Wednesday, November 21, 2007

the saint and the sinner

man i can scarcely believe i am the only one who dug sonny simmons... well, i wasn't, the other one has not yet declared his interest but in any case there were apparently only two of us and no-one else knew what to make of it?


anyway... nothing to do with anthony braxton for a change... some detailed thoughts on charles gayle and sonny simmons (plus various others and with special mention of jookloo duo) will follow as soon as i can be bothered to write them up :)

this politeness thing is not necessarily going very well so far... never mind

the journey is the important bit (so they keep telling me)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

on politeness

people who live by far stricter codes than me have struggled with this one for centuries. how does one keep one's discourse honest and truthful at all times, yet not speak in such a way as to cause pain or distress to others?

while i was reading lock's forces in motion earlier this year, it could hardly escape my notice that mr b. simply will not talk much about people he doesn't like, people he's fallen out with, people he thinks can't play very well. because this extends to people who have messed him around over the years or who have less-than-scrupulous business practices, this makes for somewhat frustrating reading at times - but it didn't take me long to start thinking that his was a very sensible approach, whatever his reasons were for adopting such a policy (and it may be nothing more than being careful what one says to a journalist!).

as you can see, i nevertheless did not get round to adopting it myself - not quite ready for that, apparently - and a few months down the line here i am, cheerfully being irreverent about a recording (conference of the birds) which i know full well would be considered desert-island listening by some people... the few adverse reactions this drew have made me wonder if i could not have reined myself in a little bit. did i really have to go blundering in, stomping all over a nice clean floor? could i not have been a bit more respectful? it's all very well to cite the south park guys (as i did in my reply to arcturus); but trey parker and matt stone have more or less dedicated their lives to the idea that there is no subject unfit for comedy - this is their guiding principle, not mine, and what works for them might not necessarily be a good idea for me.

as i said in that same reply: sacred cows make me very uneasy. on the other hand - is conference a sacred cow? possibly not... but it's a cherished recording for many people - and i will try and bear that in mind in future.

thanks to omar, arcturus and artjep for occasioning these reflections

* * *

i've been busy lately... the next braxtothon entry went on and on, so i'm going to split it... but haven't had time to look into that yet. it's on the way - but not for a few days: i am off to london this afternoon to see charles gayle (in his "native habitat" this time, i.e. his american trio rather than the ad hoc grouping which recently toured the u.k.)... this will be followed on monday by a close encounter with sonny simmons. needless to say i am looking forward to witnessing these two venerable masters; but no less am i anticipating the society of the friend who will accompany me. it's not what you eat for your supper, it's the people you share it with... well, that was what epicurus reckoned anyway...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

another stage

sunday 11th it was, in fact - it's just taken me until now to post about it - that i realised the time had come, end of stage two... scarcely inappropriate since we were already well into november by this point - so that whatever this exploration becomes in time, it will no longer be the october 07 braxtothon... but in fact i never did get beyond the recording i listened to on the evening of hallowe'en: mrs cent out at a scary flick with a friend, me alone with the dogs in a darkish house... i actually did get my very own genuine unexplained noises from the kitchen... how cool is that... anyway, i also tried to cheat, knowing i had limited time, listened while doing the washing up, noticed plenty of things and enjoyed it but (as i confirmed later) missed loads compared to a real session... so what was intended to be a nice clean break at the end of the month dragged on (as i am now!)

i went back to that album next chance i got, and listened to it properly - but guess what? this time i simply didn't write it up at all, just never got round to it... so after a due period of acclimatisation (and a few days of seeing how much music is around at the moment) i found myself thinking, yeah, this is really gonna have to stop for a bit.

i am quite sure i will return to it though

apart from anything else i won't be able to deprive myself of the music for long, and i suspect that when i return (still sticking to chrono order whenever i do) i may find myself refreshed...

meantime, i might perhaps get round to discussing some of the things which keep cropping up, such as the aacm "house style" or steve lacy or that man eric dolphy...

also in the meantime... the remaining entries in stage two will still appear, one by one (the last one may even get written up at some point, who knows)

Friday, November 9, 2007

october 07 braxtothon... day six (1)

preamble: these are really the "empty years" - very little of what was going on in b's musical existence, to say nothing of his mind, got safely documented. (and let's not even get started about what's left in print.) though 1972 looks rich in the telling - the first creative music orchestra and the famous town hall concert - there is a big gap from may onwards, filled only by holland's quartet date for ecm six months later.

