Wednesday, December 31, 2008

looking back and beyond

annus mirabilis, annus horribilis - this has been both and will always be remembered with (very) mixed emotions: a year which saw my work here recognised and respected by the subject who inspired it, yet which also saw me increasingly alienated from sections of the online musical community/-ies... which saw me evolve my work and then fail to carry on with it, beyond a certain point (for the time being) - a year, above all, which began with unexpected news and in many ways culminated with the birth of our daughter, yet which right at the end saw us put to sleep our beloved first dog. there has been more (di)stress crammed into this one year than i thought possible and i'm very glad to see the back of it.

so i want to look forward and beyond really, rather than back (though there has been plenty of that over the last 24 traumatic hours, and i'm sure there's more soul-searching in the post... as if there is anything else, with me around)... the blog will continue, albeit it might well take a while to get going again in the new year - next post will be my continued statement of intent explaining a bit more about what form i expect the blog to take, and where i am still going with the braxtothon, such as it is(n't). meanwhile i have had precious little time to listen to anything meaningful lately, but did fill my ears with the 1978 solo köln concert within the last few days - or the first part of it; the first four pieces contain so much music in themselves that it felt like an entire concert's worth of material just there. once again, i know there is work for me to do concerning this man's music and i'll be heeding the call in the year(s) to come.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


sorry, i use the net so little these days that there was no point in keeping my r-share account going, so... all links (i think!) to music files on here are currently dead. (i will try and re-up graz '76 and the pisa improv trio at least, early next year.)

believe it or not, that's about it for now... there is another post on the way, a renewed statement of intent for the future - lately i have been unable to direct my energies in this direction at all, and all the writing (and much of the listening) has dried up... but it's not going to dry up permanently. more to follow on this. c x

this post was brought to you with the assistance of the braxton quartet at sweet basil, feb 1985 at folly for to see what

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

repeat encounters

(some thoughts regarding "encounter" by john carter)

four versions of this piece that i know of at this point:

1. john carter/bobby bradford, released on self determination music. studio, 1970 (date?)
carter - sax; bradford - cornet; tom williamson and henry franklin - bass (franklin uncredited*1); bruz freeman - drums
- this is surely the earliest rendition of the piece..? i didn't know it existed until very recently*1. in any case there is then a large gap before a much later version of the band revived the tune -

2. bobby bradford-john carter quintet, released on comin' on. live, 29th may 1988.
bradford - cornet; carter - clarinet; don preston - synth; richard davis - bass; andrew cyrille - drums
- a far "spacier" version, which i took to be the "original" when i first heard it (summer '07). cyrille liked the piece so much that he later worked it into the book for his own band -

3. andrew cyrille quintet, at leverkusener jazztage*2. live, 23rd october 1992.
cyrille - drums; ted daniel - trumpet; oliver lake - alto sax; adegoke steve colson - piano; reggie workman - bass
- and he dedicated to carter, who had died earlier in the year. workman, in turn, liked it so much he incorporated it into his band's book, next time he got the chance to lead his own record date -

4. reggie workman, released on summit conference. studio, 6th december 1993.
workman - bass; sam rivers - tenor sax; julian priester - trombone; andrew hill - piano; pheeroan aklaff - drums
- and indeed he used it to kick off the album, a bold statement of intent (but with an all-star band to back it up!).

* * *

- to me it says much about the appeal of this terrific piece that workman would voluntarily decide to play it: the bassist's role here is constantly thankless and demanding, offering the twin pitfalls of repetitive tedium and maddening frustration, since one is almost bound to hit a wrong note sooner or later - ! but how could one not want to let rivers and hill loose on this? and besides, workman had an idea or two of his own... read on.

when i first tried to write this piece (tues 25th) i listened to all four versions in chronological order, twice. but time ran out and besides, i then needed to sit with it for a few days before the connection i needed surfaced: i suspect carter's inspiration in the first place may have come from "status seeking" by mal waldron. it's an obvious precedent for carter to have heard, since the studio version of it (on waldron's the quest) features that man eric dolphy (elbowing his way in to take the first solo, no less). in any case, both pieces are basically up-tempo, high-tension cookers with plenty of potential for intelligent excitement. but the harmonic unease of the earlier piece, summed up neatly in the long initial note and the staccato two-note descending tag which follows, is "reversed" in carter's piece, turned instead into an asymmetrical ascending motif for the bass: three notes then extended to four, same three notes then five, a bar of brisk 7/8 preceding a second bar of doubled 4/4. in carter's creation, this bass figure will begin and end the piece, creating an illusion of perpetual motion which the listener can carry on long after the fade.

the lopsided effect of the (count seven, count eight) bass figure is then reflected and extended in the deceptively simple theme, which opens with four unison notes, a motif which on repetition reveals a concluding (non-unison) note. this five-note phrase is not itself the whole of the nervy theme, but i want to pause there anyway: some time ago*2 i was satisfied that the film close encounters of the third kind was being referenced, which made sense to me at the time (believing as i did that the '88 live version was the first). and of course that would seem to make perfect sense, given carter's title for his piece - and does not the "a,e,i,o,u" sing-song effect of the five-note motif recall the sonic key from the film..? (not that i've seen it myself... never mind how i know that detail!) but if the piece dates back to 1970, it can hardly be quoting a movie from the tail end of the decade, now can it. could perhaps the influence run the other way? mmmmmaybe: not at all inconceivable that a younger spielberg could have been at the sort of trendy west-coast parties where such a hip disc as self determination music might have been laid down... but whether the tune would have made enough of an impression on him... well, who knows. there may be another explanation entirely, or it may just be one of those cosmic coincidences.

