Thursday, October 11, 2007

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



centrifuge said...

believe it or not i am hoping to get most of the entries down a lot more succinctly than that - not quite prepared for such an amazing debut..! i really did cut out a lot more i could have said.

vocals... i had my shitty teenage years in the 80s (which sucked big time if your family didn't vote conservative) and like so many alienated losers before me and since, i found solace in heavy metal - that is, thrash metal which was the most "out there" thing i could find at the time... at university i traded up for death metal just as the underground was really coming alive and spreading, and i've been a bit squeamish about actual *singing* ever since. of course i make exceptions (patton springs to mind... also zappa's guys)... but not really that many.

i own no vocal jazz except by accident really... the only jazz singer i've ever heard that i might conceivably want to buy some cds of was sarah vaughan. of course i do own some recordings with vocals *on* but they are not the primary (or even secondary) attraction for me.

's it...

Anonymous said...

funny thing - had a similar discussion some days ago, and had quite a hard time to name but a few "jazz" singers, male or female.

a few i dig: babs gonzales! cool jerk, if you ask me (here's a long online-excerpt from his book "i paid my dues" - nice reading -

in a similar way - slim gaillard. those 2 cats are boppers from the 40s/50s, all right.

who else? mrs. jeanne lee - ex-wife of gunter hampel, and - you know it - recorded several times with b.

other exceptional free vocalists (dunno a single male one that moved me, damn - edit: wrong - jaap blonk, makigami koichi, david moss...) - maggie nicols, sainkho namtchylak, OK OK, i'll stop name-dropping here, senseless shit like swing ;)

but there ARE jazz vocalists worth to check out - that's what i wanted to say with my sermon.


Sam said...

Excellent first entry! I plan to go back home and do deep headphone listening with your text at hand. Funnily enough, this first album was also -my- first exposure to Braxton, back in 1977 or thereabouts. I immediately went out and snagged all the Arista LPs I could find. I found them more accessible to my younger ears, but I find now that this first LP rewards repeated listenings in magical ways most of the Arista LPs don't (with exceptions of course, like the trio LP). Re: the Dolphy connection--I find this appears strongest in "New York Fall 1974" and "Five Pieces 1975"--can't wait to hear what you have to say about those records!

In the absence of the Church, this is going to do just fine (and will help me catch up on listening!!). Thanks again.

centrifuge said...

did i really never reply to these comments?? - i must have been in conversation with both at another thread i suppose (?)

i've been avoiding re-reading this post for ages now... it's actually a lot less hysterical than i imagined/remembered/feared ;-)

if sam did stick around for those later aristas, don't know what he made of my (entirely?) dolphy-free conclusions on those two albums... to be honest i had forgotten that i even said as much about dolphy in this post as i did!! hmmm :)

if anyone has arrived here by accident so to speak... the place to go (so far) for detailed examination of the dolphy connection is braxtothon '08, session 007... also get to see the other side of my " audience" on the comments for that one..!