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 ;-)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

bologna... first rumours return...



another pause of sorts in "real time", now

they merge and echo

* * *

first rumours to reach me, anyway... i am a day late in relaying them:

"duo" was a de facto "trio" with parker - actually three solos..? tempers may have got heated

longish duet (once again) with oxley - to get c.t. back to where he needed to be perhaps... then a shortish quartet

perhaps we will get to hear some of this in due course

* * *

i have a cold - or rather a cold is trying to get in

i am trying to keep it out

mr braxton is helping me (true)... as are others

i am getting pretty good results with focussed acupressure these days too so don't write my obit just yet...

...but it did mean that for the first time i have failed utterly to meet my own rules and am therefore abandoning (some of) them! too much to say about today's music, not yet able to distil it down and cannot sit (with my feet in a draught) endlessly typing...

so although i greatly enjoyed the music, i am not yet ready to get that down on "paper"

you know, that blank stuff :)

october 07 braxtothon... day two (pause)

two sessions was all i managed today... so much time put into getting the blog going (this was thursday 11th), email, losing the plot etc - but also i am realising fast how much space each of these recordings needs if i'm to make any sense of it at all. what was i thinking?? etc.

overnight, the complete set hovers... half done, half remaining... and the second disc is the one with the weird stuff on it ;-)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

october 07 braxtothon... day two (2)

preamble: the complete braxton 1971

restructures link

- this is an album i have heard pretty recently, and more than once: i posted (a compressed version of) glmlr's vinyl rip at c#9 back in may. at the time i was careful not even to try and say much about the music. loved listening to it though... anyway, this time round it's special because although those two byg albums-which-i-don't-got feature a basic quartet of reeds, brass, strings and drums, this baby is where we get the first recorded evidence of a real anthony braxton quartet. but, y'know, only on three tracks so let's keep our cheers discreet.

incidentally, i know now (lock's book) that b. hated the album title and wasn't even slightly amused by it (still, in 1985)

also... when it comes up... i am unable now to avoid knowing as i listen to comp.4* (for five tubas, b. conducting) that our man considers this almost - though he stops well short of saying it explicitly - a disgrace, a performance not worthy of men who purported to be professional musicians. inevitably the preparation time was minimal, but b. makes it very clear to lock that in his opinion the players simply were not trying very hard. it will be very difficult for me to hear the piece with open ears, knowing that its composer considers this performance a woefully inadequate reading of the written score.

* * *

second session: the complete braxton 1971 (first disc)
date: 4th february 1971

four very different compositions, and could easily run on and on about each... got to *try* to get this down to essentials...

1. comp. 6k* - duet for b. and corea. very fast and tricky line does all the things one would already expect - up and down, constant changes of pacing within the flow, requires variation in attack etc and considerable precision of execution, a real statement of bold intent to put this up front. again quite a birdlike character to the written lines. braxton introduces swaying, uneven and unstable pitches as well as more familiar attacks. tiny little trills! this is fabulous sopranino playing - the first time i've really heard one of his trademark showstoppers on this instrument, on this journey through. over the space of just a few mins this becomes a real showcase for both instrumentalists (corea never has the role of mere accompanist at any point). when the restatement of the theme comes there is not quite 100% precision in the execution this time, and it's the leader himself who has to gloss a couple of the very fast bits, but given what i've just heard, who cares?

2. comp. 6j* - a bit of a monster, this, being what seems to be b's version of the aacm free soundscape (as opposed to smith's or jenkins') - but encased within the most precious and beautiful quartet composition, the overall intention being something i cannot adequately fathom at this sitting. the piece opens (and closes) with altschul's cymbals, soft crashing waves of sound providing a backdrop for the delicate reed which creeps up towards the sky as if seeking light - and finds company in wheeler, whose equally delicate muted brass enters around 1.45 - holland finally joins around 2.15, gorgeous arco sweeps, and all four of them sound as if they are thinking about actually playing some sort of melody - holland indeed sets it up and at 3.38 the two voices entwine and cling to each other, sounding apprehensive in the face of the rumbling chaos evoked by altschul - yet both have a real tensility to them, spinning lines that sound unbreakable like gossamer. less than two minutes later, though, we're suddenly somewhere very different, in the abstract soundfield mentioned above. all sorts of things are dangled before the listener here: too many to take in really, just keeping up with b's changes of axe in this passage is bewildering enough as he switches again and again; but these explorations still sound so fresh and modern. after god knows how long (piece runs 16.21) the two frail-but-indomitable protagonists find each other again, and they indeed return us more or less to where we started, the waves crashing on a shore somewhere off in the dark...