* * *

the first version, then, closes an excellent (ridiculously overlooked) album in such a way as to leave the bassline simmering way on a loop in the mind. williamson and franklin*1 struggle at times with the exigencies of the bass part, but get the chance later on to break things up a bit, play off each other in an unfettered and high-spirited duel. otherwise, the thought which chiefly emerged from this hearing was that in gaining one of its great clarinetists, free jazz lost a very fine sax player... and with the close of the album, a powerful musical conception slipped away into obscurity, not to be resurrected (?) until a generation had passed.

the later bradford-carter band, captured in 1988, transforms the piece into something explicitly way out, not just outward bound: carter of course is on clarinet exclusively (as by now he had been for some years), and his ethereal whoops and whirls are well supported by the always-underrated preston, who pushes the sound palette further and further into the cosmos. so there's less need for sheer speed this time, and it is taken rather less frantically than the 1970 version. this version, of the four, is really the only one which tackles the implications of the fast bass underpinning the unhurried, swaying melody, envisaging the piece as a journey with stasis at its centre, not just an endless extended line. unfortunately, it achieves this at the unmistakable cost of momentum - this begins when carter's lengthy solo is followed by bradford's more straightforward set of jazz lines, then continues as cyrille drops out behind the synth and bass: freed from the constraints of the written figure, davis provides sensitive and knotty backup for preston at first, but the latter unleashes a set of extended scales and arpeggios (which collectively sum up the expanded harmonic backdrop we're experiencing, but which seem rather predictable compared to the imaginative playing in the group sections); and when davis continues alone, what he comes up with is little more than a series of rambling cadenzas adorning the inevitable tonal centre. well executed though it is (of course!), and appropriate though it may be to keep returning to a static centre in the midst of such a far-out excursion, the (to me) inescapable fact is that a jazz bass solo is not really what we needed here. of course, it's not too long before davis rekindles the fire and we're off again, back out among the distant starfields. *3

cyrille's own version comes in the midst of an eyebrow-raisingly straight-ahead jazz quintet gig - well, not quite straight ahead, maybe, but some of the material is far closer to standard trumpet-sax-piano five-piece fare than one might expect on hearing the names cyrille or lake. still, there is plenty of fire when it's needed, and the band provides it on this number. colson really takes over the "far-out" duties here, using fistfuls of notes in the bottom end to smash the harmonic possibilities way open. it's fitting that cyrille chose this piece to pay tribute to his former leader, recently deceased...

... and even more fitting that workman seized the idea and ran with it! hill, given complete harmonic license from the off, must have had fun with this number and rivers really tears it u. but workman manages somehow to make it the leader's piece after all... this is the only version of the tune featuring a trombone, and priester combines wonderfully with workman himself at times, developing an intriguing, many-voiced effect unique to this rendition. workman departs from the written line in ways which are usually brief and always to the point, his staggered descending run before a final pickup and resumption, heading towards the fade, a perfect encapsulation of this. *4

* * *

in truth, for such a stormy piece, all four versions show the wild elements pretty well under control. despite my earlier ravings*2, none of these renditions represents full-on free jazz chaos. and with the obvious exception of the electrified second version, all are reasonably interchangeable. perhaps the ultimate rendition has yet to be conceived or captured; or perhaps workman, stripping the piece down to its essentials and ignoring all other implications beyond the fast extended line, has done all that really needed to be done with it... i enjoy all four versions, anyway, and if anyone knows of any others, do please give me a shout!

* see second comment

Friday, November 14, 2008

eugene revisited(ish)... and one or two other things

(semi-trivial catchup post that somehow got stuck in my shao yang for about a fortnight... well over a week, anyway*)

1. check this out... by way of drawing attention to king kennytone's heads-up (recent comment on here) - i urge any readers who haven't already done so to download the superb podcast assembled by the rare music curator... rather than gush on and on, i just want to repeat that once: download it!! and then listen to it... the lo-fi honesty of the medium may just do your souls as much good as the music itself - and that's a lot of goodness..! unreleased and rare gems like you might not believe. i have no idea (yet?) who is behind that door but i'm grateful to him anyway :)) and i think you will be too.

2. eugene... this one is out-of-date now, it was another of those tiny unfinished ideas in a way, but here is what's left of it: in playing that album again recently(ish), i made an effort to listen from the start for a change - previous hearings had, in all probability, seen me patch in properly round about track three; the first thing to hit me on this occasion (as regards comp 112) was ellington, about two seconds in - and then almost immediately afterwards mingus (it's the extra muscle)... so that within seconds AGAIN i was back at dolphy. the guy was just inescapable - not just for braxton, but surely for anyone who wanted to wrestle with both horns and charts, coming up in the late sixties... anyone, that is, with an open mind..? tempting to add that - this here song might offend you some as the man once said...

... in any case i'm gonna be returning to eugene at some point(s) in the future, not necessarily in the braxtothon (the original plan said nothing about getting as far as 1989 -! and will there even be an internet by the time i get there anyway, i ask myself...) - and the "style piece" dealing with dolphy in depth is yet another of the things i never finished and really, really want to get out of my system in the nearish future..!

