "creative jazz quartet" format - luckily he also sent me some other stuff (inc. a couple of günter christmanns - wow, these are really good! i had no idea he was such a good player) because, of course, i didn't feel i could permit myself more than a sneak preview of the braxtons until their time came in the (hellish, time-and-attention-consuming greedy monster that is the) braxtothon - !

in the end i lost patience with myself... or good sense finally won out, whichever... i didn't give any of them my full and undivided attention, but i've been listening to some great anthony braxton recordings over the last couple of days! and indeed i can see the gaps filling themselves in, as i speak... the jump (last night) from 1981's unhelpfully-titled six compositions: quartet to the 1984 album of the same name (almost) was remarkable, two very different piano quartets: indeed the former (a one-off grouping? - anthony davis, mark helias and ed blackwell) is very much a free jazz unit, very adept at rendering a selection of b's pieces but quite firmly rooted in the jazz idiom by blackwell; the later album, featuring the "final prototype" line-up (lindberg on bass) is startlingly open and seems to travel in many different directions all at once, and whereas my immediate impression is that it's crispell who is doing a lot of the opening, the crucial difference must surely be hemingway (i am reluctant to assume it's the pianist who was anchoring the earlier group, when that pianist was a known polymath like davis).

the later album, then, shows braxton furiously opening up new coalfaces and getting to work on all of them simultaneously... though i imagine this process has already begun earlier (if and when the monster-thon gets to that stage, i shall hope to find out) - yet this is the very period when some devotees of the man's earlier work lost interest, and never regained it... i know this to be true, though i confess it is beyond my comprehension :-S

rattling on... hey look i'm back..!

well... sort of

no promises at to times and dates but those london gigs will get written up... and what is left of the braxtothon pieces will still run as well, when i can get round to turning my attention that way...

bye for now - keep the faith/spread the word

cent x

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

the saint and the sinner

man i can scarcely believe i am the only one who dug sonny simmons... well, i wasn't, the other one has not yet declared his interest but in any case there were apparently only two of us and no-one else knew what to make of it?


anyway... nothing to do with anthony braxton for a change... some detailed thoughts on charles gayle and sonny simmons (plus various others and with special mention of jookloo duo) will follow as soon as i can be bothered to write them up :)

this politeness thing is not necessarily going very well so far... never mind

the journey is the important bit (so they keep telling me)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

on politeness

people who live by far stricter codes than me have struggled with this one for centuries. how does one keep one's discourse honest and truthful at all times, yet not speak in such a way as to cause pain or distress to others?

while i was reading lock's forces in motion earlier this year, it could hardly escape my notice that mr b. simply will not talk much about people he doesn't like, people he's fallen out with, people he thinks can't play very well. because this extends to people who have messed him around over the years or who have less-than-scrupulous business practices, this makes for somewhat frustrating reading at times - but it didn't take me long to start thinking that his was a very sensible approach, whatever his reasons were for adopting such a policy (and it may be nothing more than being careful what one says to a journalist!).

as you can see, i nevertheless did not get round to adopting it myself - not quite ready for that, apparently - and a few months down the line here i am, cheerfully being irreverent about a recording (conference of the birds) which i know full well would be considered desert-island listening by some people... the few adverse reactions this drew have made me wonder if i could not have reined myself in a little bit. did i really have to go blundering in, stomping all over a nice clean floor? could i not have been a bit more respectful? it's all very well to cite the south park guys (as i did in my reply to arcturus); but trey parker and matt stone have more or less dedicated their lives to the idea that there is no subject unfit for comedy - this is their guiding principle, not mine, and what works for them might not necessarily be a good idea for me.

as i said in that same reply: sacred cows make me very uneasy. on the other hand - is conference a sacred cow? possibly not... but it's a cherished recording for many people - and i will try and bear that in mind in future.

thanks to omar, arcturus and artjep for occasioning these reflections

* * *

i've been busy lately... the next braxtothon entry went on and on, so i'm going to split it... but haven't had time to look into that yet. it's on the way - but not for a few days: i am off to london this afternoon to see charles gayle (in his "native habitat" this time, i.e. his american trio rather than the ad hoc grouping which recently toured the u.k.)... this will be followed on monday by a close encounter with sonny simmons. needless to say i am looking forward to witnessing these two venerable masters; but no less am i anticipating the society of the friend who will accompany me. it's not what you eat for your supper, it's the people you share it with... well, that was what epicurus reckoned anyway...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

another stage

sunday 11th it was, in fact - it's just taken me until now to post about it - that i realised the time had come, end of stage two... scarcely inappropriate since we were already well into november by this point - so that whatever this exploration becomes in time, it will no longer be the october 07 braxtothon... but in fact i never did get beyond the recording i listened to on the evening of hallowe'en: mrs cent out at a scary flick with a friend, me alone with the dogs in a darkish house... i actually did get my very own genuine unexplained noises from the kitchen... how cool is that... anyway, i also tried to cheat, knowing i had limited time, listened while doing the washing up, noticed plenty of things and enjoyed it but (as i confirmed later) missed loads compared to a real session... so what was intended to be a nice clean break at the end of the month dragged on (as i am now!)

i went back to that album next chance i got, and listened to it properly - but guess what? this time i simply didn't write it up at all, just never got round to it... so after a due period of acclimatisation (and a few days of seeing how much music is around at the moment) i found myself thinking, yeah, this is really gonna have to stop for a bit.

i am quite sure i will return to it though

apart from anything else i won't be able to deprive myself of the music for long, and i suspect that when i return (still sticking to chrono order whenever i do) i may find myself refreshed...

meantime, i might perhaps get round to discussing some of the things which keep cropping up, such as the aacm "house style" or steve lacy or that man eric dolphy...

also in the meantime... the remaining entries in stage two will still appear, one by one (the last one may even get written up at some point, who knows)

Friday, November 9, 2007

october 07 braxtothon... day six (1)

preamble: these are really the "empty years" - very little of what was going on in b's musical existence, to say nothing of his mind, got safely documented. (and let's not even get started about what's left in print.) though 1972 looks rich in the telling - the first creative music orchestra and the famous town hall concert - there is a big gap from may onwards, filled only by holland's quartet date for ecm six months later.

no gap in the braxtothon at this point though - day five-and-a-half threatens to become day five-and-three-quarters as i begin with the nyc quintet write-up still to do... but with that accomplished day six is promptly underway, and some sort of sense prevails once more.

now... what happened next?

first session: four compositions (1973)
date: 11th january 1973

restructures link

what, this was never released outside japan? why not??

mr braxton travels to the orient - for the first time? - to meet with three local musicians in interpreting four of his own compositions. does that sound promising? mmm...not necessarily. what can we expect from this? our man must have his hopes up, though: the music he is taking with him includes pieces dedicated to two major musical figures in his life - m.r. abrams and warne marsh - as well as a third who would become very important later (richard teitelbaum). b. must have known that a high standard of playing was a very realistic expectation...