3. comp. 6a* - another quartet but very different, all one conception this time (though of a somewhat complex nature beyond my ability to encapsulate). it sort of sounds fast whilst at the same time giving the impression of being very dense and ruminative, just as much as the previous piece but in a different, much busier way. the group build-up at the start is great and altschul plays like a motherfucker on this piece, his cymbal work early on nice and sharp, arco bass around 1.15ish cueing up the alto solo, the first of the album in fact, and it's a good one (surprise) though a cameo, a quickie, wheeler in turn taking over for a spell with some very precise yet very free statements, b. accompanying him on pennywhistle at one point?? altschul just cooks his arse off and holland, playing a lot of arco this piece, sounds completely convincing with the bow and without sacrificing much bottom. we even get some contrabass clarinet in this 5 minute cooker, and as usual that signals all hands to the pump, even holland plunges right into his extended trick bag for a while. just a delight this one :-D so exciting and so much fun.

4. comp. 22* - just the thought of writing about this one is a bit intimidating, so i need to step back a bit. by the time it's over i feel as if as if he's somehow put everything into this - i mean all the different experiences one heart and mind could have in this life; and he's done so with four multi-tracked soprano or sopranino saxes, even now i can't say for sure because he just makes everything he plays sound like him. [later did check and it's sopranos... some poss of artificial pitch-bending in post-production? can't see that he would need to do it, to be honest]

i presume (not gonna check at this point) that if he'd been recording in new york rather than london, he would have roped in mitchell, jarman & co rather than multi-tracking, but then again maybe this is a very personal statement and needed total control of expression..? in any case, though there were probably some very good reedmen in london at the time, what he would have been asking of people with this is staggering to think of - the variety of techniques and approaches on display here is breathtaking, and they are far from being deployed at random - and those with no prior experience of b's music could scarcely have been trusted with it, or burdened with it...

a single plaintive lament on one of the small saxes starts us off, others join one by one until we are in a chattering forest of microtones (preternatural control of pitch-bends etc on this piece) - it is at times beautiful and uplifting, at times worrying, at times almost terrifyingly intense, later on; the utterances are so varied and so beautiful that one could pick out a hundred entirely different miniatures to cherish, and this is without even considering the effect the layering has, creating bell-like sounds more brazen than reedy; but beyond any mere notion of detail it's the change of mood in this piece which is so powerful. like i say... somehow, in fifteen minutes, it seems to hold everything that the plaintive voice could ever think to experience and much that it could never have foreseen... and it learns: some of the phrasings towards the end are incredible, since braxton uses unmistakeable blues inflections which one would never normally associate with him (very carefully flattened notes to indicate the idiom; extremely precise expression as always from him, it still sounds a little academic somehow but it does convey the sense of an older, wiser voice emerging from the batterings of life and seeing us out at into the darkness at the other end... very moving, this piece, so that as silence takes over i burst into (brief but cathartic) tears - and if that's not the sort of reaction worth writing about, i don't know what is.

- quickly notice the similarities between the second and fourth compositions... seems fair to assume that mr braxton knew a thing or two even then about what it means to grow up in a beautiful world which you know contains much darkness and danger...

write-up in 30 mins: forget it. actually i had to break off after 30 and come back to it. i'm still keeping the target goddammit.

Monday, October 15, 2007

regarding the ruins of the church

hello guys 'n gals*

a number of people have wondered what's up with c#9, now declaring itself "open to invited readers only"... one of you even contacted me to ask if he could please be invited, thinking that posting had resumed - i hadn't even thought about that, but i suppose we must assume now that others will have had the same idea...

i can reassure you: there is no new material there... nor will there be: you are not missing anything

think of this as merely part of the "deconsecration" process - the ruins are still scheduled for demolition (unlike those in the photo)

feel free to spread the word about this... thanks in advance for your help!

* see comments

october 07 braxtothon... day two (1)

preamble: the second day cannot get underway before i have to decide where to go next: the obvious choices are the byg albums under braxton's leadership, but i don't have these... the temptation to treat myself to the creative construction co. concert is great (leroy jenkins with richard davis..!), but seeing that jenkins wrote all the music, i'm going to resist. in the end i pick circulus because a) the music is collectively improvised and b) it seems to be the first time that braxton recorded not just as part of circle, but with holland and altschul, who would give him such great service in the years that followed (themselves receiving training they could scarcely have got elsewhere)...

