Thursday, December 27, 2007

96 glimpses and looming ninetets

this is (at least in the northern hemisphere) a time of year which provokes much reflection in many of those who reflect; but i'll keep all that to myself for the time being.

it's also a time of year when money gets spent and people buy things, in countries where the promise of happiness is based on ownership. so, anyway, leo had a sale (still on i think) and i bought some things.

actually my first raid on the leo's sale yielded composition 94 for three instrumentalists, a delightful unearthed gem which will probably get written about at some point. but i later found myself ordering all three double volumes of the yoshi's ninetets (gtm, '97) and throwing in composition n.96 while i was at it. these arrived, with considerable felicitousness, on xmas eve... but it's not until tonight that i got an opportunity to do more than fetishise the objects themselves. only one hour of listening time, it had to be comp. 96 really.

now, the maestro doesn't play on this smallish (37-pc) orchestra recording, but 96 (dedicated to the recently-deceased karlheinz stockhausen) is such a major landmark/reference point in the collage structures of the 80s and early 90s that it has to be reckoned with, and this is the recording we have of it... and a very interesting piece it is too. it did not get (anything like) my full attention - at this stage i just want to start listening to it, get it into my system so that elements from it will ring bells when i hear them quoted later; over time i may hope to acquire a detailed understanding of the piece itself, but i'm not worrying too much about that for now.

the first section was quite strange and actually did focus my full attention onto the music at times, because it was uncannily similar in some ways to some of zappa's orchestral writing, or at least it seemed so to me; big clashes of sound thrown up against each other, lots of tension and anxiety, very "difficult" or dissonant and complex tonalities... ok, i'm sure i could be describing any number of modern composers there; it just reminded me of zappa, which i was not really expecting (although, come to think of it... hmmm, see comments).

however, the way the piece evolves is really entirely different from anything i have heard fz do.

if any readers want to fill me in on some details wrt stockhausen, please do - for the moment i don't have much to go on, but that being the case it's surprising how closely b's homage mirrors one account i have read, that of clarinettist anthony pay (in bailey, improvisation) who worked with stockhausen as part of the london sinfonietta: i took away (besides the memory of the taboo-breaking trumpet-player) an impression of a composer concerned to chart the course of the universe, however that sounds in the telling, (among other ways) by interspersing episodes of order and chaos, or stasis and movement... and that's very much how 96 comes across during this first airing. when the music settles it stays still for some time, and sounds as if it could do so forever; but growth emerges from stasis and the transitions back to dissonance and clash do not seem forced, but organic... this is a tantalising piece and i want to go back to it before i try and say anything more about it.

the ninetets... well now, in more ways than one these are leading up to the iridium box: six performances on three nights, six (six!) reedmen, nine players subdivided into three trio sections, each with its own leader... important recent collaborators... essential! i'm delighted to have these, but have not yet had time to listen to any of them and for the moment i'm content to keep anticipating.

reading steve day's listening diary in the notes gave me an awkward twinge or two, i must confess... hey, you mean some people get paid for doing this? ;-)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

october 07 braxtothon... day seven (1)

funny, i was expecting a gap here... but in the end my schedule has wiped itself clean and suddenly it's day seven, which means it's 1974. so that means standards, right? well no actually, it doesn't - i haven't got those steeplechase sets and although they are very highly recommended by some people, i'm not sure they would figure on my list even if i had them. when it comes down to it, a date on which braxton filled in for dexter gordon to play a bunch of old chestnuts from the american songbook... well, it's not going to tell me much about the man's own ideas, although it might in theory tell me yet more about his playing - i will definitely be interested to hear these curiosities at some point, but i don't really feel that's what i'm missing at this stage.

no... but we are staying in europe, and jumping forward less than a week in time (from the steeplechase date)... to the beginning of june, and the moers new jazz festival.