3. just in case anyone was wondering why i adopted upper case for my contribution to d:o's recent gala bash: you'd have to ask them, 'cos i didn't...

... anyway, the month of posts was very much in the spirit of celebrating the living and seems to have gone down well, will hopefully have inspired a bit of interest... and that's the main thing, one of the two reasons i keep this flame lit... spread the word...

* see comments

Thursday, November 13, 2008

cosmic pulses

time passes... days merge...

some time ago now i downloaded (*) the files from the bbc's stockhausen day broadcast - yes, now that he's safely dead and not about to annoy anyone, the powers that be have conferred upon herr s. the status of "proper composer" and set aside time for his work at the proms this year (astonishing but true). anyway - the files sat here on the desktop for weeks without my having the time to play with them, never mind actually give the music my attention... and even when i'd burned them to disc, i still didn't find any time to play them... but yesterday i finally began rectifying that, and listened to the first disc.

the second piece was a uk premiere: a performance of "cosmic pulses", itself apparently the 13th hour (actually 32 mins in this case) of the composer's klang cycle. this part of the cycle is for solo electronics (again, at the proms... who would have thought it?)... and it made for the most amazing listening experience. queasy waves of sound slide over each other, melt into each other, giving the feeling of being in a storm at sea, perhaps - but a sea on some far-flung planet, surely not this one! the music, which (of course) remains resolutely non-diatonic at all times, obliterates any notion of conventional harmony or melody, while dropping the listener bodily into its alien soundscape, offering no recognisable signposts. i found this to be one of the most exciting musical experiences i've had during the course of the last year or so.

it's not mentioned in the text document which accompanies the download, but the soloist for this piece was *not* a member of the bbc s.o. - rather, the interpreter was kathinka pasveer, one of the composer's two close companions/students in his later years: hence, we can be sure that this was a faithful rendition of the composer's score. in any event, the slightly breathless radio link which follows the piece gives us a sense of what it must have been like to sit in that auditorium in near darkness, immersed in that boiling, turbulent soundworld in the company of (it's tempting to think!) nervous and inexperienced classical music fans - obviously, the audience for these performances will have been far more open-minded than your average british formal-dress-music snob, but still, the thrill and visceral shock of being physically present at the time, under such conditions - and this piece was being played in the u.k. for the first time, of course. after all this time hearing my main man continually namecheck this guy, i finally dip a toe in - the reward is immediate. i've known for several years that i would end up exploring stockhausen's music, yet have never felt any hurry to dive in - partly this is my usual reluctance to jump into a bottomless pit of expended time and energy - and guess what, there's still no hurry, believe it or not the music of anthony braxton is enough of an obsession to be going on with..! but at least now i have sampled just a sip from the waters of that great source, the fountain which was my teacher's teacher.

* * *

and there i am - back to gushing again ;-) what can you do.

more stuff is in the pipeline... sorry for the delay; everything is very intense for me at the moment, and filled with challenges of all kinds, within a life of everyday detail - nowhere can i get much respite, abrasive surfaces abound wherever i turn... some times of accelerated learning hurt more than others: this one is quite painful. still.. we continue... believe it or not i think i'm just about ready to get that fucking dortmund monkey off my back! ...and wrap up this current braxtothon phase in short(ish) order. the good thing about *pain*, it always brings about a new perspective - if i just resign myself to working with it.

* see comments

Friday, October 31, 2008

signal failure

another october comes and goes... this one in a bit of a blur, from my perspective... so, halloween again, but no scary doings this year, and any unwanted noises in the night will herald something decidedly natural... though not so easy to get through at times, for all that - and besides, babies (with their inability to focus their eyes = openness to seeing things you and i can't) can have their eerie moments for sure.*

anyway... back to the braxtothon and how the wheels fell off (again) - this time last year, precisely one year ago tonight that is, braxtothon phase two came to an end - though i did not formally decide that until later - with a cheap attempt at skimming over a "major album", fall 1974, and this year..? in the end it was indeed the next "major" peak which refused to be conquered, i.e. dortmund, this time not because i couldn't get enough impressions down but ... well, for reasons i've explained before. but the thing is, disgraceful as it might seem, the journey never did progress beyond that point. apparently the difficulty of working up enthusiasm for something which by now had the flavour above all of anticlimax... too much for me at a time when all sorts of other things were going on. and then, etc etc, and strangely it hasn't been top of my to-do list any more.

so i'll have to return as soon as i am able, and whip out a streamlined version of the dortmund examination if i can - which i can, if i concentrate chiefly on comps. 40f and 6c... which is not necessarily to say they are the performance highlights for me, maybe they are maybe they aren't ;-)

then this whole ridiculous long-running montreux/berlin anachronism can be put to rest also, i hope... and that will have to make do for a sort of phase four, cos there are some obvious conclusions to be drawn at that point, regarding the rhythm section - and the quartet in general... the mitchell duets are another matter again and will now kick off phase five, assuming i get that far..! but in any event that's as far as the schedule goes, for the time being... however long it takes, people, the real work is yet to be done...

