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.


Ubu XXIII said...

As far as I know this is the only time Braxton used multi-tracking. I'm sure Evan Parker & Lol Coxhill, who might even have had his sopranino back then, would have been glad to help out. As you no doubt know they all teamed up with Steve Lacy in 1977 for an improvised quartet on 'Company 6 & 7' (Incus).
centrifuge, '6 pieces 2001' is wonderful. Yesterday I picked up the 'Iridium' box from the sorting office, & have listened to only 3 discs so far, difficult but rewarding. No.352 (disc 3) I found particularly brilliant. This takes methodology & stuctural elements from the like of Ellington's 'Reminiscing in tempo' & Mingus's 'Black saint' & does something like revalidate them for the 21st century. No other composed 'creative music' has grabbed me so much since what Anthony Davis did in the 1980s or some of Simon Fell's 'Compilation' things from the turn of the century.
The more 'Ghost trance' music I listen to, the more 'sense' (or whatever) I find it makes. As for close listening & analysis of deatail I'll have to post again about that.
I'll be interested to hear the Braxtothon when it gets to 'Town hall 1972' & the 1st recorded standards. Also a track or 2 from 'News form the 70s' must be due soon, chronologically.

centrifuge said...

heh heh :) yep. very soon indeed...

i don't know whether some of these longer entries would have been better off split up into sections, they go on so long... this wasn't really the idea, but that's the way it worked out..!

town hall... that was a very interesting listen! but THAT is the one which i have not yet written up - and that (of course) is what happens is i don't do it immediately afterwards... i will (hopefully) get back into the swing of it this coming week...

glad to hear you're enjoying the big box... i really don't think i can deny myself for very much longer - and it must be a limited item, have to assume it won't be available forever... yes, like you i find the ghost trance stuff becomes more seductive as i expose myself to it more - listened to just the first of the two quintets on the 2001 box last night, and got really into it :))

Frédito said...

Yes, Comp. 22 is a beguiling beauty I first heard just this evening.
The whole program is varied and full of delights, but at first listen yes, I was like you very moved and admiring at 22. (I had no clue about the overdubbing while listening)

Une merveille !

Frédito said...

Oh, and I like this arco "pulse" on Comp. 6a.

centrifuge said...

fredito, i seem to be following you along a circuitous route through the blog at the moment... glad to be doing so :)

comp. 22 almost overwhelmed me when i listened to it "under the microscope" - i actually haven't heard the album since, only parts of it. way overdue another listen... y'know, when i can find time for that :-S

as for comp. 6a, that's summed up as an "arco march" in the catalogue of works, and as is doubtless clear from the original write-up, i didn't really grasp the piece at all at the time. later i heard it a lot more and got a much better handle on it: it (the studio version) was on one of my playlists and it's been played live on many occasions, even a couple of decades later. (did my mentioning it on the latest post lead you to this version..? it was the encore for the second set, 12th november 1993 at the knitting factory... contrary to what's stated on the "official" track list) it is a fantastic piece, bursting with inherent tensions and ideally suited to repeated investigation by different groups...

Frédito said...

Yes, I'm currently having regular Braxton listens, most of them first contacts with the records and the works. I still have to discover several periods and numerous groups. For instance, I kept near the player a series of records from the early to middle seventies, and I finally started to play them this week, hence my investigations in several of your related articles. It's like opening a pandora box sometimes. Funny coincidence that Composition 6a is mentioned in your latest post. Perhaps not so surprising if it's a Braxton favorite.
See you soon, at another post !

centrifuge said...

"It's like opening a pandora box sometimes"

- haha, tell me about it ;-)

enjoy the listening! x