... and that's what he got! indeed, the only question i have by the end is why three pieces are interpreted by a trio (minus percussion) and only one by the quartet - was there more? we need to know - meantime this recording itself needs publicity because the meeting is very successful and wonderful music results from it. just from the sonorous bass at the beginning of the first piece, the listener can immediately think "yes, this is going to work."

all four pieces are fascinating, all feel fully explored and each sees the players open the fabric of the writing right up to explore as many of its implications as possible, within the parameters set - the piece for abrams (comp. 23p*) seems to look the furthest and dig deepest in its scope, but all four (very different and distinct) numbers can be treasured here. i presume that the japanese players must have been thoroughly schooled in modern orchestral music, although the bassist seems familiar with jazz idioms too (and probably the pianist), but in any event they are fully open to the work which b. has brought them and are thus able to get right inside it.

this time i'm going to single out just one piece - the third, comp. 23m*, dedicated to marsh. unlike the two numbers which precede it, this has a clear line both in terms of its "melody" (you know, one of those hard-to-play things) and its underlying drive, provided by the bass which walks in four at a brisk, steady pulse throughout, throwing in faster bars every so often - it is more or less an early example of a pulse track, since it sets up a rhythmic pattern which holds firm against a very different, skittish rhythm played in unison by the reed and the piano: this internal tension is something to which b. will return many, many times. the other reason i single it out is because of the leader's wonderful solo, in which he allows his own language types to mix with a more traditional, balladic (though still slightly skewed) tone, presumably a reference to marsh (i have heard very little). in truth b's own language is very much the norm, but still, the extent to which he does incorporate the outside element into the texture and overall design of the solo is very impressive indeed. as the heat gets turned up, b. really cuts loose and starts hitting warp speed (very much in the manner of dolphy), yet he still seems to have one eye on an overall shape for the solo; and at its peak of intensity, he wraps up and hands over to the piano. masahiko sato, in turn, delivers a wonderful, magical solo filled with surprises and delights (and this from me, not so much of a piano fan), never anywhere but "out" yet constantly supplying fresh ideas and imbued with a playful touch (reminding me in this somewhat of the great jaki byard) - as the reed re-enters, the piano switches to a lovely, delayed "stabbing" attack briefly, well behind the pulse, leading perfectly to the restatement - in which (not for the first time) the leader allows himself a few fluffs and glosses, and in which the variations in rhythm (created by the friction of the written line against the bass pulse) come across more clearly as having the contours of a solo, not of a theme. i cannot say how much this is or isn't a fitting tribute to mr marsh... but it is wonderful.

take it for granted i could detail the other three too, especially the final piece (which begins with simmering tension and never slips back off the edge, reaching boiling point before its close) - all have so much to commend them, and all three japanese players get right to grips with the music. again, the one slight query remains over why the excellent percussionist gets only one piece... and again i ask, was there more?

(i can scarcely tell you how much i enjoyed listening to this album - unsung though it seems to be, it strikes me as a totally successful meeting of musical minds, and must surely have been hugely gratifying for the composer... i believe any fan of mr braxton's will love this, hence i can't give it any lower recommendation than... CCCC)

Monday, November 5, 2007

october 07 braxtothon... day five, interlude

the, ahem, "david holland quartet" revisited
date: 30th november 1972

restructures link

conference of the birds is not speaking to me. it seems convinced that if gets played at all (which isn't looking likely) it won't get any sort of fair hearing. apparently i've just got this unshakeable picture in my head now of dave holland as the ultimate sideman, a guy incapable of leading a really hot date - what misha mengelberg says of him in the jazz times blindfold test (various things actually, but specifically that he should be forced to play only as a sideman, banned from leading) seems emblazoned over my image of him. and this for a guy that i was defending less than a year ago; hell, last december i was still doing more than defend him, i was actively looking forward to the 60th birthday gig the bbc were going to broadcast and probably using my left-over interest in dhq to defend chris potter's solo work - hard to imagine my wanting to listen to any chris potter now... or much more than a few mins of dhq for that matter, ALL those tunes are the same fergodsake. and i have a very strong suspicion that yes, even conference is overrated... i always did think that most of the themes sounded a bit twee, just agreed to cough and look the other way for a minute because the solos were so damn hot - now i'm at this stage, and at that stage with mr holland - what are the chances i shall be wearing an ironic grin before the music has even begun?

so when i decide that i will listen to some of it after all, relaxing in a hot bath instead of freezing my arse off at the keyboard, the disc simply refuses to play, spins and misses and makes nasty noises with the laser but will not produce music... perhaps by the time i got the backup out, the grin was wiped off a bit (but probably not). anyway, four tracks is all i could fit in on this occasion - and my attempts to finish off on day five-and-a-half are thwarted again - this time it has a complete snit and won't play on anything within reach *.

and how was it? well... yes, it does sound rather good doesn't it (though a total newcomer would (now) think immediately that it's very dated)... everyone is on top form and the production is of course very clear. yes, and this is indeed the only album on which you can hear mr braxton with mr sam rivers... sorry, can we have a drum roll and take that again - mr sam rivers i tell you... and for that reason, above all, this is generally regarded as a classic. in fact for those of us in the free camp it has even more significance - there are a couple of other chances to hear the two reed masters together (and one of them doesn't involve holland's writing), but because of what happened later on, this album is not so much a quartet recording as a sort of two-headed trio... the bassist and drummer went on to record some great music with braxton, we know that, but it's easy to forget sometimes that they made yet more great music with rivers - indeed, if we're talking fire, they probably peaked with rivers rather than with braxton. rivers' tenor blows a bit hotter here than b's alto, maybe - but not by much, and respected reviews of this album which characterise b's playing as cool and cerebral are (as usual) evidence of laziness, of being halfway through penning the review before even playing the music... the simple truth here is that all the sax solos are really good, and besides the main axes there are flutes on display (both players, quite prettily on title track) and low clarinets (bass for mr sam, c-bass for mr anthony of course), though these latter are only allowed out during the fun-filled "q&a" (parts of which have even been used as link music on bbc2 over the years) and y'know, really, you don't need me to tell you that the playing is extremely good all round. but... is it that interesting? mmmmprobably not. the sound is a bit dated, the themes aren't that strong really - it always seems to me as if b. was just being kind by adding "four winds" to the quartet book (though there's at least one hot hot hot live version with lewis... then again that incarnation of the band could've played "how much is that doggy in the window" and still used it as a launchpad for the moon and beyond) - finally, the one most consipicuous by his absence is the leader, who is his usual prodigiously-gifted self, all over the bass without ever sounded hurried or lost for ideas... yet doesn't really stretch his own limits at all and doesn't even seek the spotlight much, content to let his two genius guests rip the joint apart.