no gap in the braxtothon at this point though - day five-and-a-half threatens to become day five-and-three-quarters as i begin with the nyc quintet write-up still to do... but with that accomplished day six is promptly underway, and some sort of sense prevails once more.

now... what happened next?

first session: four compositions (1973)
date: 11th january 1973

restructures link

what, this was never released outside japan? why not??

mr braxton travels to the orient - for the first time? - to meet with three local musicians in interpreting four of his own compositions. does that sound promising? mmm...not necessarily. what can we expect from this? our man must have his hopes up, though: the music he is taking with him includes pieces dedicated to two major musical figures in his life - m.r. abrams and warne marsh - as well as a third who would become very important later (richard teitelbaum). b. must have known that a high standard of playing was a very realistic expectation...

... and that's what he got! indeed, the only question i have by the end is why three pieces are interpreted by a trio (minus percussion) and only one by the quartet - was there more? we need to know - meantime this recording itself needs publicity because the meeting is very successful and wonderful music results from it. just from the sonorous bass at the beginning of the first piece, the listener can immediately think "yes, this is going to work."

all four pieces are fascinating, all feel fully explored and each sees the players open the fabric of the writing right up to explore as many of its implications as possible, within the parameters set - the piece for abrams (comp. 23p*) seems to look the furthest and dig deepest in its scope, but all four (very different and distinct) numbers can be treasured here. i presume that the japanese players must have been thoroughly schooled in modern orchestral music, although the bassist seems familiar with jazz idioms too (and probably the pianist), but in any event they are fully open to the work which b. has brought them and are thus able to get right inside it.

this time i'm going to single out just one piece - the third, comp. 23m*, dedicated to marsh. unlike the two numbers which precede it, this has a clear line both in terms of its "melody" (you know, one of those hard-to-play things) and its underlying drive, provided by the bass which walks in four at a brisk, steady pulse throughout, throwing in faster bars every so often - it is more or less an early example of a pulse track, since it sets up a rhythmic pattern which holds firm against a very different, skittish rhythm played in unison by the reed and the piano: this internal tension is something to which b. will return many, many times. the other reason i single it out is because of the leader's wonderful solo, in which he allows his own language types to mix with a more traditional, balladic (though still slightly skewed) tone, presumably a reference to marsh (i have heard very little). in truth b's own language is very much the norm, but still, the extent to which he does incorporate the outside element into the texture and overall design of the solo is very impressive indeed. as the heat gets turned up, b. really cuts loose and starts hitting warp speed (very much in the manner of dolphy), yet he still seems to have one eye on an overall shape for the solo; and at its peak of intensity, he wraps up and hands over to the piano. masahiko sato, in turn, delivers a wonderful, magical solo filled with surprises and delights (and this from me, not so much of a piano fan), never anywhere but "out" yet constantly supplying fresh ideas and imbued with a playful touch (reminding me in this somewhat of the great jaki byard) - as the reed re-enters, the piano switches to a lovely, delayed "stabbing" attack briefly, well behind the pulse, leading perfectly to the restatement - in which (not for the first time) the leader allows himself a few fluffs and glosses, and in which the variations in rhythm (created by the friction of the written line against the bass pulse) come across more clearly as having the contours of a solo, not of a theme. i cannot say how much this is or isn't a fitting tribute to mr marsh... but it is wonderful.

take it for granted i could detail the other three too, especially the final piece (which begins with simmering tension and never slips back off the edge, reaching boiling point before its close) - all have so much to commend them, and all three japanese players get right to grips with the music. again, the one slight query remains over why the excellent percussionist gets only one piece... and again i ask, was there more?

(i can scarcely tell you how much i enjoyed listening to this album - unsung though it seems to be, it strikes me as a totally successful meeting of musical minds, and must surely have been hugely gratifying for the composer... i believe any fan of mr braxton's will love this, hence i can't give it any lower recommendation than... CCCC)