* see comments

Thursday, October 23, 2008

how anthony braxton saved my sanity (again)

i did promise this wasn't going to become "baby blog" - and i meant it! - so i'll keep all the details to a bare minimum, but these early weeks of parenthood are not exactly all rainbows and sunshine... last week, indeed, i was pretty much only kept going by the fact that someone was able to get the girls out of the house for a bit, three afternoons running, leaving me here to recuperate as best i could... the first such occasion allowed me to write last week's post, but in each case the first thing i did was get some music on, and with all my needs brought very sharply into focus at the time, this had to be music which would do all that i required of it, not let me down in any way or leave me wishing i'd chosen more carefully. no questions asked, straight to ghost trance music or diamond curtain wall... nothing held back by the musicians, true collective spirit fully realised in each recording, so that the listening ear can simply drink in the goodness... naturally there will be some out there who read this as pretentious or self-deluded (or both), but i'm merely telling it the way it was: without the atmosphere of healing and recovery the music helped me to create, who knows what state i might have ended up in. as it was, i was able to greet the returning company with a refreshed mind and body each time. (the dogs benefited from this just as much as i did - thursday 16th, with this year's dcw moscow and tivoli sets on downstairs, i came and went but the hounds just lay there flat out.)

since i was using the sound for its nourishing qualities rather than as aural edification as such, i didn't emerge with very much to say about the music; one thing which did occur to me at some point is that the ghost trance themes (translocation tickets, as i've called them before) might be considered as having the character of guides, each performance being a journey of course (i am hardly the first to conceive of b's music in these terms); and since each gtm journey will tend to take in some very particular, unpredictable events or experiences, the continuing returns to the theme (which are a another common gtm hallmark) began to sound to me like a narrator or tour guide, accompanying the explorer. to extend that idea a bit, the theme itself would spell out the name of the guide, and the guides themselves might be considered as the personified geniuses of the territories they govern... but it's just a fleeting impression, one of many, and as stuart broomer reminds me (in the liners to the piano box): "things rarely have singular meanings and sometimes the meanings we attach to them are of little long-term significance at all".

* * *

speaking of the piano music, i have not yet found the time/space to do more than peruse the liners - a couple of attempts to listen have ended in failure, simply because the solo piano music really does not seem to work at all as background music, must have all my attention or can't be played at all... and since i have not currently the luxury of so much free time, it'll have to wait. (it's not going anywhere...)

on the other hand, little c quite happily sat through her first (portion of a) braxton playlist, this one to be precise, starting at track two for reasons i can't quite be bothered to explain now, and truncated halfway through track seven... in theory these are "difficult" sounds to like and appreciate, difficult even for most adults to hear, but of course to a newborn baby it's all just so much incomprehensible sensory input: standards have not yet been established. whatever else i can do for this poor creature, bringing her up in interesting times as we are, i hope to provide her with a wider range of "acceptable" sounds than middle-class britain seems to think is necessary. whether this helps her or not... i expect eventually i'll find out. meanwhile, she broke her gtm duck a day or two later with the dvd performance of comp. 358, at the iridium... even mrs c. wandered sleepily downstairs to catch the end of this one :)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

vocal improv / the abyss

... one week, one sleep-deprived and emotionally mangled week later...

our baby daughter, when more or less contented, makes a wonderful assortment of sounds to herself. some of these are purely conversational or happy, others hint at tiny brewing storms - still, it came as a bit of a jolt to realise that (get this) one of my instant favourite variants in her core vocab - a series of little descending flutters - was identified at once by mrs c. instinctively as a sign of impending colic...

... and there's the abyss right there, the real one within, because the experience of confronting a helpless baby, screaming in apparent anguish when you've taken pains to see that it's lacking nothing it most needs, hurtles you into whichever is your own darkest emotion, conjures up your particular self-destructive demon with instant and terrifying effect. factor in the state described in the first sentence of this post, and the darkness outside which mirrors the darkness within (so that the crying of one infant becomes loud enough to risk shattering your sanity, is literally very nearly intolerable, as nature intended of course), and solitude (your life partner temporarily wiped out with exhaustion) - this is the stuff they don't generally try to warn you about, and with good reason, not that anyone would heed it anyway. yes, it's worth it but that's just as well. if we had known what it entailed we would... well, no need to indulge myself by even thinking about that. this is where we are.

don't worry, this is not about to turn into "baby blog" - except insofar as it's always been that! - but i have no trouble seeing the relevance of posting it here, even if this were not my most important channel of honest expression (as it is): my appreciation of b's solo playing, above all, has greatly enhanced my ability to enjoy the sounds of many other voices and as for the pain stuff, what the hell have i been banging on about all this time if not that? (my stalker was right enough about a thing or two, as they always are i suppose.) the necessity of tonal distortion in true utterance... life is pain and that pain must be felt - life also remains beautiful and worthwhile. and not for nothing does the confrontation with the abyss, outlined in the para above, tear at the foundations of sanity: what you are seeing is your shit, thrown back at you in fast-forward intensity, the child having absorbed all your fucked-up emotions and socially-implanted damage for nine months - cushioned in utero, it's not possible to express this; once in the dear old vale of tears, it emerges in the form of trapped wind precisely, the english description far more straightforwardly close to the chinese understanding here than would ever be suspected*. and besides, where else do i turn for solace when i eventually get a few precious moments to myself but to the music of anthony braxton? just to remind everyone again of the guiding purpose of this site ;-)

- and this was brought to you by: quintet (london) 2004; beyond quantum; and comp. 277 (ded. harry partch, here for quintet with two reed players)... and as always i find so much of my life reflected in this astonishing music that i can only marvel at how inevitable it was that i would end up immersing myself in it. (the trio with parker and graves speaks volumes to me today, under these intensified conditions sounding indeed far more than the sum of its parts... despite parker's running in circles.) the baby even caught the end of the last one... can only do her good :) as for the london quintet, i am starting to realise what a touchstone that is for me. but this is all the time i have at present, back i go...