well, there we are... now it really isn't talking to me, i'll be lucky if i can ever play it again now... it is true that i could write a much more generous statement about it, only talking up its many good points and making it sound like the classic most critics say it is... but this is what i have to say about it at the moment. everyone already owns it anyway, cos it's one of those albums, so it's not as if my opinion will ever make any difference :)

* i wasn't really planning to listen to "see-saw" anyway on this occasion. have heard it so many times i can practically play it in my head, even the solos. it is a wicked closer and probably the strongest track, but that's only fitting because it's also the one which is most clearly influenced by b... you will all tell me if you think i'm being unfair about this, right?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

october 07 braxtothon... day five, and counting (part three)

3. carne: comp. 6p* (pts 1 & 2) (album link)

ok, so this is the big showpiece climax, and unfortunately it's the part i had the most trouble with... indeed this is the part of the concert i only listened to once (day five) simply because in the end i didn't fancy sitting through it again. at this point i'd better explain why i keep refusing to allow it as a straightforward quintet: basically it's a trio (holland, altschul now in for wilson) with a singer on top, plus one piece of moveable furniture by the name of john stubblefield; this is no disrespect to that player, more a comment on the severely limited context in which he is allowed to express himself in this piece (barely at all). he appears for tone colour at times, for conceptual backup at others, but any ideas i had beforehand about my first proper "reed collaboration" went out the window pretty early on. as for jeanne lee - for the life of me i can't see what she contributes to this, and again, this is no disrespect to her but the voice seems to add nothing to the music, takes it nowhere of any interest (to me). when lyrics actually appear that's more or less the last straw for me... and although the piece actually picked up from that point (a jaw-dropping unison theme is unveiled - the leader also plays at least two amazing solos), i was left feeling that this was really a failed experiment. the only explanation for lee being here at all is the fact the piece itself is dedicated to her: so presumably b. actually wrote it with her in mind, but although it successfully showcases her very pleasant singing voice (and later demonstrates her technique), what it really succeeds in doing is showing that a simple voice in this context is an awful lot less interesting to listen to than the instruments around it. even if one allows for this writer's (considerable) prejudice against singers, there is still the problem of the fifth player, reduced to snatching the tiniest of opportunities to step out from the backdrop and express himself with a few notes here and there. i can only see this performance as over-extended, reaching beyond its own grasp.

what i could tell of it... the piece seems to be basically a long night voyage, with protracted passages of dark atmosphere and some glaringly bright lights in the middle (when an unexpected firestorm occurs... even then, lee is just politely singing on top, apparently having no idea how to weave her strands into the textures the core trio is creating)... stubblefield's earliest entries on breathy tenor are about as personal as he ever gets, except for a very brief flourish much nearer the end; really it's only the three players who seem to be involved in telling the story, with one extra for occasional backup and another just slotted in on top. naturally the leader's playing is wonderful, as it always is, but it could be some time before i am able to come back to this piece... not even the unison section can save it, though it almost does: well into the second movement, stubblefield's few personal statements lead into a very fast b-theme, a doozy, very tricky to negotiate, yet pulled off with complete aplomb - not only does stubblefield play along with only little glosses, lee somehow, incredibly, sings the whole theme without missing a note. and this just makes me think: if they had that sort of technical facility at their disposal, could these players not have been given something a bit more interesting to do?

by the end i've lost it completely, the applause comes as a relief for once.

(as regards the actual town hall album, it's gotta be... CCC. even allowing for my heavy bias i reckon you'd have a hard time making a case for this being essential... shame, the trio is crackin'... anyway, most fans will want it, and of course you may as well add the duet to complete that concert experience... the news comp is CCCC essential anyway)

Friday, November 2, 2007

october 07 braxtothon... day five, and counting (part two)

2. pasta: comp. 6n*/comp. 6(o)*/all the things you are (album link in previous post)

this is where the shit really hits the fan, because phillip wilson (in just for the trio) just cooks and cooks and the mix ends up highly volatile as a result. it's one 33-minute suite, so although the index separating the standard from the two originals is obvious enough, it wouldn't have been too difficult to separate the two originals either (never mind). this is actually my first standard, i think - for this journey - and i shan't be going out of my way to hear lots of them (before too many people ask), but it seems highly appropriate that this one should be a number strongly associated with charlie parker (further thoughts on parker are like those on dolphy or lacy - gonna have to wait).

6n begins with a lovely bass figure, then has me literally gasping with pleasure within less than a minute... and that sort of sets the tone for the whole thing, because even though this is a high-energy piece (and we are flying for a while in there), the word delicacy springs frequently to mind, and subtlety... finesse a third... wilson in particular is able to achieve a direct, clean, powerful strike with the most fractional effort - this man was a wonder, it is important to remember that it's just not steve mccall we lost along the way - and the whole band always gives the impression of having more held in reserve, even when it is at rocket-tempo. we know holland can go all day. wilson, too - well, he's got more to his game than just that, all manner of angles to this guy's playing, but (like mr braxton himself) wilson is able to hit a high gear and just stay there and stay there, and not everyone can do that.