first session: solo - live at moers festival
date: 1st june 1974

restructures link

- this, really, is my first proper solo concert - although surely there must have been more than this (five numbers and a whimsical encore) on the day... but as a collective (very bold) statement, it is rather handily meal-sized and makes me tremble somewhat at the thought of trying to digest an entire banquet... well, there will be time for banquetting... meantime i am left with a smile on my face, a slight ringing in my ears and the need to try and tackle the performance rather than the material - and i mean the performance as a whole, not those alluring little details.

first thing which comes to mind: the one totally new aspect of b's playing, the extra dimension revealed here (and i'm sure it would've been earlier if i'd had the recordings to choose from) is the tremendous variation in dynamics - this the one aspect of the solo language which is not fully apparent when the soloist is accompanied, and i can now add it to the variations in tone, timbre, pitch and attack (etc) which are already part of my understanding of the solo vocabulary.

of course this just adds yet again to the range of possibilities open to the voice at any given time - and (if this were possible) hence adds also to my admiration :-D

i have to mention eric dolphy again - the aacm was very much in favour of solo performances for *any* player, we know this... but still... i hear time and again the spirit of dolphy hovering around the proceedings (the time to examine this connection in depth is perhaps almost at hand) and feel that a part of the master's motivation, however unconscious, was to equal dolphy and then surpass him... of course, there were other possible rivalries - braxton was not the only altoist to experiment in those days, hemphill and lake were already at it and mitchell and jarman were long since established... there were sound scientists in europe too... every concert for braxton must have brought with it a certain urgency to demonstrate his total mastery of his chosen primary voice... at least, that seems to be what happened and i don't suppose there was anything accidental about it. at this point, at any rate, there are no fluffs or misses at all, every utterance seems to come right from the centre.

in among the six very different pieces, i'm going to pick three briefly - the first (comp. 26b*) is the longest on the album and seems to contain within it enough variety to encompass the entire vocabularies of many lesser players... each time a new idea is revealed it is quickly folded back into the mixture, the samurai sword being hammered out and melted back down again and again; even the high-pitched squeaks which dominate the fifth minute seem to be very precisely controlled (and the audience responds noisily to every brief pause); the second (comp. 26h*) is another beautful ballad, on which (as always) b. adopts a mellifluous tone quite distinct from his "basic" alto voice, yet recognisably his - using sweetly-timed pitch-bends, he manages to tell the ballad story while still imbuing the telling with the curious intelligence which so characterises him; the soft tremolo effects in the second half of the piece are pretty astonishing, very compelling evidence of complete control; and finally the tiny encore itself, labelled comp. 26g* but little more than an altissimo squeal, protracted and extruded over the course of maybe ninety seconds, tastefully bestrewn with a smattering of subvocalisations for good measure - so that the delighted audience is left in no doubt that they have just witnessed a master at play, as well at work.

i am glad, then, of the smaller size of this performance, glad that this is the way things have worked out. when next a solo set presents itself to me, it will be longer; but by then i shall be better placed to accommodate it.

(chances are the solo sets could all be CCCC... i don't really see any point in grading them. has anybody ever heard a poor one? on the other hand, this being short and out-of-print... it's not gonna top most "recommended" lists i guess)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

october 07 braxtothon... day six (2) (part two)

[châteauvallon 1973 continued... see here)

there was an encore - or possibly only one number was broadcast from a later set, but at any rate we still have comp. 23d*, which i think of as "the ornette one", as it begins with a phrase which sounds as if it belongs on the shape of jazz to come (and indeed nearly quotes "peace") before turning its head and walking in a different direction, yet returning to that same place; wonderful unisons again on this, and (for what it's worth) this one really swings. b's solo - again, i have to say i hear parker and i hear dolphy and i hear braxton pushing through both and out the other side, into a territory he has already explored at length and in depth before anyone else got there, even found the door. like his predecessors, he plays shapes in his solo and can twist them into all sorts of weird and wonderful configurations without spelling chords or in any way creating a melody - how does he do that? it's beyond me, but look, wheeler can do it too, all angles, never anything other than free yet always turning back in on himself; one would scarcely guess this was wheeler at all (though his high smears would eventually give him away) - this wonderful piece, thoughtfully written and superbly presented, might be the highlight of many a performance; here, by contrast with what we've heard, it's more or less a party piece, just tossed off like an easy number to wind down - and yet it's so good, that "sideways" motif before the ending just marvellous (and surely self-consciously a dolphyism, could almost be from out to lunch this time). yeah, sounds like an encore to me... may those who were there cherish the memory...