Monday, November 5, 2007

october 07 braxtothon... day five, interlude

the, ahem, "david holland quartet" revisited
date: 30th november 1972

restructures link

conference of the birds is not speaking to me. it seems convinced that if gets played at all (which isn't looking likely) it won't get any sort of fair hearing. apparently i've just got this unshakeable picture in my head now of dave holland as the ultimate sideman, a guy incapable of leading a really hot date - what misha mengelberg says of him in the jazz times blindfold test (various things actually, but specifically that he should be forced to play only as a sideman, banned from leading) seems emblazoned over my image of him. and this for a guy that i was defending less than a year ago; hell, last december i was still doing more than defend him, i was actively looking forward to the 60th birthday gig the bbc were going to broadcast and probably using my left-over interest in dhq to defend chris potter's solo work - hard to imagine my wanting to listen to any chris potter now... or much more than a few mins of dhq for that matter, ALL those tunes are the same fergodsake. and i have a very strong suspicion that yes, even conference is overrated... i always did think that most of the themes sounded a bit twee, just agreed to cough and look the other way for a minute because the solos were so damn hot - now i'm at this stage, and at that stage with mr holland - what are the chances i shall be wearing an ironic grin before the music has even begun?

so when i decide that i will listen to some of it after all, relaxing in a hot bath instead of freezing my arse off at the keyboard, the disc simply refuses to play, spins and misses and makes nasty noises with the laser but will not produce music... perhaps by the time i got the backup out, the grin was wiped off a bit (but probably not). anyway, four tracks is all i could fit in on this occasion - and my attempts to finish off on day five-and-a-half are thwarted again - this time it has a complete snit and won't play on anything within reach *.

and how was it? well... yes, it does sound rather good doesn't it (though a total newcomer would (now) think immediately that it's very dated)... everyone is on top form and the production is of course very clear. yes, and this is indeed the only album on which you can hear mr braxton with mr sam rivers... sorry, can we have a drum roll and take that again - mr sam rivers i tell you... and for that reason, above all, this is generally regarded as a classic. in fact for those of us in the free camp it has even more significance - there are a couple of other chances to hear the two reed masters together (and one of them doesn't involve holland's writing), but because of what happened later on, this album is not so much a quartet recording as a sort of two-headed trio... the bassist and drummer went on to record some great music with braxton, we know that, but it's easy to forget sometimes that they made yet more great music with rivers - indeed, if we're talking fire, they probably peaked with rivers rather than with braxton. rivers' tenor blows a bit hotter here than b's alto, maybe - but not by much, and respected reviews of this album which characterise b's playing as cool and cerebral are (as usual) evidence of laziness, of being halfway through penning the review before even playing the music... the simple truth here is that all the sax solos are really good, and besides the main axes there are flutes on display (both players, quite prettily on title track) and low clarinets (bass for mr sam, c-bass for mr anthony of course), though these latter are only allowed out during the fun-filled "q&a" (parts of which have even been used as link music on bbc2 over the years) and y'know, really, you don't need me to tell you that the playing is extremely good all round. but... is it that interesting? mmmmprobably not. the sound is a bit dated, the themes aren't that strong really - it always seems to me as if b. was just being kind by adding "four winds" to the quartet book (though there's at least one hot hot hot live version with lewis... then again that incarnation of the band could've played "how much is that doggy in the window" and still used it as a launchpad for the moon and beyond) - finally, the one most consipicuous by his absence is the leader, who is his usual prodigiously-gifted self, all over the bass without ever sounded hurried or lost for ideas... yet doesn't really stretch his own limits at all and doesn't even seek the spotlight much, content to let his two genius guests rip the joint apart.

well, there we are... now it really isn't talking to me, i'll be lucky if i can ever play it again now... it is true that i could write a much more generous statement about it, only talking up its many good points and making it sound like the classic most critics say it is... but this is what i have to say about it at the moment. everyone already owns it anyway, cos it's one of those albums, so it's not as if my opinion will ever make any difference :)

* i wasn't really planning to listen to "see-saw" anyway on this occasion. have heard it so many times i can practically play it in my head, even the solos. it is a wicked closer and probably the strongest track, but that's only fitting because it's also the one which is most clearly influenced by b... you will all tell me if you think i'm being unfair about this, right?

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)

Friday, November 2, 2007

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

2. pasta: comp. 6n*/comp. 6(o)*/all the things you are (album link in previous post)

this is where the shit really hits the fan, because phillip wilson (in just for the trio) just cooks and cooks and the mix ends up highly volatile as a result. it's one 33-minute suite, so although the index separating the standard from the two originals is obvious enough, it wouldn't have been too difficult to separate the two originals either (never mind). this is actually my first standard, i think - for this journey - and i shan't be going out of my way to hear lots of them (before too many people ask), but it seems highly appropriate that this one should be a number strongly associated with charlie parker (further thoughts on parker are like those on dolphy or lacy - gonna have to wait).