* wind - wood - growth - movement - anger - liver etc.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"we interrupt this broadcast..."

... to bring you a brief announcement: on this day at 17.47 local time, mrs c. gave birth to our first child, a daughter (a development which some of you knew about, and which i hinted at in my post of april 22nd). this being a very joyous and meaningful occasion for me, i wished to announce it here!


now, as regards this project (also very important to me, and itself one year old now!), one lesson i am hoping to learn from parenthood is the true value of my time, so that i will make better use of (all of) it, going forwards...

... in the meantime, on what may be one of the last restful nights i have for the foreseeable, i confess without a blush (well... much) that braxtothon phase three never even quite got finished - yet; but you know what they say about life and plans... and that goes for (almost) everything...! so, anyway, when i can squeeze it in, phase three will wrap itself up; the other posts will continue too... just don't expect two posts a week or anything like that, for a while! but please rest assured: this is to be continued...

by the way, the braxton piano box set is indeed en route - fuck the free download in this case, i wanted the real thing* (and i'm sure i always knew it)

* comments...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

a bit of space and clarity

two things i want to share with you:

1. piano music... how many times have i said (sometimes by way of excuse) that piano music is not my thing? well... sometimes it is, sure enough, but it's true that the instrument itself rarely seems to speak directly to me in the way, say, saxophones or clarinets or trombones do. naturally, when the piano music box set came out, i was tempted even though i didn't expect to be able to enjoy the music just yet. but i couldn't justify the purchase to myself at the time, and that was that.

then some download links turned up... you know how these things go, there are places online where such things are shared among closed circles, i don't frequent such places myself but one or two of my correspondents sometimes pass on things they know will be of interest... even then, it took me a while to pull the files and even longer to listen to any of them. but last night, out of the blue i found myself listening to comp. 5 and being enthralled by it, pulled completely into its world...

... and i went right to the composition notes, which were still sitting almost untouched until the next braxtothon phase shift (imminent!); and i'm not going to get pulled into details on any of this here and now, though i did smile at the discovery that the piece was constructed in three parts (in 1968), the last part added two months after the rest of it... who did that remind me of? :) not that i am for a minute comparing my feeble workrate with our man's, that would be embarrassing, but still...

... anyway, the upshot is that i may just buy the box set after all, while it's still available..! quite apart from any other considerations, comp. 5 itself makes much use of the sustain pedal, hence note decay is a prime element of the sound... mp3 still tells you what's going on, but it's a clear instance where the difference will be highly noticeable - not that i ever said it wasn't... that was never the issue..!

* * *

2. beyond quantum - now what the hell happened there exactly? what was i trying to do to myself? i order the cd, and rather than hunt for a cheap used copy (it being a tzadik release, someone is already bound to have decided they don't want it...), i got it from the label - and this is the crucial bit, made a proper indulgence out of it (both for me and for them) by throwing in a couple more items. hence, a delay of a fortnight in receiving the damn package and a customs charge when it finally showed up... and even then i still don't listen to the music straight away, indeed not for a half a week as it turns out, not all of it anyway...

... a number of reasons for that, but among them a sense of increased pressure, a feeling that i need to write about every single recording i listen to, in at least some useful detail... well, maybe in an ideal world i would, but the days or nights when it just flows out of me are few and far between, the rest of the time it can be a form of slow torture and - this is the point - when the pressure to communicate prevents me from even making time to listen in the first place, clearly something has gone wrong... anyway, rectified that tonight, sat and played the whole album in one sitting as it's intended to be heard (pieces are all distinct, but are merged together on the album); and, again, this is not the time or place to go on about it! i'll be going back to it anyway. suffice to say in the meantime it's a highly successful meeting; whether it's the "vanguard jazz fan's dream come true" as has been suggested is perhaps up for debate, and in any case of course it wasn't the first time this trio has played, just the first meetings in a studio (the rome date from march 2007 is still up at huppes & hyalites, even if the blog itself is in suspended animation..!). if you want to know what the album sounds like..? it sounds like anthony braxton, william parker and milford graves improvising together more or less freely on loosely-prearranged structures, a couple of producers listening in very closely... there's no mystery beyond that, and i still don't like that album title..! but the constant communication between b. and graves in particular is still commended to your attention. and yes, for those minds whose braxton-fuses are as yet unlit, this could even be a flaming torch... those of you reading this are likely to know what to expect, but don't expect the mundane, even so. [as always, there are moments - !!]