and that's that. but, really, there is still time for:

dessert: comp. -2* (news..., tr. 4)
date: 7th december 1973

"-2" eh... that's not all that helpful... still, there is more info in the liners (where i often have to peek during these news bulletins): it really belongs in the 23 series at least chronologically, but for some reason got left out of the numbering... this performance is a one-off, at least in the discog: an ad-hoc quartet for a concert in nantes matching braxton and wheeler with pianist antoine duhamel, dodecaphonic composer (it sez ere) famous for his soundtracks, and french/algerian bassist françois mechali - these two, writes martinelli in the notes, "often played contemporary music together, whereas very few traces remain of their jazz and improvisational music. the collaboration of this duo with braxton nonetheless went down in history..." (actually mechali had already worked with braxton: he was one of two bassists in the 1972 creative music orch.)

the piece begins with a little three-note phrase from the leader that sounds uncannily like the opening of parker's "all the things..." (dial masters) for a second, though that's dispelled at once, the train of thought lost even as the triple-pattern recurs, the bass very soon off on a prowl, not a walking bass in the jazz sense, more a running bass, an urgent pulse creating no little tension - and the line which is then revealed is startlingly full of that tension and its various attempts at release: "arresting" is the word which sprang to mind, full of shrill attacks from the reed, the brass and the piano as the bass stabs urgently along with its own (secret) agenda - this strikes me at once as another "proto-pulse track" (like the warne marsh piece from tokyo), and the friction between the theme and the pulse generates (yet again) a phenomenal solo from mr anthony braxton... fountain of solos... duhamel gamely plucks away the whole time, refusing to be cowed into silence, but (inevitably) more in tune with mechali than with the soloist - yet b. is in playful mood here and from time to time in his solo he seems to let slip phrases, or fragments, of what could almost be pop songs. duhamel unleashes a clangorous solo of his own once braxton has finished - he seems unable to break away from the bass, though; pity, because when wheeler takes over and starts being free, mechali responds by ratcheting right up through the gears, forcing the pace and generating unexpected heat... a strange piece this, then, leaving me unable to shake that "all the things..." flashframe, one theme which is right out of the professor's lab (and a nagging pulse to go with it) versus another which seems almost semi-recognisable as a ballad... schizoid, and strange, and it's over before i could get near the bottom of it.

(i already done told you, news is CCCC stuff... no grading for the airshot recording - but let's be serious, those of you who didn't already have it will want it by now)

distractions: more dogs
write-up: hahahahahahahahahahahahhhhhh

functional stack

my own first experiment with a braxton playlist didn't go too swimmingly, but it did teach me one thing: this pulse track business (or rather proto-pulse track business) goes back further than i'd realised and is more pervasive. i had unknowingly lined up several of these early prototypes on the spin: comp. 6a* which left me impressed but a bit flummoxed in the listening session (*see comments) is exactly that, a pulse-track-versus-band precursor, holland arcing out a stabbing pulse while the rest of the quartet does something parallel - inextricably linked but still basically different. i didn't have time to waste putting the playlist into a decent order so just chucked em in... but that was followed by 23m* from the tokyo album and that in turn by comp. -2* from news, the one-off quartet with wheeler, duhamel and mechali... three of the buggers in a line... normally i would never employ such crude sequencing ;-) but then as i said in a recent comment, i try not to spend much time on lists these days.