first session: circle - circulus
date: 21st august 1970

restructures link

distractions: bloody phone rang, with less than a minute on the clock... ignored it, but it somehow presaged what was to come - whenever b. lays out i find my attention prone to wander

overview: guess what, more abstract sound explorations, but frequently fascinating. four exceptional musicians just beginning to lay out the maps for all the various territories they might go on to explore. how much of an insult is it that corea turned his back on all this to go off and devote himself to sci-fi fusion froth? well, the scientologists had apparently convinced him that he was earmarked for greatness, and he would have known that he wouldn't make a penny playing this sort of shit... a "no-brainer" i believe you americans call that ;-)

track one - first collective - begins with extended techniques right away, all of them eager to open things up right from the off. when b. first enters it is with altissimo squeaks, rather charmingly :) around 4.30 he starts to reveal his personal phrasings for the first time, on alto (of course), and at once he finds sympathetic backup - everyone takes off, yet braxton's still emerges as the most compelling voice, some marvellous playing - the music is now sort of free jazz but soon drops back into non-idiomatic improv. corea lays out for a while and returns on prepared piano. at around 8.20ish, altschul drops in what i shall call the "hutchtone", the "dead" sound on vibes which bobby hutcherson used to such fantastic effect on his "hat and beard" solo from out to lunch - any sort of deliberate reference? who knows. b's playing on several horns demonstrates (again, but already - this is still only 1970) incredible fluency, but of course he's not using circular breathing yet.

track two - second collective - begins with more scrapings and scratchings, holland on close-mic'ed acoustic guitar... once again it's just about trying lots of things and seeing which of them go somewhere..? corea is clearly an excellent pianist but i have trouble focussing when b. is not audible... his bass clarinet appears around 3.30 though, much relief... corea is eager to show how he can "do a max roach", producing many separate attacks on the same key with amazing speed like a woodpecker, flickering his hand over a few notes here and there to fill it out, always returning to the woodpecker... and in fact this does eventually lead somewhere, the piano trio in full swing by 6.45 and really cooking, so much so that although they continue for more than a minute with no sign of b, i am right with them. things slow down and break up, holland starts a solo, some weird noises join in (actually sounds like electric guitar to me but i don't think it is) then just before 9 mins, braxton enters on contrabass clarinet, one of my favourite sounds in all music. this leads to some really out stuff - by 11.30 holland is bowing low notes on his bass and braxton just forcing the breath through the bore, not looking for actual notes - some unearthly entries from corea now, the sound of continents threatening to shift... yet within a minute there is a schism, altschul (on woodblocks) and braxton (alto) looking for a totally different mood which corea ignores, continuing his brooding menace... stupendous virtuosity on alto from b, as if i'd expect anything else by now.

by the end of the piece it's all gone very weird - around 16 mins we are getting cow noises and muffled spoken utterances, coughs, shouts, the repetition of the words "physical universe - we exist!"... and altschul almost blushingly wraps it up with a few bings and bongs.

track three - third collective - begins with braxton and holland in duet, both on top form straight away, b. throwing in these fabulous miniature tonal distortions like angry bees at high speed, constantly mixing up his attack and looking for all the different angles of approach. astonishing precision and close control - metal bashing when it comes in sounds almost like industrial music, but with sax and strings on top... once again braxton's remains the dominant voice even as the mood shifts, then suddenly (around 2.15) he begins a frenzied phase of overblowing in the altissimo range, way off the scale, and maintains this for the next 30 secs or so before the landscape gradually shifts and we're somewhere else.

i got a bit lost for a while, then... just before 10 mins b. is joined by another reed, the two intertwining - though he remains clearly identifiable with his controlled swoops and runs, the other just piping up in support - things pick up suddenly from here and with a finish in sight, the whole band gets into full swing once again and rockets away.

there is a short "percussion piece" too... not without interest but nothing stayed with me really...

...and there is also "drone", for the piano trio only: 22 mins and 30 secs without braxton, that's against nature - at least it won't get houseroom this week. instead i replaced it with...

appendix: circle - comp. 6f*
date: 19th october 1970

not the premiere of this piece (that's on this time... which i don't have), but the earliest version available to me - it's from circling in (or indeed early circle) - and it rounds things off nicely.

the theme is so very braxton..! he is still writing "non-melodies" like this even now: lines which change pace, jump up and down in register, vary attack etc so frequently that one gets dizzy trying to keep up. the band plays through the theme in unison, demonstrating once more the amazing level of skill these four were able to deploy, staying together at each twist and turn for several minutes, altschul using a very wide variety of surfaces (as he so often does). it comes as a complete surprise, then, for a long pause to be followed by just the brushing of gongs or cymbals, a long, shimmering presence all on its own which lasts for seconds or years; another pause, the theme restarts as if nothing had happened - except that it sounds very different now, braxton on clarinet instead of alto sax, corea on percussion by the sound of it, a very different restatement of the material which leaves me with much to ponder. it will be interesting to hear the various other versions of this piece.