6n begins with a lovely bass figure, then has me literally gasping with pleasure within less than a minute... and that sort of sets the tone for the whole thing, because even though this is a high-energy piece (and we are flying for a while in there), the word delicacy springs frequently to mind, and subtlety... finesse a third... wilson in particular is able to achieve a direct, clean, powerful strike with the most fractional effort - this man was a wonder, it is important to remember that it's just not steve mccall we lost along the way - and the whole band always gives the impression of having more held in reserve, even when it is at rocket-tempo. we know holland can go all day. wilson, too - well, he's got more to his game than just that, all manner of angles to this guy's playing, but (like mr braxton himself) wilson is able to hit a high gear and just stay there and stay there, and not everyone can do that.

much of the music in the trio set is fast, then - the standard is not even kicked off until the engine is running at about 5000 rpm, and the two "6"s, well, they are very different in nature, both dedicated to creative musicians; in fact 6(o) - for frederic rzewski - is another ballad, a haunting piece in some ways reminiscent of the earlier duet, but 6n (for jerome cooper), which itself takes time to build, is never less than lively and contains within itself, like a hidden bomb, a fast line extension where we get first look at the triple-racer this band could have been (any other perfs?). the first five mins see wilson on brushes, the three men taking their time getting the fire going, b. unleashing some wonderful little fast flutters around 2.15 and then "chops" and squeaks a little further in; just before the 5.00 mark, the tantalising theme, like a sideways glance, begins to appear and wilson switches to sticks. now the momentum builds quickly, and by 7 mins all three are flying, so that as b. begins his solo we are pretty much hearing the band flat out (though still not stretched). two minutes later they are all still at it - the alto solo has long since gone off the scale.

things wind down gradually after that, everyone gradually glancing ahead to the switch of materials which is approaching; 6(o) is a welcome change of pace, a sparse landscape described (mainly) by holland with enough rich detail to support the storytelling... but i confess this story was rather lost on me. in any case things feel more natural at high tempo, somehow, and it's not long (the slower second piece half the length of the first) before wilson is building another fire, stick by stick at first, putting all the crucial elements into place before allowing the leader to begin applying the flames. b's first ear-catching entries on the standard are little kisses, but fierce ones, playful but with a fricative quality which might mark the skin: then a gorgeous pitch bend, conjured as if from nowhere, leads into a sudden full flow containing a lovely master-tag; with the pistons pumping hard now the theme can be released, just a fragment at first then a clear (partial) statement at 3.25 - it vanishes again to be revealed even more clearly at 3.35 when the bass actually fills in the harmony; but this is very brief, and for the two next minutes b. rockets along without needing to refer to the theme at all. he is outdoing dolphy, who in turn had needed to outdo bird... and for minutes on end he simply tears the place up. occasional (5.36, 7.33) tiny mouthfuls from the source are all that is required to provide enough inspiration for the torrent of sound and thought. a long, muscular solo from holland follows before a fully-developed restatement and wind-down. i haven't always been able to give the music my full attention, but i have really enjoyed this part of the concert.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

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

town hall, kolding, denmark

the whole experience of (what in my head was hyped up to be) stage two, day one - or day four, that is, tues 16th - was pretty dispiriting. the weather was absolutely horrible, i found it impossible to keep warm, and the music didn't really come together for me: the write-up, too, was quick and painless but not at all satisfying. this was not (any of it) what i'd had in mind. i continued to feel cold throughout the evening and this was when the pathogen got inside, though held at arm's length at this stage by my immune system - thursday, that is, day five, i was determined to get back into a positive cycle, and did so - yet the cost was that i let the same pathogen in and got an explosion of exterior symptoms as reward. fun weekend that was ;-)

well, these things are always instructive: that which does not kill me, etc...

the day five listening session was the complete (new york) town hall concert of 22nd may 1972: that is, duo, trio and "quintet", the latter not only the climax of the show but a complete multi-act play for musicians and voice - though whether it really qualifies as a quintet in any meaningful sense, never mind a jazz quintet, is kinda debatable... but more on that later...

