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
- 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)