(CCC - circulus; circling in not graded)

write-up: not too far over the limit actually, believe it or not. this high workrate can't last, i may as well get on with it while i can keep it up...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

october 07 braxtothon... day one (second interlude)

gunter hampel: the 8th of july 1969

restructures link

the day took a while to get going, the "week" isn't even a full week to begin with as it turns out... and with the writing up and faffing around (more of the latter really) it suddenly occurs to me late on that i am not now going to have time to fit in a third session... the kitchen still requires transformation, lest mrs cent return to a shambles... so i settled on a compromise, pulled out one of several very interesting sideman gigs from '69 and played it while clearing up, knowing that i could not give the music my undivided loving care this time, but that b's contributions were nevertheless likely to grab my attention even if nothing else did.

and that's the way it worked out... between spacing out and thinking about the new blog, marshalling impressions, tidying up etc i managed to miss at least half of what was being played, but my man's statements certainly did not go unnoticed..! i made no notes at all this time so memories of the first track are pretty blurred already, vague impressions of the leader's piano and jeanne lee's voice (i can sort of make an exception for jeanne lee, don't mind some of her stuff as it's usually pretty far out), but the real business gets underway with the long second track, which contains two superb braxton solos as well as a furious, barking bass clarinet excursion by (i presume) willem breuker. what's really noticeable right away about braxton's work here is how utterly complete it sounds: his identity as a soloist is now fully formed (not sure that it was before... but of course i still haven't heard for alto), the sound identical to that which i know so well after all these hours i've heard him play. the solos here could be from any year really, so sure of himself does he sound by now.

this is also the first time i clearly noticed the "master-tag", a very fast descending run with a staccato attack, followed by a short upward swoop and concluding with a two-note "bee-boop" drop, a higher note to a lower one at the end, this being the phrase which he seems to repeat most often over the years... recently i heard "intuition" by tristano & co wherein warne marsh plays something rather similar, leading me to infer that this birdlike "signature" of braxton's may have originated with marsh... anyway, i expect it's present in nascent form on the earlier recordings but this is the first time i've "spotted" it clearly.

the third piece ("crepuscule") is fascinating, beginning with a lot of low clarinet blowing - i presume this is hampel and breuker on bass, braxton on contrabass - and exploring quiet, breathy textures for much of its 25-min running time... at one point the reeds give way to a mesmerising percussion solo by steve mccall, in which he seems to do little other than brush the surfaces of his kit but in a manner bespeaking almost superhuman control and restraint; this in turn gives way subtly to more breath from the clarinets. there is an explosion of vibes from the leader later on, duetting with mccall now, but the breath explorations are what i will remember most from this. again, there is a very gnarly, rough-hewn and powerful solo by someone other than braxton and again i have to assume it's breuker playing it: would the leader really have been so little ego-driven that he's prepared to let his frontline guests steal all the limelight? (well... seems quite possible actually, and here's why: out of all of them, hampel was the one who was actually going home with jeanne lee after the session - perhaps he felt that this left him with nothing to prove to the other guys! and perhaps one could sympathise...)

ok, enough is enough, this is only an interlude... and as you can tell i was distracted for much of the playing time, so no grading but this is a very interesting recording and the third piece especially will warrant closer inspection at some point.

bring on day two :)

Saturday, October 13, 2007 update...

of sorts - the published diary is still on day one (and not done yet), but here in live centrispace it is in fact the wind-down from (what turned out to be) day three and, as crazy as this all sounded, i already know it worked.

i am currently carrying around b's worldview like a huge filter around the top of my head - i say huge because it is huge, but at this early stage few details are clearly visible within my version of it: some crystal clear but these are very, very small and there are vast expanses of total blank as of yet. still i can feel the dimensions of the space around me.

and i ain't heard nothin yet

i am declaring stage one - which i did not previously know existed - at an end; that is, an end in live centrispace where i need time to recuperate. in the blogosphere the scroll continues to wind slowly forwards for the time being.