bearing in mind that it was a multiple-stop, on/off experience anyway and therefore pretty compromised, i got quite a bit from it really - and the uptempo cookers (23b* and 6i*) sounded superb. again, further elaboration to follow in the comments. meanwhile - if anyone has a (pref. road-tested) braxton playlist they wish to share with everyone... that would be great! my initial impression was that it just was not gonna work at all but i am sure that need not be the case.

an aside

so, apart from the predictable conclusion that untrammelled loquacity wears most readers down (i'm still faintly amazed that anyone reads this blog at all... the idea that some people have read all of it is almost unbelievable), and besides the hugely intensified love and respect for the man and his work which resulted from the temporary monomania which overtook me in october (and to a lesser extent since... echoes of it)... what did i learn?

one thing i realised weeks ago was that i blew a good opportunity to make excellent progress towards one of my supposed goals, namely to achieve a better understanding of b's composition as such... at the outset, not wanting to prejudice any of the listening sessions, i stopped reading any criticism or discussion of the music i was about to hear, including liners (the one exception being news - necessary, in that instance, to sort out the chronology etc) - nothing wrong with that, but to complete the learning process i would surely have benefited from reading up on the material AFTER i had completed my own write-up... this didn't occur to me until way too late. partly, i suppose, i had limited time as it was, and needed breaks in between so as not to short-circuit my brain (which was already reacting weirdly)... at these times i would not have felt much like sitting and reading liner notes; and the whole project needed to be driven forwards (a digression here into chinese five-element theory would see me describing the qualities associated with wood... but this is as far as that digression gets) so as not to stall immediately: i was too caught up in the need to press on to be able to sit and peruse in that way.

still... it's a bit late now, too much ground to cover - so i do regard this as a missed opportunity as i say. (i have caught up a little bit since, but i'm not about to attempt anything comprehensive at this point...)

* * *

typing seemed like such a chore recently - i'm a fast typist but not a real one, usually have plenty of corrections to make afterwards so it can get pretty tedious at times... i always said there was no way i would write for a living (even being an undergrad almost gave me a nervous breakdown, by that point i couldn't be bothered to work at all most of the time so the few essays which got done had to be dragged out of me in an excruciating slow torture... of course, occasionally i would be totally inspired and the words would write themselves... this back in the days when people still wrote longhand, that used to get on my tits also after a while). now - that meant that suddenly all the various ideas i had outstanding for posts (the first of several on dolphy, one on steve lacy, one about my listening relationship with dave holland, etc etc) became nothing more than items on a mental list; and the two "saint and sinner" gigs never got written up either (they still will though). i also started writing about the woody shaw album the iron men some days ago... and never finished that either. sorry readers, you're just going to have to bear with me here... all these things shall pass; until then and in the meantime, the remainder of the braxtothon (phase two) will continue to run during this coming week. if you are one of the strange people who actually read this stuff, do drop in and say hi!

Friday, December 14, 2007

october 07 braxtothon... day six (2) (part one)

preamble: where we we? oh yes, the empty years... this 1973, which began so promisingly in tokyo, has yielded (at time of writing) nothing else to the official discography at all - apart from one more beautiful fragment in december (c/o news from the 70s once again... that really is worth buying if you don't have it already!). where are the quartets? these are the times we would love to hear about, and the concerts we would all love to hear... right? those three numbers on complete 1971, then - what happened? no more quartets.

well, of course i do have at least one...

second session: châteauvallon 1973 (radio broadcast)
date: 22nd, 25th august 1973 (see below)

for further info, please go here:

(thanks again to frédito for getting this out..!)

here we are then, a 1973 anthony braxton quartet with some unexpected names (jfjc and shaw) in addition to wheeler... this has gotta smoke, right? right. this really does kick posterior... indeed the only problem with this, from my current pov, is that the repertoire for the quartet includes all of side one of new york, fall 1974, an album i supposedly don't yet know exists, if you see what i mean... but screw that, i heard that album recently, twice on successive days in fact, i can't exactly unremember it... what i will do for now is avoid talking much about the writing and concentrate more on the performance, the way it takes shape - why is this document so fascinating? because he was already doing these 45-min suites with several different sets of materials linked by transitional passages and (presumably) brief explorations of secondary pieces as well... you know, the stuff he isn't supposed to be doing yet, but here it already is.

