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.
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...)