***transmission ends***

october 07 braxtothon... day one (2)

second session: silence
date: 18th july 1969 (sleeve, incorrect; prob. june '69)

restructures link

i had already started this and sat down before i even looked, then immediately realised that neither of the pieces on this album was actually composed by braxton, despite his being credited as the leader (or was he? not totally clear about this)... well, started so i'll finish and i wanted to hear something from '69... besides, it's fairly short...

two fifteen-min plus free sound explorations with the same trio as provided the core of the '68 debut, the first piece credited to jenkins and the second to smith, very different in character... the jenkins, er, composition is called "off the top of my head" and would appear, indeed, to be basically a free-for-all, everyone plays whatever he likes on a variety of instruments, not necessarily even paying much attention to what anyone else is doing; perhaps the idea was that the sounds would nevertheless coalesce at times whilst seeming to diverge wildly at others..? that is of course what happens, anyway: all sorts of ideas are expressed freely in embryonic form, some wither and die at once whereas others blossom and develop before mutating into something else and eventually falling back into the constant state of flux... smith seems to start the most confidently of the three... soon enough there is more (horrible) harmonica unfortunately, no idea why that seemed such a good idea at the time, but maybe variety was one of the prime considerations... perhaps wanting to smother it, braxton follows the first harp utterances with a terrific entry on sax, which develops quickly into a shortish but quite thoroughly-explored and very strong solo. this turns out to be a bit of a red herring though as more formless weirdness follows, and an accordion joins in with the fun...

... a sudden shift of group atmosphere around 11.25 is undercut by more harmonica (damn!), and once again braxton rescues it, this time by whipping out the furniture - around 12 mins he enters on contrabass clarinet and proceeds to give an extraordinary demonstration of how to use breath-related attacks on that instrument while still producing notes as well; this leads to some very strong statements all round, smith taking over then jenkins before the piece peters out with some brief, isolated statements on various instruments again. some very interesting places have been visited but the journey seems to have been a bit haphazard and there was much doubling-back.

the second piece is the title track and, indeed, there is proportionally a lot more silence than sound; by which i mean the players lay out more often than they play (since of course the effect for me is to endure long stretches of low-level electronic ambience from my hardware... punctuated by music, or is it just sound? that is the sort of question which this (seemingly much more solemn) piece raises. a stark soundscape in which usually very precise statements are made, limited to minimal exploration or variation and always returning to silence, it does have some wonderful moments - just before the eight-min mark a bell ushers in some actual group interplay, though once again the dreaded harmonica arrives to sabotage the mood - after a brief pause smith lets loose the most marvellous piece of flatulence through his horn. again, some very interesting sounds are produced and the control is at times breathtaking; but a) i could really do without the accordions and harmonica now and b) there is a slight "chinese water torture" effect after a while, despite my patient intentions: i sit waiting for the next sound and resisting the urge to grab the remote and skip forwards.

overall this seems to be a strange release for b. - none of his writing, and not necessarily much cohesion or direction although the three players suggest all sorts of possibilities.

write-up within 30-mins: yes
distracted: only by virtue of the actual music (second piece)..!


Friday, October 12, 2007

october 07 braxtothon... day one (first interlude)

***'~#''***'* flawed jewels may nevertheless turn out to be the most beautiful... i shall keep that in mind as i tell the passengers that already, so soon out of port, the vessel is fatally holed... and shipping water? well, not quite just yet... i can now reveal the deeply flawed nature of this undertaking: there is a gaping, for alto-shaped hole in my collection at time of writing so instead of my impressions of that album (universally regarded as one of the cornerstones of the discography) i shall have to offer an anecdote, a simple cautionary tale for all collectors...

... my wife and i were in london's west end for the day a few years ago, and as always i made sure we walked down berwick st (record shops aplenty, though one or two fewer now than were there at that time)... one of the exchanges had a copy of alto on cd, at a decent price, and i dithered over it. i knew damn well at the time that the music would have gone way over my head, but i also knew i wanted this album and would end up buying it eventually. the question was, did i need it then? well, we went away and i said i'd think about it... and by the time we passed back that way a few hours later i'd decided that i would buy it after all.

naturally, it was gone... and the moral of the story is that if you see something you want (and can afford it) just buy it, don't hang about or you may regret it. someone had already told me that, but i guess i needed to learn the hard way (as we humans so often do).

i never did get round to picking up a copy and have recently turned down the offer of a rip because i still want the actual album!! but for the time being, there is only the ghost of an outline, a silhouette, a shadow... that album casts a pretty big shadow actually, but this journey is through the territory of my collection as of now and i shan't be buying recordings just to augment the territory... lack of material is not exactly my current problem.

next stop for unaccompanied alto will be 1974, and for now we're back to the trio...