much of the music in the trio set is fast, then - the standard is not even kicked off until the engine is running at about 5000 rpm, and the two "6"s, well, they are very different in nature, both dedicated to creative musicians; in fact 6(o) - for frederic rzewski - is another ballad, a haunting piece in some ways reminiscent of the earlier duet, but 6n (for jerome cooper), which itself takes time to build, is never less than lively and contains within itself, like a hidden bomb, a fast line extension where we get first look at the triple-racer this band could have been (any other perfs?). the first five mins see wilson on brushes, the three men taking their time getting the fire going, b. unleashing some wonderful little fast flutters around 2.15 and then "chops" and squeaks a little further in; just before the 5.00 mark, the tantalising theme, like a sideways glance, begins to appear and wilson switches to sticks. now the momentum builds quickly, and by 7 mins all three are flying, so that as b. begins his solo we are pretty much hearing the band flat out (though still not stretched). two minutes later they are all still at it - the alto solo has long since gone off the scale.

things wind down gradually after that, everyone gradually glancing ahead to the switch of materials which is approaching; 6(o) is a welcome change of pace, a sparse landscape described (mainly) by holland with enough rich detail to support the storytelling... but i confess this story was rather lost on me. in any case things feel more natural at high tempo, somehow, and it's not long (the slower second piece half the length of the first) before wilson is building another fire, stick by stick at first, putting all the crucial elements into place before allowing the leader to begin applying the flames. b's first ear-catching entries on the standard are little kisses, but fierce ones, playful but with a fricative quality which might mark the skin: then a gorgeous pitch bend, conjured as if from nowhere, leads into a sudden full flow containing a lovely master-tag; with the pistons pumping hard now the theme can be released, just a fragment at first then a clear (partial) statement at 3.25 - it vanishes again to be revealed even more clearly at 3.35 when the bass actually fills in the harmony; but this is very brief, and for the two next minutes b. rockets along without needing to refer to the theme at all. he is outdoing dolphy, who in turn had needed to outdo bird... and for minutes on end he simply tears the place up. occasional (5.36, 7.33) tiny mouthfuls from the source are all that is required to provide enough inspiration for the torrent of sound and thought. a long, muscular solo from holland follows before a fully-developed restatement and wind-down. i haven't always been able to give the music my full attention, but i have really enjoyed this part of the concert.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

october 07 braxtothon... day five, and counting (part one)

town hall, kolding, denmark

the whole experience of (what in my head was hyped up to be) stage two, day one - or day four, that is, tues 16th - was pretty dispiriting. the weather was absolutely horrible, i found it impossible to keep warm, and the music didn't really come together for me: the write-up, too, was quick and painless but not at all satisfying. this was not (any of it) what i'd had in mind. i continued to feel cold throughout the evening and this was when the pathogen got inside, though held at arm's length at this stage by my immune system - thursday, that is, day five, i was determined to get back into a positive cycle, and did so - yet the cost was that i let the same pathogen in and got an explosion of exterior symptoms as reward. fun weekend that was ;-)

well, these things are always instructive: that which does not kill me, etc...

the day five listening session was the complete (new york) town hall concert of 22nd may 1972: that is, duo, trio and "quintet", the latter not only the climax of the show but a complete multi-act play for musicians and voice - though whether it really qualifies as a quintet in any meaningful sense, never mind a jazz quintet, is kinda debatable... but more on that later...

in any case, though the session itself went fine, the write-up got derailed right away. what i'd forgotten about this house in winter is that cold draught, right under the bloody computer setup... the chair is not exactly up to the job either (another reason for telling myself 30 mins, i.e. less time physically in front of the pc) and by now i knew i was in a fight to keep the symptoms at bay - i sat there for 30 mins without finishing typing up the duo, and that was not only as much as i could take, it was abundantly clear that there was no point in continuing. so i stopped. instead i had a nice hot bath and listened to conference of the birds. (more on that... some other time)

the way things worked out, i went to work the next day, determined that it was what i needed, and got worse (work is where i got the actual western-recognisable pathogen in the first place, inevitably)... the music i listened to when i got home ended up being completely different, much of it commercial rock music in fact but still enjoyable and instructive (now - though all of a sudden i find myself more impatient then ever with anything in verse-chorus form, and skip forwards frequently)

next day i stayed home but didn't get much time to myself... when i did, listened to the 2001 4cd box as reported below... continued to get worse until i thought i was in danger of letting it right in... made one last effort to keep it on the outside...

next day was the turning point, the start of the recovery, but i got no time to myself at all or when i did, i was reading (never mind what, that really is another story). i did put on a monk cd with a friend of mine over, but it turned out to be a poor choice for the occasion and my only impression with my "new ears" is that the music generally sounded hurried (quartet with johnny griffin - this particular part of the concert being the portion released as misterioso on riverside), griffin determined to show that at least one gunslinger wasn't scared of no goddamn coltrane, monk himself seemingly in the most maddeningly whimsical of moods, apparently content to do no more in his solos than break the rhythm up into thousands of pieces and spell that out in the briefest of ways... the verbal description being so much more long-winded than the actual performance that indeed i am only now continuing it in order to remind everybody of how useless it is, ultimately, to write about music (art) at all

but it is interesting that one of my favourite "mainstream" drummers, roy haynes, played all those numbers without my registering him at all, on this occasion... just blended right into the background for me

in the evening i went for a walk through the mp3 player, which is how i'd got to commercial rock a couple of days before - not much jazz on there, it's mainly stuff for the car in theory, but there are some weird old playlists from the days when i only used my wife's laptop for music files... in the end i went looking for dolphy via joe henderson... and there will be more to say about that some time, too.

but that brings me up to day five-and-a-half.... the way it turns out - normally i would be at work but i am still recovering, haven't been that ill for several years... and now i finally get the time to write about the damn music, and it's been about 90 hrs since i heard it.

that's why this is day five-and-a-half... cos now i'm gonna listen to it again in an effort to get the impressions under better control.