in any case, though the session itself went fine, the write-up got derailed right away. what i'd forgotten about this house in winter is that cold draught, right under the bloody computer setup... the chair is not exactly up to the job either (another reason for telling myself 30 mins, i.e. less time physically in front of the pc) and by now i knew i was in a fight to keep the symptoms at bay - i sat there for 30 mins without finishing typing up the duo, and that was not only as much as i could take, it was abundantly clear that there was no point in continuing. so i stopped. instead i had a nice hot bath and listened to conference of the birds. (more on that... some other time)

the way things worked out, i went to work the next day, determined that it was what i needed, and got worse (work is where i got the actual western-recognisable pathogen in the first place, inevitably)... the music i listened to when i got home ended up being completely different, much of it commercial rock music in fact but still enjoyable and instructive (now - though all of a sudden i find myself more impatient then ever with anything in verse-chorus form, and skip forwards frequently)

next day i stayed home but didn't get much time to myself... when i did, listened to the 2001 4cd box as reported below... continued to get worse until i thought i was in danger of letting it right in... made one last effort to keep it on the outside...

next day was the turning point, the start of the recovery, but i got no time to myself at all or when i did, i was reading (never mind what, that really is another story). i did put on a monk cd with a friend of mine over, but it turned out to be a poor choice for the occasion and my only impression with my "new ears" is that the music generally sounded hurried (quartet with johnny griffin - this particular part of the concert being the portion released as misterioso on riverside), griffin determined to show that at least one gunslinger wasn't scared of no goddamn coltrane, monk himself seemingly in the most maddeningly whimsical of moods, apparently content to do no more in his solos than break the rhythm up into thousands of pieces and spell that out in the briefest of ways... the verbal description being so much more long-winded than the actual performance that indeed i am only now continuing it in order to remind everybody of how useless it is, ultimately, to write about music (art) at all

but it is interesting that one of my favourite "mainstream" drummers, roy haynes, played all those numbers without my registering him at all, on this occasion... just blended right into the background for me

in the evening i went for a walk through the mp3 player, which is how i'd got to commercial rock a couple of days before - not much jazz on there, it's mainly stuff for the car in theory, but there are some weird old playlists from the days when i only used my wife's laptop for music files... in the end i went looking for dolphy via joe henderson... and there will be more to say about that some time, too.

but that brings me up to day five-and-a-half.... the way it turns out - normally i would be at work but i am still recovering, haven't been that ill for several years... and now i finally get the time to write about the damn music, and it's been about 90 hrs since i heard it.

that's why this is day five-and-a-half... cos now i'm gonna listen to it again in an effort to get the impressions under better control.

* * *

town hall concert - duo, trio, quintet
date: 22nd may 1972

duo link

album link

restructures lists the main body of the concert first, then the duet (only available on news from the 70s) immediately after, but it's clearly the other way round, i.e. the duet opens the performance. presumably there was a short interval before the climactic experiment (the "quintet") but the trio must have followed on straight away from the duo. so:

1. antipasto: comp -1* (news, tr. 3)

this is a demanding piece - demanding of the audience, that is, since the two players are having a whale of a time: braxton is very much in charge for the vast majority of it, and it has a clear(ish) written structure including several haunting, starkly beautiful melodies - but for minutes on end while they get going it's right into free improv territory, and the piece must seem hugely long for those who were able to follow it: all of this music is played, nothing is being repeated at all, even when the themes are being worked there is never any stasis or flat repetition. it's easy enough to see how it was docked from the album release - but that's been to the listener's loss.

holland begins with a little (cello) twang as if on a koto, braxton bell-clear on clarinet; they are both right up for it, and within seconds they've started off something really free and have both just got right into it, gone way out there but together all the way. there are paths sideways through universes say the esoteric masters... and by stepping sideways they are gone, but somehow they are able to tell us where they're going... they can even encourage us to keep up.

braxton hits a couple of shrieks which leave my mouth open in a huge {(o)}

tags get dropped in - sort of tagettes rather than the master-tag but it's enough, with one flick, to say "yes, it's me"

he doesn't worry about the gasped inbreaths (still can't circular-breathe) - he makes of them a syllable, a phoneme, one of many (many!!) which by now he has at his disposal, seemingly able to reach for any of them at any time - the vocabulary is now so advanced that each individual approach carries with it dozens of sounds and options.

when the piece takes its first real turn, and the composition form begins to reveal itself, the music settles into something sedate and simple and beautiful. it is true that "blanded" ears might hear the melodies as too vaguely uneasy or menacing to be restful, but this is indeed hypnotic, precisely... of course even now b. cannot resist throwing in minute little distortions or buzzed tones which seem (by now, on these occasions) to occupy something like only the first hundredth of an attack, often subsiding to a smooth tone with no apparent transition.

the piece itself is interesting enough, but the performance is not perhaps as rivetting overall as some other duets we might mention

those are some thoughts and impressions - and that's enough :)