Thursday, October 11, 2007

a quick(ish) word

i would just like to reassure anyone visiting at this point that the braxtothon is not the blog - consider it something simmering away in the background if you like... hopefully this will all be self-evident in time, as other things are brought to the reader's attention on a more regular basis... for now i'm just getting started and while the fire of enthusiasm is still burning, i'll keep fanning the flames, adding the braxtothon in instalments. in any case i never meant to publish it "live" - day one is weds 10th, and will continue tomorrow (if you see what i mean)

i realise already (at the end of day two) how impossible a task i was attempting to set myself - there is so much to notice in these recordings that summing them up is very hard, and listening to them requires time and space: there is no way i would have wanted to try and cram the days full, and in practice that isn't what i've done at all. but i do like the idea of listening in chronological order... so i'm gonna keep at it for now, and we'll see how far i get before the wheels fall off...

in other news... the british contingent have a representative in bologna as i write, with the possibility of fresh impressions of the latest encounter between a.b. and c.t., in due course... stay tuned... spread the word :)

Performance (again)

I'll say a few words about discography, etc. before we start, but will try to keep from getting distracted by that sort of thing.

Performance 9/1/1979 was recorded September 1, the day after Braxton recorded One in Two-Two in One with Max Roach. Both were recorded at the Willisau festival. Not a bad couple of days... Braxton's only other recording from Willisau was, of course, the staggering Willisau (Quartet) 1991.

This album was released on a gorgeous double-LP in 1981. For many, though, this album sits in the shadow of its older/younger brother, Dortmund (Quartet) 1976, which was only released in 1991. I wonder what I would have thought of Dortmund if I'd known Performance for a decade before it came out. While it's fair to describe the availability of both albums as spotty, Performance has spent most of its quarter-century out of print. Pity.

So, listening:
things open with a "pulse structure" that presages GTM, at the same time that it reminds me of the thudding flatted fifths that introduce Purple Haze. Lindberg is doing alternating ascending and descending glissandi; I think they come pretty close to being a flat fifth apart... Braxton and trombonist Ray Anderson each solo against the pulse -- and then, after 8 minutes or so, bass and drums drop out, leaving the horns to duet. Each takes a contrasting line, and they weave around each other, the bass and then drums entering with subtlety. This is a really fun part of the record, and all too brief. It is followed by an constrained passage, which opens up into one of those relaxed, post-bop Braxton lines around 18'. Braxton and Anderson exchange searing solos. The tune wraps up with a long solo by bassist John Lindberg, who transforms the manic energy of the preceding piece to a subtle tension that opens the second track of the album.

Lindberg's solo opens Comp 69F, a/k/a "the half step piece". The pulse accelerates before breaking off into a percussion feature, on xylophone and other instruments. Thurman Barker's work is quiet, meditative and beautiful; Braxton responds with one of the big horns -- a contrabass? -- and Lindberg joins with some arco playing. This trio may be the highlight of the album, and offhand I can't think of a moment quite like it elsewhere in Braxton's work. Braxton moves to Soprano or Sopranino, and several minutes of interaction unfold, before an open-ended reading of Comp. 23G.

The more I listen to Performance 9/1/1979, the more I like it. It does not have the flexibility of Dortmund -- it does not as easily bridge the gap between Braxton and more mainstream jazz, the fact that it's broken into only 2 tracks makes it difficult to play on the radio (unless the DJ wants to commit 35 minutes) or even in short explanitory pieces. With the exception of an encore of ~5 minutes, though, there's no easy way to break up the album any further. It's beginning to move toward the quartet music Braxton developed through the eighties, with compositions overlapping and bleeding into one another.

In all, an exciting and rewarding album. I'm glad to see it back in print.

(Are Centrifuge's grading units "cents"? What will the Creative Construction Company albums score? Stay tuned...)

october 07 braxtothon... day one (1)

first session: 3 compositions of new jazz
date: march 27th 1968 (1), april 10th 1968 (2,3)

restructures link

first session of first day began with a huge smile as it turned out - see below :-D

the way things have worked out, it's early afternoon before the first session even starts so i break afterwards for lunch, giving me time to reflect on the gorgeous immensity i've just attempted to take in... in theory i could cheat and put it back on while i'm eating, which would (among other things) allow me to try and clear up a few questions about who's playing what - a glance at the personnel, and previous memory, told me (wrongly) that this was a trio date with leroy jenkins and leo smith, muhal richard abrams joining them for track 3 only... so that at the beginning of track two i found myself frantically looking back through the list to see what the hell that piano was doing there. (a reassuring glance at the discog later confirms that the first piece *is* a trio.)

