Monday, October 15, 2007

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...


Brent said...

i have *this time* -- although i'm not sure now if that violates the rules of the 'thon (i.e. listening to mp3 files).

centrifuge said...

certainly not! no such rules, that is... of course, i have now missed the chance to listen to that in sequence... naturally i would still like to hear it - at some point..!

actually i have had a few generous offers already of extra material... thanks to everyone (and i shall be getting back to you all individually)