* * *

town hall concert - duo, trio, quintet
date: 22nd may 1972

duo link

album link

restructures lists the main body of the concert first, then the duet (only available on news from the 70s) immediately after, but it's clearly the other way round, i.e. the duet opens the performance. presumably there was a short interval before the climactic experiment (the "quintet") but the trio must have followed on straight away from the duo. so:

1. antipasto: comp -1* (news, tr. 3)

this is a demanding piece - demanding of the audience, that is, since the two players are having a whale of a time: braxton is very much in charge for the vast majority of it, and it has a clear(ish) written structure including several haunting, starkly beautiful melodies - but for minutes on end while they get going it's right into free improv territory, and the piece must seem hugely long for those who were able to follow it: all of this music is played, nothing is being repeated at all, even when the themes are being worked there is never any stasis or flat repetition. it's easy enough to see how it was docked from the album release - but that's been to the listener's loss.

holland begins with a little (cello) twang as if on a koto, braxton bell-clear on clarinet; they are both right up for it, and within seconds they've started off something really free and have both just got right into it, gone way out there but together all the way. there are paths sideways through universes say the esoteric masters... and by stepping sideways they are gone, but somehow they are able to tell us where they're going... they can even encourage us to keep up.

braxton hits a couple of shrieks which leave my mouth open in a huge {(o)}

tags get dropped in - sort of tagettes rather than the master-tag but it's enough, with one flick, to say "yes, it's me"

he doesn't worry about the gasped inbreaths (still can't circular-breathe) - he makes of them a syllable, a phoneme, one of many (many!!) which by now he has at his disposal, seemingly able to reach for any of them at any time - the vocabulary is now so advanced that each individual approach carries with it dozens of sounds and options.

when the piece takes its first real turn, and the composition form begins to reveal itself, the music settles into something sedate and simple and beautiful. it is true that "blanded" ears might hear the melodies as too vaguely uneasy or menacing to be restful, but this is indeed hypnotic, precisely... of course even now b. cannot resist throwing in minute little distortions or buzzed tones which seem (by now, on these occasions) to occupy something like only the first hundredth of an attack, often subsiding to a smooth tone with no apparent transition.

the piece itself is interesting enough, but the performance is not perhaps as rivetting overall as some other duets we might mention

those are some thoughts and impressions - and that's enough :)

Monday, October 29, 2007

october 07 braxtothon... day four

preamble: stage two has not yet commenced... or has it? asleep in the small hours, i dream that day four is underway, and the words are flowing in response to the sounds; gradually i awake and feel a brief pang of loss that it was not "real"... i drift off again and there i am once more.

even in sleep, my spirit reaches out for this music

***stage two begins***

first session: creative music orchestra
date: 11th march 1972

restructures link

distractions: my cd was burned from a vinyl rip, a triple album which, in this case, has probably seen better days... the surface noise proved distracting in some of the quieter passages. otherwise, my own confused questions were distracting enough at times

this landmark has loomed ahead of me like a gigantic monolith for a few days now; even in the distance it looked worryingly large and difficult to scale. and now that i have climbed it, right to the very summit... what? if i was expecting a bearded sage with answers to my many questions, he is nowhere to be found. all i have is more questions. perhaps that was the point of my climb...

questions: what is the piece (comp. 25*) about? why is it dedicated to ornette coleman - and if he heard it (unlikely?), does history record what he made of it?? is there an overall structure at all, or are the movements designed to be played truly at random? how were the transitions between movements signalled, and how was the order of the movements chosen and communicated to the ensemble? the nature and structure of the piece remains unclear to me.

what i can say: the piece varies between written passages for the ensemble and formless free improvisation, as far as i can tell; there are also specific passsages in which first balloons are used (being deflated slowly or popped) and then bells... the balloons (side b) made me think for a while that the piece could be fundamentally an examination of breath, since it begins with a fascinating passage of no more than that - just breath, slow and quite laborious, sounding in the airspaces of various instruments; it is the sound of deep slumber, perhaps, and there is even snoring suggested, wheezing and whistling too, and every so often a sound reminiscent of helicopter blades, chopping away at the air. but... in truth there is nothing to back this idea up except this opening passage, and the later one featuring the balloons...

if the trap in previous recordings has been the temptation to get caught up in the minutiae of the playing, this time round it is surely in the development of the piece itself: i could list at length the order in which things happen, but i don't believe that would get us anywhere. the centre of the piece, most excitingly - but in a way most enigmatically of all - seems to be the fast, boppish written line which emerges from a bass solo on side c and which initiates a long, free jazz-style passage in which the two drummers pulverise the swinging rhythms into dozens of tiny bits, beneath a succession of solos: first the leader on alto, for minutes on end until the close of the side; then the piano, driving the rhythm aggressively with little stabs in the left hand and flying excursions in the right; and then one of the trumpets, essaying all manner of unusual attacks before finally the two drummers are left alone to break the rhythm down, giving way to the bells. b's solo in the first half of this passage (the whole of which lasts about 20 mins) is extraordinary, even for him: in addition to the various extended techniques one might expect there are long passages of "clean" tone, in which he seems to be examining the rhythmic, boplike phrases in a way i have not heard before, taking them apart and looking at them from different angles; also, once again, i hear dolphy's phrasing here! several times early in the solo the line skips down and back up, notes holding hands in pairs as they leap the tricky intervals...

... much later, on side f, an ominous build-up from the horn section supports first the piano, then the leader's clarinet (?) - sounding ayleresque in its wide, wailing vibrato - then a trumpet again; the tension builds and builds as the pitches from the massed horns creep upwards, culminating in - what? nothing much: having reached a near-crescendo, the momentum is allowed to collapse in on itself and sparse percussion takes over.

back on side b, what sounds like a contrabass clarinet makes some amazing statements, partly vocalised, sometimes overblown, subsiding to squeaks as the movement is brought to a quiet end; the next passage proves very interesting as staccato repetitions of single notes are tossed around between the sections, from reeds to brass and back, eventually to the piano also. indeed, there are many very interesting passages in this recording and some superb solos, some very good playing all round in fact (many of the players are unknown names to me, but no-one sounds weak or ineffective), but overall... i am left scratching my head. i climbed up here, and - even the view is unclear: all i see now is the clouds, from above.

(CC - i feel the urge to add a third C there, but how can i when i don't know what to make of the piece myself?!)

write-up: about 30 mins of typing.... and another 15 of head-scratching probably

Friday, October 26, 2007



more reports have reached me (in bits) about the italian concerts... the vibes (as many of you may know) were not always good, none of the concerts seems to have been a complete (or unqualified) success - some of them involved more fractiousness than others but ... ah, who knows, maybe they woulda been better off getting this all outta the way years ago instead of letting it get this far before attempting it.


there will some sort of concert reports here at some stage! i think... exactly what form they will take - don't know that yet...

* * *

braxtothon stage one was what i actually got out of my "week off" ... as you can see it wasn't really a week... and i then continued a few days later. stage two is still under construction, and i suppose it'll continue until something lets me know that it's at an end... at the moment (sneak "live preview") i'm in 1974 and with an interesting decision to make... but for the blog it's now back to 1972, and a sharp return to earth ;-)

coming soon...