Thursday, September 25, 2008

the john zorn depository building

the second issue of eartrip, david grundy's digital magazine is out now. as before, david has worked long and hard to get this published so please give him your support... besides the assortment of reviews, interviews with british musicians etc, this issue includes an interesting presentation vs content experiment from anthony whiteford (bristolian improviser, and author of the superb cecil taylor article in issue 1)... and my own "defence" of john zorn, one of the most divisive figures in the entire creative music scene (i think it's fair to say!). specifically, the piece contains a brief - by my standards - track-by-track analysis of the dreamers, an album which came out earlier this year (and drew even more flak than usual).

so: not that i'm soliciting it, you understand (and i'm really not - little or no enthusiasm for emotive online arguments at present, far better uses for my time), but if anyone really wants to tear me apart over this, please do so by way of a comment on this post, rather than clogging up the rest of the blog with it..! as usual, anonymous tirades will elicit no response at all from me; if you want a reply, please leave a name - and try to be a bit more constructive than "zorn is shit, you're an idiot"..!

i am happy to talk about it (with anyone who is not foaming at the mouth) - i have been sitting here listening to derek bailey's wonderful standards, the original blueprints for what later became the famous ballads album... this whole project would never have existed if it weren't for zorn, and no, it's not cynical or a cash-in, he wasn't exploiting bailey or ripping off the listener... actually just the liner notes make that clear to me, revealing as they do that a) zorn and the baileys were close friends, b) the former had a great respect for, and understanding of the latter's music and c) as a producer, zorn knew straight away that something important was happening before anyone else did. so there... and i still like the dreamers too! [blows raspberry]

* * *

my package from new york finally arrived yesterday (held up in customs, why did i not see that coming). so beyond quantum is finally in my possession! and although i have not yet managed to hear the whole thing, i played some of it last night and early impressions are that yes, it's rather good... i still don't like that album title much (or the packaging, for a change!) but the music is definitely beyond something or other, and the recording stretches time, cramming large amounts of detail into small spaces... laswell doesn't get in the way either... i will try and write something about this album in due course. in any case, next post will be back to braxton...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

diamond curtain wall is now

earlier in the summer (not that we had one of those in the u.k.) a short european tour was undertaken by anthony braxton and his experienced recent students/collaborators, taylor ho bynum and mary halvorson. the concerts were all from the diamond curtain wall series of compositions (the best known of which are probably comps. 323 a-c). dcw pieces are all characterised by the use of electronics, specifically reactive software (usually supercollider, in which b. was instructed by aaron siegel, his number one percussionist for a few years now). for some of the concerts the core trio was enhanced by the addition of bassoonist katherine young.

two concerts from the dcw quartet - in besançon and moscow - appeared on dime and were soon posted on inconstant sol, by tantris, who recently added this superb trio to fill out the picture some more. the two quartets took a couple of plays to worm their way into my ear, though besançon in particular (knotty, turbulent, positively fractious at times) has been played and replayed since then. but the trio, which is from the week after the quartet shows, is just an instant hit. not too much of a surprise, since with no new student on hand to be guided and encouraged through the music, these three (who really know each other's top game inside out by now) can simply let fly and go at it.

the beginning of the piece builds within seconds from delicate flutters on guitar to a full-on, metal-on-metal game of chicken as b. and bynum push their sustained attacks up against each other and do their best to inhabit the same space, hold the same line - it creates sparks, wild overtones, harsh smears (and for a moment sounds remarkably like comp. 23e at the moment just before transition, as captured in the studio) - and then the electronics kick in and both trajectories are now sharing space with metal and concrete. still the guitar flutters on, a simple and edgy continuity behind the lift-off that is the first thirty-odd seconds of the piece, before the first infinitesimal pause which ushers in - something else, the next complex image, the next card, whatever. (we know that graphics are very important for the dcw book... but i don't know much else yet!)

- because this entire set is constructed piecemeal, though organically: episode follows episode, territory changing as seen from a brisk train through suburbs, entire tiny worlds are opened up and explored and then slip into memory as the next follows without pause. a detailed map could be constructed likewise, outlining every single development; there would be seen no dead time, no hanging around waiting for someone else to do something interesting, these three just never stop: start the recording at any point and the open ear is hooked at once.

so let's not list the entire performance, at least not on this occasion..! as with gtm posts previously, i will share a few moments and observations from my informal session... but simply trust this man to show you something interesting every second, and there it is when you go in search of it... all it takes is to listen and listen ;-)

... just the first two minutes introduce a whole panoply of sounds and textures. tune in at 1.45 and see how much is happening! the extraordinary richness of the shared palette is so beautiful partly because the computer is kept well in check, never overwhelming the ensemble and frequently relegated to the background within it. just the three masters - one of god knows what level black belt by now, to continue my occasional martial-arts trope... one of probably third dan and maybe one of second - create a shared improvisational world which dazzles the mind time and again, enchants the ear. the electronics add all sorts of useful shading and echo, but these three have it got it well under control and never lose it the thread...

... typically, the intense opening build-up gives way just as quickly to the first brief water phase, the activity/rest dialectic extended throughout this set just as with so many others (most gtm, many previous, etc etc). but in the crucible that is this piece, whatever its number and symbology, all rest contains activity, just as there remain spaces unexplored within the latter...

... dale wasn't kidding (see comments on the sol trio post) - leading up to 13.30 and especially for the ensuing forty secs, b. really puts the monster through its paces (by now this is likely to be what's known as a contra-alto clarinet rather than the contrabass of the seventies, but a monster is a monster... the many tricks this one has include purring its way up through the registers into feedback territory, and fabulously rich, wrought-iron breath sculptures which b. drags out of the horn by use of the voice. more on this in a minute...

