Sunday, November 4, 2007

october 07 braxtothon... day five, and counting (part three)

3. carne: comp. 6p* (pts 1 & 2) (album link)

ok, so this is the big showpiece climax, and unfortunately it's the part i had the most trouble with... indeed this is the part of the concert i only listened to once (day five) simply because in the end i didn't fancy sitting through it again. at this point i'd better explain why i keep refusing to allow it as a straightforward quintet: basically it's a trio (holland, altschul now in for wilson) with a singer on top, plus one piece of moveable furniture by the name of john stubblefield; this is no disrespect to that player, more a comment on the severely limited context in which he is allowed to express himself in this piece (barely at all). he appears for tone colour at times, for conceptual backup at others, but any ideas i had beforehand about my first proper "reed collaboration" went out the window pretty early on. as for jeanne lee - for the life of me i can't see what she contributes to this, and again, this is no disrespect to her but the voice seems to add nothing to the music, takes it nowhere of any interest (to me). when lyrics actually appear that's more or less the last straw for me... and although the piece actually picked up from that point (a jaw-dropping unison theme is unveiled - the leader also plays at least two amazing solos), i was left feeling that this was really a failed experiment. the only explanation for lee being here at all is the fact the piece itself is dedicated to her: so presumably b. actually wrote it with her in mind, but although it successfully showcases her very pleasant singing voice (and later demonstrates her technique), what it really succeeds in doing is showing that a simple voice in this context is an awful lot less interesting to listen to than the instruments around it. even if one allows for this writer's (considerable) prejudice against singers, there is still the problem of the fifth player, reduced to snatching the tiniest of opportunities to step out from the backdrop and express himself with a few notes here and there. i can only see this performance as over-extended, reaching beyond its own grasp.

what i could tell of it... the piece seems to be basically a long night voyage, with protracted passages of dark atmosphere and some glaringly bright lights in the middle (when an unexpected firestorm occurs... even then, lee is just politely singing on top, apparently having no idea how to weave her strands into the textures the core trio is creating)... stubblefield's earliest entries on breathy tenor are about as personal as he ever gets, except for a very brief flourish much nearer the end; really it's only the three players who seem to be involved in telling the story, with one extra for occasional backup and another just slotted in on top. naturally the leader's playing is wonderful, as it always is, but it could be some time before i am able to come back to this piece... not even the unison section can save it, though it almost does: well into the second movement, stubblefield's few personal statements lead into a very fast b-theme, a doozy, very tricky to negotiate, yet pulled off with complete aplomb - not only does stubblefield play along with only little glosses, lee somehow, incredibly, sings the whole theme without missing a note. and this just makes me think: if they had that sort of technical facility at their disposal, could these players not have been given something a bit more interesting to do?

by the end i've lost it completely, the applause comes as a relief for once.

(as regards the actual town hall album, it's gotta be... CCC. even allowing for my heavy bias i reckon you'd have a hard time making a case for this being essential... shame, the trio is crackin'... anyway, most fans will want it, and of course you may as well add the duet to complete that concert experience... the news comp is CCCC essential anyway)


centrifuge said...

y'know, just in case anyone has any queries etc ;-)

Anonymous said...

I don't wholly agree with your verdict on the last piece in this concert, cent. Jeanne Lee had warmed up, so to speak, with Shepp & Hampel (that's where she'd worked with Braxton before), but maybe wasn't quite ready for this music. But the timing of her entry brings something different to the overall texture. John Stubblefield doesn't do very much; of course it's easy to say this with the hindsight of knowing what other Braxton fellow horn players have got up to since then.
I was asking recently for views on the Yoshi sessions. I meant mainly the 3 ninetet sets, evidently from the early GTM phase.

centrifuge said...

that's cool man, i'm rather hoping that in some cases people WON'T agree - and that if that's the case they will say so... that way who knows, i may learn something!

a look through the discog shows that lee and braxton had worked together on numerous occasions - b. had a good idea of her capabilities, hence his desire to write a piece for her. i just can't fathom exactly where he went with that... well, of course i can't - there is much about his work i still do not understand. but as you can see i did struggle... now, i was distracted during the listening - actually if i detailed the conditions under which i listened to this last section, some people would probably be disgusted ;-) but my basic objections are always going to stand i think. i don't see what lee's voice adds to the music and even you admit that stubblefield doesn't do very much - that's sort of a failure on b's own terms, or at least it's a line taken by many bandleaders but not, ultimately, by this one. i don't think he would use someone in that way now.

still... i said that it could be a while before i come back to this recording (or at least to the quintet) but i will listen to it again at some point... maybe next time it will sound different!

centrifuge said...

NB next time i went (properly) back to it, it did sound different, right enough :)