if i typed up all my little notes it would take a lot longer than 30 mins! what an incredibly INTERESTING recording... constantly on the move, never settling down into any repetitions, potentially exhausting and/or extremely confusing even for a sympathetic listener but my ears are (by now) attuned to weirder things than this. i have only heard this album once before, after i got hold of it 2-3 years ago - wasn't listening to much braxton at the time. thought it sounded really good but did not give it my full attention. my ears have opened up a lot since then - so that this session was frequently amazing for me, the astonishing beauty of the sounds a continual source of wonder and delight.

the leader's basic tone is instantly familiar to me by now, though it is not yet as distinctive as it would become (sooner rather than) later. but braxton's alto does seem to betray quite clearly the influence of dolphy when heard at this early stage: that is to say it seems inescapable to me (dolphy was my first route into jazz, i knew that i wanted to collect him before anyone else... so i have listened to him a LOT). it's in their interval jumps above all else, the way they hear beauty in leaps of pitch which blandly-conditioned western ears find typically jarring and unpleasant as well as illogical. in this they are both like songbirds, also in their use of "tag" repetitions, pet phrasings which crop up again and again in the body of work in both cases. for both reasons, despite braxton's (non-aggressive) insistence to graham lock that dolphy did not really make so much of an impression on him as critics always supposed, i personally can't avoid seeing anthony braxton as heir to the eric dolphy legacy, as well as all the many, many other things he is. i love them both, anyway.

leroy jenkins is incredible on this album - i don't care too much for violins as a rule, just don't naturally hear a lot and i'm really into reeds these days so... but jenkins had me pulling faces i normally reserve for the likes of frank lowe or threadgill or zorn or braxton himself... outrageous sounds he can make, also incredible clarity and purity of his "singing" tone when he uses it - and he can apparently (if no multi-tracking was used? haven't checked yet) split his utterances and do both at once, that is sing like a nightingale on one string while being positively blasphemous on another simultaneously - two entirely separable attacks delivered at once with complete control and confidence. is that human??

leo smith is great too - sorry, this is gonna go on and on and i will have to cheat if i don't start whittling it down. smith was not what caught my ear most in the session, though every time i was aware of him (frequently) it was because he had just done something wonderful.

all three players demonstrate a remarkably comprehensive range of stylistic approaches, techniques, extended techniques etc even at this formative stage. specifically they are all capable of a very wide range of tonal expressions and appear to deploy their "vocabularies" with complete authority and precision.

* * * * * * * * * * *

track one (comp. 6e*) is a mitchellesque, aacm-style free trio exploration of some amazing soundscapes - made copious short notes in this 20-min piece!! unbelievable sounds, and all of it played, nothing repeated that i could tell (even though it's clearly through-composed at least in terms of its infrastructure). jenkins plays the violin about 1000000 times better than he plays the (blues) harp. i can hear some humour in the latter (thank god) but otherwise those bits are... well, the first one is mercifully brief and the second time, he actually transmutes it into something rather beautiful by the time he's finished (around 11.45ish) - on violin he unleashes several ASTONISHING bursts during this piece which just leave me speechless. 15.45 or thereabouts: the leader draws glorious spirals in the air with a high-pitched reed, presumably soprano sax but rendered all his own by his alchemical manipulations.

the huge smile: a lot of you probably already know that i don't do vocals much, so to find (as i had not remembered) that the album begins with multiple vocals provoked much mirth. but what better way to begin? :))

track two (comp. 6d*) is a barrelling train on the piano, a headlong dash between stations which begins at full tilt and lets up only very near the end; after an explosive multiple entry, smith and abrams duet, or rather abrams drives while smith makes his statement; then from 3.10 ish it's jenkins riding the train; around 6.55 falling rain (check it out) precedes the entry of the leader as jenkins drops out, and finally abrams takes it on home, though there are two brief group passages still to come once the pace finally drops, and if i allowed myself to go into any more detail on this extraordinary piece we really would be here all night. all round playing is ridiculously good, the solos - !! i could go on and on just about braxton's but i'm not gonna do it... not yet anyway...