... though halvorson's youth is still constantly betrayed by her defiantly punky aesthetic, she's really well and truly on her way, and indeed it's during this performance that i realise she's fast becoming one of my favourite contemporary musicians (not that i know that many necessarily!). the more i hear her, the more i love her playing, and that's very unusual for me with a "jazz" guitarist (*1). she just never stops sounding interesting and she never stands still...

... around 18.20 b. seems to be setting up some direct quote or other, but... i lose it and it's swept away back into the water...

... 21.45-22ish, a long and twisted sax line once again touches some very deep and precise places through creative forcing of the breath... and winds on and on, the electronics rising then in a wave and being gradually pushed back under control by bynum and halvorson....

... from about 26.38, b. begins a demonstration (following what's already an extended virtuoso display, duetting against the computer at one point then fully solo for maximum impact) of the wind-within-a-wind technique he mastered some years ago and has been displaying at regular intervals ever since, very often in solo recitals, frequently in gtm too. (*2) this really has to be heard to be believed and, naturally, every time he does it the effect is subtly different... never less than amazing... this does not involve the computer...

...when he stops at 27.50, bynum is onto in a flash, runs away with it at once and halvorson in turn gets her cue from the brassman and takes flight... b. honks his support from the wings... 28.50 on, halvorson gets a little time to herself, whips out those messy punky attacks again, winds down suddenly and (with b.) opens up a free space, into which little darts and trails shoot from all corners...

...again, from 32.00 on, b's plaintive alto tone almost conjures references out of the air, but i can't be sure...

...forward to 34.15-35.00, see how well halvorson meshes with bynum to create a complex ballad texture... this summons a burst of furious altotude from the leader, long hanging support tones from the others, bynum seeming to mimic a herd of cattle at one (drawn-out) point to halvorson's mournful and reflective plunked chords... the alto races on and on all the while... finally by 38.15 only the brass and strings remain... till the sopranino appears now, mimicking the cornet...

... and 39.40 we're in the middle of one of those barnyard conversations, full blown, no doubt a little bit of electronic enhancement at work somewhere, but the three players make a tremendous fuss between them... marvellous!..

... forward to 52 mins, the monster is out again, and every time it gets me the same way, i just love to hear that beast purrrrrrr :) seems scarcely worth mentioning at this juncture but nonetheless, this occasion is just like the others, it's a sonic alchemist at work and the time gets duly noted...

... as we pass 54 mins, halvorson is working at something folky, and at 54.10ish she suddenly seems to suggest "oh when the saints..." and hence by extension albert ayler, also therefore (these days) a hotshot from the previous generation (and ayler worshipper), marc ribot. but the defiantly bent, fucked-up clockwork-toy-winding-down attacks she runs out from here probably owe as much to derek bailey... now round and round they all three go, in coils...

... as the hour comes up, sunlight catching long glass from halvorson...

... 61.45, it's bynum's outrageous vocalised blasphemies for a change, and not the leader's, which get my face working...

... lapse back into silence...

- and then, weirdly, as the leader begins his customary list of players thanking the audience and ending with himself, the crowd is onto it in a flash and smothers him, no cathartic yells of note but the inevitable whistles and appreciative claps, yet so eager to get on with it that they drown out the guitarist's name altogether. only a very short list this time, yet he doesn't even get halfway through it... what happened there? and when the recording fades out, was that really it, no short encore as was by now usually the case..?

* * *

mary halvorson - well, like i say, she's turning into one of my favourite current players (and i have hardly heard anything of her outside these contexts). she loves to sound like a turntablist at times, just one of many many tricks she has up her witchy sleeves.

and thb..? always there, the heir to the brass chair and the right hand man, yet i seldom seem to say much about him... trumpet and piano, what can i say, it's not so much where my ear is at apparently... not at this time anyway. still, i do frequently hear him and marvel at his tonal flexibility, the one quality above all that b. requires in a brass player since he switched wheeler for lewis.

the leader... i still have yet to hear this man play a duff solo never mind have a remotely off night. not him as a player, though the band may be a different matter... but that was in another country, and besides...

the music - other than the fact that it is scintillatingly imagistic, i still have very vague conceptions about how dcw scores work, how much is improvised - the entire thing, strung out like a gigantic and impossibly complicated set of continuous filaments, almost sounds as if it could be one seamless group improv but it very probably isn't, so no useful conclusions there. but i tell you what: never mind reheated 80s/90s pop-jazz ironic post-fusion masquerading as "cutting edge" music, this is the coalface right here, this is where the borders of creative music are being updated on a minute-by-minute basis, and it's happening as you sit there... celebrate the living... don't wait to honour this man in death, let us learn from him while he is still among us. there is so much music still in him, and many more minds to reach...

* see first comment

Saturday, September 13, 2008

gap-filling... part two

(first album for byg actuel)

the title of this album is reproduced above - i can't render it for you in text form because it is not a collection of letters and numbers, a cipher: it is a relationship consisting of certain characters configured in a certain way. hence, really, even if the details were correct in the popular title B-Xo/ N-O-1-47A - which they aren't, as you can see for yourselves - it would be no more "right" to call the album that than it is to call it anthony braxton, the other popular misnomer. (in cases where an album - in whatever genre - is released without a title, people inevitably say it's "self-titled".)