*feel free to keep dropping those personal choices in (on the red light post) - one of our new converts is looking for recommendations*

Monday, October 22, 2007

let's just pause there...

that seems like a good time to take a little breather

it really was the end of a phase... couldn't continue like that indefinitely!

there is more to come though.

in the meantime... i would be interesting in seeing some (pref. shortish) lists of favourite recordings, from anyone who can be bothered :)

drop 'em in the comments please!

by the way... does the keyword business put people off? what do you all reckon?

october 07 braxtothon... day three (2)

preamble: not done with 1971 yet. complete is from the start of the year. on the other hand, when i look at the map it's between circle, circle and circle as it turns out (i am already committed to playing the alto solos from news from the 70s as half a session). given the choice of paris in feb (ecm of course), new york in may (gathering), or "germany in march" (boot) i pick paris for various boring reasons which just boil down to the fact that i always liked that album (after a very stressful experience actually buying it) and fancy hearing parts of it with new ears. parts of it: i'm not about to sit through the whole thing right now, this is about b's music - so i pick the third and fourth selections from the first disc, figuring i obviously want to hear (6f*) again, and may as well sit through another corea and braxton duet - having enjoyed two of them recently... right choice! read on.

(n.b. strictly speaking, the actual session deviated slightly from chrono order within itself at this point. see below for details)

write-up: piecemeal (just like news itself)
distractions: dogs (see below)

second session:
a) circle - paris concert (selections)
date: 21st feb 1971

b) comps. 8c* and 8g* for solo alto sax
date: france, 1971 (two possibilities)  [see march 2011 comment]

(gradings are pushing it a bit really but i can tell you that paris is a CCC and news will be CCCC on the strength of the two alto solos alone)

- rrrrriiiiggghhhttt... my god... the session itself was fantastic, but for the first time i failed totally in the write-up, at least at first - distracted hopelessly as i was by this point - but that's a good thing. why? because by now, at the end of the third day, i've got to the stage where a burst of enthusiasm could easily have seen me knock out 500 words on the barry altschul solo i heard a couple of hours ago... in other words i am now in deep shit if i don't begin to pan back and out and stop admiring the tiny little (exquisite - this is the problem) details. can i manage this??

i started with comp. 8c*, a solo ballad structure for alto, quite beautiful, astonishingly complete in its execution (as far as i can tell...). the breathy spaciousness of b's initial entries reminds me of miles (of all people - never thought i'd find myself saying that) - then lester young and then charlie parker - i am not kidding, can go into further detail on any of these if required - but still inserts tiny braxtonisms, little miniature gems of buzzing and purring which identify him clearly straight away; but he keeps returning to his basic ballad tone which is, frankly, glorious. any thoughts about sound quality on this old tape recording vanish within seconds as the focus and clarity of intent just shine through... as with b's group or duet ballads i sense world-weariness, a full awareness from the voice of the horrors in the world, but the awareness is worn with honour and the knowledge is tempered with indomitable strength of purpose and integrity of spirit, above all leavened by good humour.

when he declaims, the power is astounding, cutting through the air and the years between player and listener and penetrating straight to the heart. what do you mean he doesn't do ballads?! sure he does... ok, the trouble is that they are called things like "8c" (if we insist on naming them rather than using the diagrams) and that, above all, is why this is not coming soon to any jazz record requests near you.

by the end of the piece, which i take on its own (because of my little balls-up with the dates), dog #3 is bored and has come to hassle me in mrs c's absence. i hope that just getting up to change the cd and taking a very quick wander in and out of the room will settle her.

on a pre-programmed cycle, i now switch to circle's paris concert (for some reason i had remembered the gig as being december - i was way out - and also i mistakenly believed at this point that only *one* alto solo was on news). first up is track 3, the untitled duet between corea and b., which begins with solo piano and a still-fidgety dog #3, but suddenly she runs off upstairs, the actual piece begins... and wouldn't you know it, it's comp. 6l* with the stepping theme, i oughta know: i was listening to it just a few hours previously. what an unexpected treat this could be!

and indeed it is, for this (naturally) is a very different reading of the piece from the troubled one on complete 71 - from the outset the steps are light and confident, indeed the whole manner is a lot more genteel and reserved - but not for long: the confidence brings the soprano right out into alto territory and before i know it a full (brief) solo exploration is underway, b-language flying left, right and centre, wrenched in spasms of sound from a flat backdrop of heavy canvas, corea long since laying out for this. taps of (sax) keys lead to the re-entry of piano keys, and a sudden squall of bleats and squawks suddenly makes me think of steve lacy again - this i will follow up some time, i promise! not now - they are together, racing, tumbling, flying, hovering together in the air like hummingbirds; as in the previous reading of the piece, scrapes on the strings from corea means dissonance to come, fired right back from b's buzzing horn; but a short sax solo then is so lovely, all discord is forgotten, the gentlest falling rain from corea cueing up a section in which they actually tease out a "melody" of sorts; this really is a long, winding narrative (of the sort one can probably assume the young tim berne heard a lot in his formative years)... gradually it settles almost to nothing; the steps which take us out are, once again, so light and soft this time one could scarcely think they once sounded daunting.

the second piece begins with "lookout farm", altschul's percussion feature, and what a display it is - i'm not falling into the trap of describing it. suffice to say he begins with light variations on cymbals and follows up with sharp taps on woodblock or claves, the two sounds at once implying a yawning landscape between them - and he proceeds to explore parts of it at leisure, and play with rhythms too... indeed the only thing now worth passing on is that at a crucial moment, dog #3 (still bored but now trying to inveigle dog #2 into playing) picks up a toy and begins squeaking, in perfect time with the pulse for a few bars. somehow i think the drummer would be pleased.

when the theme of 6f* appears suddenly - braxton and corea joining in from nowhere, no holland yet - the written lines are delivered with immaculate precision and at a pace which can only be called brisk; indeed the faster bars sound unplayable, but there they all are in splendour, not a single note missed that i can tell. at this pace b's brief solo comes out under pressure and is white-hot; corea is throwing sparks also, altschul too of course. the piano and drums then unleash a duo passage which has my mouth hanging open and as if this weren't enough, distant rumbles and groans indicate a monster approaching, a contrabass sax by the sound of it - when holland finally enters it is pizzicato up near the top bridge, so that he immediately fits in with the extended soundworld and would almost pass unheard, so natural a fit is formed...