track three - "the bell" - is smith's and around fifteen seconds in, it sounds worryingly as if it might have an actual tune for a moment there - then yet more string gorgeousness from mr jenkins distracted me totally and by the time i'd recovered from smith's very powerful entry at 0.45 it was clear that this was another abstract sound exploration or painting, of a very different flavour from the first piece... i must say i don't have a clear idea of leo smith as a composer yet - or even really as a player (shocking though it is to admit that! but i am relatively new to all this and have had to squeeze a lot of music into a short space of time) and it fell somewhat strangely upon my ear, i found it hard to penetrate - except that at regular intervals the group makes one of its sudden convergent entries, bursts of entirely unpredictable sound which always go somewhere startling and wondrous; again, the most outrageous tonal distortions are uttered forth on this piece by everybody, though for a couple of seconds (9.15ish) they also manage to sound like a mediaeval consort group... throughout, a metronome does (apparently) nothing much but talk to itself since the players fill the space according to no-one's needs but their own and each other's. as always it is useless to try and say too much about this music, and i've already broken my own rules spectacularly right at the start of course - no more!!!

write-up within 30-mins: fat chance
distractions: two, unavoidable


october 07 braxtothon... explanatory preamble

so... here is where i find myself:

when c#9 got wound up i was left with (among other things) a lot of music to listen to (no shit...!), some of which i had scarcely heard at all and none of which had really been given its due - i daresay this is a familiar problem to most people who could be arsed to read this in the first place - but i also knew for sure by now that mr braxton was my new main man. with the help of jason's discog i put together a chronological list of all the recordings of mr b which were now within reach of my ears - albums, live concerts etc or individual tracks in a few cases; and of course a cd like news from the 70s needed to be listed piecemeal, each recording from a different venue and date (etc etc). the idea was that when i next had a week off work i was gonna try and listen to - well, realistically it was never going to be the whole lot, and with exactly 100 entries by the time i finished, i had to revise downwards and limit myself to recordings of mr b. playing his own music for a start.

so... here is where... etc

i have picked a shortlist and will (in practice) have to pick a shorter version of that: that is, i can regard the shortlist as the territory to be explored and the precise route through it (in chrono order) to be this particular exploration. but of course it's going to take me a lot longer than a week anyway... fuck it, let's just spend the rest of the month on it, as free time permits eh :)


1) one recording to be played at each sitting, in full, no breaks (if one disc - all my braxton is in digital formats, very conveniently... if more than one disc, breaks in between may be necessary)

2) while listening, may make brief notes (prompt-words, times) - otherwise no distractions - impossible but that's the aim. looking at personnel details etc is permissible, liner notes etc (where applicable) are out.

3) after each sitting, maximum of 30 mins to type up impressions (impossible - for me - but that's the aim, blah blah)

4) minimal editing of same (pref. none except typos)

grading: i am not foolish enough to think that i can assess the quality of the man's work objectively... there will be no marks out of ten, etc..! on the other hand i shall make recommendations in each case, as follows:

CCCC = essential, vital listening... get it, tell your friends etc...
CCC = non-essential, but likely to reward anyone with open ears
CC = not the sort of thing to start with, but not completely esoteric either
C = hardcore fans only

these are of course completely personal opinions in each case and as such are basically imperfect and ignorant, and subject to potential change :)

an asterisk * after a composition number indicates that at the time of recording the numbering system was not yet in effect, i.e. read it as "the composition now known as..."

that's it - see you in there :)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

hi - it's me - i'm back... *

hello guys... most of you know by now that i'm what we might call in the u.k. a braxton anorak... kind of guy who can read jason g's discog for pleasure, not just as a reference tool {cough}

with c#9 wrapped up and a need for an outlet with no added pressure (internal or otherwise), i thought of starting a blog just to celebrate mr anthony braxton and collate info on him etc - then discovered that not only had mcclintic sphere had the same idea, he'd actually done something about it (i hadn't) and even had a name (i didn't) so i have been happy to come on board... we aim, loosely, to edit the thing together/separately and will post whenever we feel like it. sound good? :)

i welcome all comments, info, tips, links, pix etc etc (and i am sure mcc does too), so please send us anything related to anthony braxton!... for my part i do not plan to share music here, at least not at the outset; it may be possible at some point but i won't know how that lies until some time has passed, i think. we will of course be passing on snippets of info, etc, as we come across them... meantime, i wish to announce the start of the october 07 braxtothon, which will commence on thursday 11th ... don't get too excited, it's just a load of words about music at this point... but i just can't stop listening to this man's music and i feel the urge to spread the word.

more soon

bye for now

* see comments

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Performance 9-1-1979

One of several outstanding live small-group records Braxton recorded in the mid-to-late 1970s (with Dortmund 1976 the (not unjustly) most heralded), Performance was issued initially on LP as Performance 9/1/1979, and was first issued on CD as Performance (Quartet) 1979.

It has been unavailable for years, and has recently been reissued by HatHut/HatOlogy.

Good news, good news.

I'll give my copy a listen soon and try to collect my thoughts about this recording.

McC. S.