actually the french radio broadcast begins with a single three-minute piece from a solo concert on the 22nd - it's introduced as "ruby, my dear" but, er, if it really was that then all i can say is it strays very far from the source... in any case it's a lovely ballad(ish), full of trills and playful mastery... of course it would be nice to have more than one short piece from this performance, but one is better than none at all.

the quartet, as i say, consists mostly of one extended suite. at least three compositions are explored (later on, specifically 23c* and 23b*, but a very different one at the start; there is also a (very) fast line extension some way in, which cannot possibly be "just" a transition), and a great deal of ground is covered... the radio announcer seems suitably awed by it, anyway, and so does the audience. indeed - they always do: so why did the message not get spread?


* * *

the opening theme sounds briefly familiar, annoyingly (though it could well be, i.e. from the last time i heard this..!) - but i can't name it; it begins with b. and wheeler sketching out one of their spare-yet-tensile lines, two voices which work very well together... but not for the first (or last) time the fruit of the faithful sideman's labour is precisely this, that his leader is inspired and therefore takes off at once on a long solo, requiring full steam ahead from the engine room while leaving poor kenny to stand and absorb for several minutes. but what a magisterial solo, on sopranino sax... very early on b. finds some distinctive "falling" phrases that he likes and this discovery launches him (and jenny-clark) right outside, right away. shaw is one of a number of drummers for whom the resulting roiling, squalling tessitura would have been home from home (he fits in quite well throughout... probably doesn't quite distinguish himself as well as wilson the previous year... but we will get another chance to hear shaw, later in the decade...) - the drums push the pace harder and harder, the bass still playing figures at this stage, the reed speaking in tongues of fire - by five minutes in we are GONE (and wheeler is nowhere to be heard), finally by eight minutes the backing dies away, the reed lapses into isolated squeaks... and then just keeps going, unaccompanied, spelling out its impossible song... somehow wheeler is still ready to play after all that (i don't know how these guys do it, but i guess they must be listening intently)... finally there is a shift....

and what sounds like completely new material sees wheeler finally beginning a solo of his own... shaw now switching to vibes in order to get some real weird shit going on while the second bird gets to sing... again, this voice is high-pitched and very lithe and nimble, too quick to catch for sure; but all these peals of sound have brought the monster out of hiding, contrabass squawks and skronks now detonating beneath and behind the brass solo... by 12.15ish they are (sort of) playing together, the two horns trying a theme of sorts, but this leads to a long period of reflection, slow flux and regathering of momentum, a transition-phase while forces are regrouped: 15.45ish, squeaks and drums suggest a new approach and sure enough, the ensuing build-up sees the band at full throttle by 17mins, the sound suffering a little but everyone audible; this is a really high-octane fast line extension, everyone absolutely flat out by 18.30 when suddenly the horns drop out, the momentum is allowed to die off and at 19 mins a lovely swoop on flute immediately triggers the pause which precedes the clear statement of comp. 23c*, the agglutinator, which adds to itself each time its theme is repeated and grows in whole sections...

...surely they must be reading this one, it's just gotta be too hard otherwise, none of them put a foot wrong (although shaw sounds as if he's fudging it after a while) and this despite the ever-lengthening theme (which seems to go on a lot longer than the studio version)... finally a bass solo begins (24.45), but this is a lot hotter and more unpredictable than one of holland's and sure enough, the slapped harmonics attract the attention of the monster once more...what b. can do with this beast is nobody's business, astounding noises he can make with it... they duet for a while, a young warrior and a sea monster, and at length a crescendo of cymbals signals another entropic breakdown and another drift backwards into transition and sleep, dreams... sounds drop in and out... shaw worries the same obsessive, trudging attack... around 30.30 it grinds almost to a halt; then drums indicate the approach of yet another set of materials, and around 31mins we're off to the races with 23b*, the stop-time show-off piece which opens fall '74 so memorably... but here it is going to close the set, it is going to be played even faster than it would in the studio and it is going to last almost fifteen minutes.