still there is more, fierce stabs from corea now, sawing from holland, whistles and squeaks from b., all suddenly giving way to the "mutant" version of the theme which, this time, comes in with no break and sounds SO profoundly altered that it is as if the players have somehow changed into each other's clothes during the middle sequence without our noticing, even down to facial hair and now look entirely different as they nevertheless hammer out the theme with complete assurance.

there is still time for b's tiny trills at the end to thrill me almost obscenely.

psst: and i'll tell you one thing that's changed... at the close there is appreciative applause from paris (and i should bloody well think so too), but it's faded quickly out. compare this with eicher's pet players (jarrett) later on, endless minutes of lavish praise so we're left in no doubt that the audience filled superbly the role of sundry performing seals

OK, GODDAMMIT... how much more can my poor head take, where is the limit? the dogs quiet, i struggle upstairs to the keyboard and find myself *contemplating* the sheer face instead of simply knuckling down and climbing the motherfucker - dog distractions start up again, and about then i realise (with a sneaky look at the discog) that i am down one track, also i got the dates wrong but never mind that shit, there are two alto solos on news and i have only heard one. back i go.

comp. 8g* is the most amazing of all so far, as a recital, because it is b's exploration of violent attacks and i realise very soon that i have heard later versions of it (reaching ecstasy each time) - but none any better than this for it is somehow, shockingly, perfect. the sheer range of different language-units b. deploys here is astounding - just his tonal distortions can be split into dozens of discrete building-blocks ( - see comments), and this on a piece which also finds calm and quietness: ALL THIS and doubtless mr b. regards it as nonetheless as an exploration of one language type.

the first transformation is complete - the world is full of beauty again

i thank you, mr braxton

***stage one ends ***

Saturday, October 20, 2007

six compositions (gtm) 2001


this cold, despite doing its worst, has failed to lay me out (though it is bad enough to have scored me a sneaky day off work) - and what has arrived today to lift my spirits and aid in my recovery? the very album named above, of course... a four-cd box set which was dangled before my collector's nose recently, when another listener asked a third for recommendations among the recent recordings... when the requester announced that he'd found an absurdly cheap offer from a seller in the u.s. for this, i was unable to resist the temptation of following suit (seller has now more than doubled the price, must have been a mistake!), but i have since had to endure the recent postal strike and had no idea when the box would actually arrive.

what do i do with it? open it, obviously... but do i allow myself to listen to it, so far ahead of schedule, so well and truly out of sequence? in the end common sense prevails and - without enforcing the self-discipline of an actual listening session i put on cd1 as soon as mrs cent takes off in the car.

sure enough, just being in the same physical space as the music makes me feel better :)

so far i managed just the first two discs, i.e. the tentet's rendition of comp. 286 (92 mins total) and i had to endure several interruptions - including a phone call from my mother-in-law, yet even that was handled with ease, such was the prevailing excellence of my mood (despite my currently having a dehydrated mask instead of a face)... notwithstanding my generously giving myself full permission to zone off, wander in and out of the room etc, many details still leap out at me. mainly the total commitment of the assembled players - to each other, to the composer, to their own curiosity as individual interpreters - is what comes across unfailingly, what makes the music such a happy place in which to reside for an hour or so.

so... any takers? i notice i seem to have frightened off all our readers over the last week, or am i just imagining it?!

Friday, October 19, 2007

october 07 braxtothon... day three (1)

preamble: the scheduled day three (friday 12th) doesn't even happen - mrs cent is clearly under the weather but is still making go-to-work noises until i finally order her to phone in sick. this changes the day somewhat. all she needs in the first instance is a lot more sleep, but a sick patient in recovery is not what i need in the listening space. besides... er, the fact that mrs c. is not amenable to these sounds renders it unthinkable.

so the complete is actually in limbo for more than 36hrs in the end.

first session: the complete braxton 1971 (second disc)
date: 4th feb 1971 (1), 5th feb 1971 (2-4)

wow (man) ***{{{*{{*{@@@}*}}*}}}***

all joking apart, my consciousness is really expanding now... moving outwards in all directions in order to meet the music coming from b's mind and the collective voices of the players: the question is, how much can i withstand? by the time the end of the last piece is nearing (a solo recital on contrabass clarinet* - see comments) it's occurred to me that my frantic scribbling of notes is in itself a sort of safety-valve to limit the amount i can actually take in - surely i can be giving the music no more than 50% of my attention, yet the impressions are arriving so thick and fast that it's a constant challenge to get them down in memorable code.

what an amazing album this is!

track 1 is an arse-kicking bop-style cooker for the quartet - with an actual melody, albeit not most people's idea of one but replete with its own tiny system of pivots and balances (sound familiar at all? see footnote below) and just irresistibly swinging right from the word go, swinging hard but easy and understated, limbs loose, centre of gravity nice and low. holland and altschul play what's basically showcase swing, yet so freed up that it remains the perfect backdrop for what's about to come... which is braxton's unbelievable alto solo. language types are being mixed up a lot more in this one - or is it just me noticing more? in any case this solo is just so amazing that i'm going to have to shut up about it... it continues for several minutes, never seeming to drop below the level of frighteningly good - by 3.45 holland has the bow out without any disruption to the swing, and by 4mins it has seamlessly vanished again, his playing now once more fully pizzicato though there has been no interruption at the five-minute mark professor braxton is still cooking in the lab - still waiting for the results to become clear..!

if this were a cutting contest, wheeler would have left the building about two minutes ago... (could be in the back of a cab by now, with the hip-flask out) but of course it is quite the reverse that we are dealing with here, and when he enters (5.20) he sounds fully confident in this territory, emitting a marvellously spacious series of eructations as he stretches himself before setting out on his run; immediately he begins to display his own considerable trickbag of extended techniques and his startling range. at 6.15 he flirts with the theme a little and those bells in my head (see footnote) are stronger than ever now... he continues to tease out little hints of tune but basically is very comfortable with the expression free and open. happy to blow shorter than the professor, he cedes solo rights to holland who knocks out a brisk beauty, altschul pattering away tactfully over his shoulder - unison returns at 8.35, and the theme itself appears in eblematic form just once, right at the very end. what a piece!

track 2 - are you ready? cos those flatulences and rumbles mean the tubas are lined up. five of them to be precise, not all playing at once though. no, what we get is short stabs into the space, isolated attacks and lots of holding back, some intriguing dissonances as very nearly contiguous pitches are forced up against each other and vibrate; this is by no means an unpleasant or uninteresting sound world though, and at least the players seem to be fully competent in terms of sound production. still, by 3 mins i'm nodding off a bit... there's a very promising entry around 4.20 but the momentum is quickly allowed to die off again... and so on and so on. the soundworld is actually quite similar to that of "blues" by george lewis (side one of homage to charles parker) - though of course it's both much more limited and more fully realised by virtue of the one voice type selected.

this is what i was thinking by the end: the players are at least game. they struggle through seven and a half minutes without ever giving up or showing any overt lack of commitment - there are no lapses of technique that i noticed and every attack sounds authentic to me. so they are actually trying - i believe. why does mr b. remember this so badly, as almost an insult? he won't talk about it: must surely have been an attitude thing, the london tuba ensemble (for this is they) perhaps cursed, as many (lesser?) classical players are, by blinkered vision and very narrow ideas about "acceptable music" - ? i'm not just casting around here, i have seen this mindset close up and it's not a pretty sight - the players struggle manfully, as i say, to complete a sort-of reading of what must to them have been meaningless, and though they treat the performance with respect, it's easy to imagine them being a lot less respectful down the pub that night. mr b. would notice these things and yes, they do rankle.

track 3 (comp 6l* - try and remember that one) is a duet with corea, and it's another story, another high reed describing delicate curves through space - it occurs to me early on in the piece that this storytelling quality may be what appealed to corea, who might have warmed to braxton's compelling ballad narratives and probably therefore agreed to overlook the idiosyncrasies, or to explain them away as merely exploring technique (something corea would surely have been able to understand)... once he realised that wasn't just practice, it actually was the music, cc was off to sci-fi land sharpish... maybe he was going anyway, the lure of success too much to resist.

once again the voice is under some vague threat - this time it is expected to keep up with a dance which is very regular, yet irregular - the steps are long and angular, the trick of balancing in the stride not an easy one to pick up, as we spin an eccentric series of broken circles around the same square of bare white floor, around, around. the piano sets up spare chords at each step, could-be-satie-like yet defiantly rootless, uneasy, and somehow our hero has to keep up with the obsessive squared circles and learn how the dance is done. by 3.20 some mastery has been achieved, our hero has learned how to step even on moving stones and is even able to play with it now. very soon after, the voice drops out and the piano unwinds, the sequence halting at last.

there is settling earthwards now, though there are drops from above too. the reed voice rejoins and by 6 mins i realise i have been off and away and have lost the narrative. around 7 mins the voice plays a few short shapes alone, interspersed with responses from the piano; the voice becomes very high and nervy, though the articulation remains very clean, but that's enough for a while and it is quiet for a bit. when both players rejoin each other there is still defiantly unresolved harmony, still the vague threat, yet they are so close to each other now - the playing here (in the true sense, bailey's sense) from both is wonderful, just stunning around 8.15 - though the story is too complex for me to follow it throughout, the playing nevertheless delights me - i will be back to the story again in the future! at 10.45, actual alarms are sounded by the reed as the piano switches to scraped strings rather than keys, but the closeness of thought when the keys return is breathtaking, as though the two voices become one utterance though saying different things; at 11.38 the "master-tag" briefly drops in! by 12.45 the stepping sequence has resumed, but now it's more comfortable, less intimidating than before; or was it always so, and only this listener the one fumbling at the steps?

nearly there, just one more mini-masterpiece to go... the final piece on the album is (at least for me, this time) b's first contrabass clarinet solo recital. once again, now - let's just get this name out in the open - eric dolphy! - how can one not think of dolphy when engaging with this performance? it makes me wonder at what b. might have been concealing from himself in 1985, and why - and what he might care to say about it now if i were to ask him... but there is no time for that because this is filled with a thousand moments and it's as much as i can do to capture a handful of them as they fly past me. b's control over this instrument is breathtaking, and it doesn't seem to take him any time to warm up: by 1.25 his command over the performance is so complete that he can issue a tiny "delayed breath" attack, holding back in the utterance just a little, puffing air into the bore so that the stopped note appears fractionally after the breath - this is a virtuoso performance or i am no judge at all. shortly later the monstrous beast is made to purr and vibrate, issue forth a darker simulacrum of the tenor sax's ballad voice - indeed, the first impression right at the start is of a very lowdown blues and this does obtain throughout, though many of its moments do not belong properly to that idiom - unless of course all of them belong...

i have to stop somewhere - it feels as if i could write 1000 words just on this masterful solo, but i will not do so now. plenty more time to meditate on the relationship between dolphy and b. in the coming weeks.


the scale of b's conception as a composer is glimpsed fleetingly and the floor vanishes from beneath me.

the appreciation of his ability as a player could not, surely, get any greater than it was before i started - yet it seems to have grown also.


write-up: no, of course it wasn't 30 mins but it was one sitting and that's the real aim.
distractions: few. incredible music!

footnote - comp 6i*

heh heh. how the hell could i not have noticed? when i first heard this piece i was knocked out by it, yet i failed to recognise what smacked me in the face this time round, namely that it sounds so familiar because dave holland sort of rewrote it for his own recorded debut as a leader almost two years later - he called his reinvestigation "see-saw" and it was one of the first "avant" pieces i committed to memory (accidentally, through playing it over and over again). i am NOT suggesting there is anything plagiaristic about this: braxton's finely-calibrated system of balances is utterly compelling and fascinating, and sets up the sort of unresolved tensions which a musical mind might play with for days on end. no wonder a young player just beginning to compose might have wanted to carry out his own examination of the playful tensions implied by the distinctive rhythmic pulse.

also, it occurs to me how much i would now need to qualify what i said about this piece back in may, when i proposed it as a great blindfold test for someone who "hates braxton"- well, ok, but you would have to play the theme on its own because said hater would be reaching for the remote within two bars of the grotesquely magnificent alto solo (the latter would also ruin the whole object of the blindfold, since surely anyone with one or two hearings of b. could identify him from this)... back then i was so busy learning and getting enthused that i couldn't always find the time to listen very closely (proved handsomely to me later when i failed to pick porto novo in an actual blindfold test conducted by d:o)... also i knew back then that one or two observations about a given recording was all i would permit myself - given free rein and no distractions you can see the difference. that is... if anyone is still reading at this point ;-)