- the pace of it - well, all of them love it apparently, everyone just rips into the theme and nails it. as always b. takes first solo and he peaks not once but twice, glorying in the power and drive of the hammering double-engine... a brief bass flurry sets up shaw's solo next, just a fast jazz drum solo really but he keeps up the momentum, and wheeler (as usual) begins with a lot more held back anyway, but quickly works up speed and gets so much flowing that this time one solo isn't enough, he returns for a second just when one is expecting the restatement of the theme - he had such facility, wheeler, and wide imagination... totally happy in free contexts; is he wasted, then? (it seems invidious to suggest it, since those who like his composing seem to like it *a lot*) - when the restatement does arrive, it is so ludicrously fast that at times they are all over the place, but the effect is still terrific... and it duly brings the house down.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

skewed vision

so... what did i do? exactly what i said i wouldn't, let it get to the point where it was becoming a chore, an item in bold on a to-do list... ludicrous... and as i refuse to feel any pressure with this particular project, i have simply let it drift for the time being...

i must admit that i was somewhat shocked by (negative) responses to sonny simmons' performances with tight meat; for a few days after that i departed in another direction entirely, scarcely thought about music for a while and certainly didn't do any writing. then i found that i no longer even felt like doing any writing... hmmm, interesting. well... these things do tend to be cyclical with me.

ANYWAY... fuck all that, this was all supposed to be about spreading the word, the gospel (if i can co-opt such a term at this late stage) of braxton... if i allow a sense of duty or obligation to get in the way of just enthusing about mr b's music then i have surely taken a wrong turn, somewhere along the line... recently a correspondent of mine very kindly filled in some gaps for me, four albums from the 1979-84 period which i had hoped would cast further light on (the development of) b's 20-year experiment with the "creative jazz quartet" format - luckily he also sent me some other stuff (inc. a couple of günter christmanns - wow, these are really good! i had no idea he was such a good player) because, of course, i didn't feel i could permit myself more than a sneak preview of the braxtons until their time came in the (hellish, time-and-attention-consuming greedy monster that is the) braxtothon - !

in the end i lost patience with myself... or good sense finally won out, whichever... i didn't give any of them my full and undivided attention, but i've been listening to some great anthony braxton recordings over the last couple of days! and indeed i can see the gaps filling themselves in, as i speak... the jump (last night) from 1981's unhelpfully-titled six compositions: quartet to the 1984 album of the same name (almost) was remarkable, two very different piano quartets: indeed the former (a one-off grouping? - anthony davis, mark helias and ed blackwell) is very much a free jazz unit, very adept at rendering a selection of b's pieces but quite firmly rooted in the jazz idiom by blackwell; the later album, featuring the "final prototype" line-up (lindberg on bass) is startlingly open and seems to travel in many different directions all at once, and whereas my immediate impression is that it's crispell who is doing a lot of the opening, the crucial difference must surely be hemingway (i am reluctant to assume it's the pianist who was anchoring the earlier group, when that pianist was a known polymath like davis).

the later album, then, shows braxton furiously opening up new coalfaces and getting to work on all of them simultaneously... though i imagine this process has already begun earlier (if and when the monster-thon gets to that stage, i shall hope to find out) - yet this is the very period when some devotees of the man's earlier work lost interest, and never regained it... i know this to be true, though i confess it is beyond my comprehension :-S

rattling on... hey look i'm back..!

well... sort of

no promises at to times and dates but those london gigs will get written up... and what is left of the braxtothon pieces will still run as well, when i can get round to turning my attention that way...

bye for now - keep the faith/spread the word

cent x