- the trouble is, in his urgent need to establish a reputation for doing things his own way, b. had probably not yet had the opportunity to discover the various disadvantages of naming your works in a way which can be neither conventionally written, nor pronounced aloud. but the title of the album is also the title of the piece which occupies the whole of the vinyl side two, the braxton original now known to us as comp. 6g. (no, it would not really be accurate to refer to the album as composition 6g either..!)

this important (if relatively short-lived) quartet is not properly represented in the braxtothon for the simple reason that when i started eleven months ago, i didn't have either of the albums by this group (or even any bootlegs of it). as with for alto previously, i am now catching up in "next best" fashion: having lost the chance to cover the material with (as near as poss) naïve ears and in "actual time" chronologically, i didn't feel the need to listen under braxtothon conditions... as usual, the music frequently distracted me from whatever else i was doing - on this occasion, sorting through photos, a fairly distracting task in itself given that each of them has memories attached... but the musicians (and in some cases the music) were often able to demand my full attention.

* * *

"the light on the dalta" (sic) - one of leo smith's. the piece opens full-on, albeit briefly, everyone playing with some force; but for the first few seconds my ears groped towards the centre of the sound, trying and failing to identify those four voices. it seemed to take a long time, but there they all are. still, it's an odd experience after all this time: a braxton album which doesn't sound immediately like a braxton album. (to me. on this occasion...)

oh god it's that thing again... several minutes in, b's gorgeous playing is puked on by the appalling harmonica. i'd forgotten all about that - these guys, for some reason the mouth organ was part of the setup for quite some time and it was apparently essential that it be played badly. i say that without sarcasm, because i find it impossible to assume that these men would not have heard good blues harp players at some point. but regardless of what the damn thing is supposed to represent in these contexts, the effect for me as a listener is that b's gorgeous playing is puked on by the appalling harmonica.

all of the other notes from this piece relate to a more general conclusion/prejudice which i will relate in the third section of the article. i still have little or no understanding of smith as a composer.

"simple like" is by leroy jenkins and, fittingly, most of my notes seem to consist of the sort of hysterical oohs and ahhs which normally are reserved for the braxbird, here directed at the violinist. it's probably been a little while since i heard jenkins close up like this, and each time he cuts loose on this track, my attention is sucked right out of the memory-laced photos and into the speakers within a fraction of a second. unbelievable command he has in his playing, total ownership not only of his instrument, but of his own voice, rightful ownership of his own means of expression, with all the responsibility that that implies.

right from the beginning of the jenkins piece, before its composer takes it by the scruff of the neck, it's already a joy to hear him and i wonder fleetingly where he was in the first piece that i "missed" him. the music early on is "courtly" and rather delicate, knowingly archaic, mccall playing some sort of tambour to enhance the effect... but it does sound a little bit weedy until jenkins suddenly lights the place up. that, in turn, quickly brings the monster out to play; but, damn it, any momentum which might have been gained is quickly blown when smith's next entries don't seem to relate to what's already happening, and before you know it there's another wheezy noisemaker on the go, either the harp again or perhaps an accordion played equally crudely: either way, it tries to become a sort of analogue synth but this doesn't really come off. the tension slackens again.

as much as all the players have their moments here, the best reason for listening to the track must surely be jenkins, and it makes me feel sad for a moment than in his case, i left it too late to discover him in life and can only celebrate him dead. this blog, above all, is about celebrating the living.

which brings me to comp. 6g, and right away (again, see below) i find it impossible not to think "ah, the real meat has arrived." this despite the fact that the piece opens with the sound of partially inflated balloons being let down. (one of these days i must try and find time to look into the relationship between this piece and comp. 25.) the thing is - and i don't really care how pretentious this might sound - even with inflated rubber as a source, here it works: there is conviction at once and cohesion to the presentation of the sound. it's a completely subjective, qualitative reaction but i can just feel it. at this point the photos are down on the floor forgotten because the sound has demanded my attention. stockhausen? wouldn't really know (yet!). but i did see a piece of his performed once, a shortish piece for solo saxophone and shortwave receiver which came to mind in the opening section here.

- soon enough, there's a pause and a complete left turn, into a classic early b-theme: fast, tricky to say the least, impossible to predict with any certainty. flashes of the repetition series (6f, 40(o)) are glimpsed. needless (i hope) to say, it's not regimentally tight, not at all overrehearsed, messy round the edges... yet still tight enough to say with conviction what, you think the sound was all meaningless? here, suck on that! - so that when the breath returns in its various forms, we can know for sure that an architect is behind it. and this time... well, the braxton solo which follows in due course just left me marvelling, frantically trying to remember (with the reduced portion of my consciousness not busily glorying in the music) whether or not i'd ever said that b. was still not a finished master in '69. i don't think i have said that. but if i did, i was wrong. he already was a master, and this solo is all the evidence one would need to cite.

jenkins gets in on the act again too here - another amazing solo, which has me shaking my head in disbelief at how compelling this man's playing really was. and when the music returns to noises, as it does, it never loses cohesion. (i think that this is exclusive to the braxton piece here. the others wander badly at times, it's not just me i reckon. again, read on...) listen to the noises as free improv - it works, it coheres, there is clear focus and shared spontaneous intent strung out continuously like filigree. it never snaps, merely twists and winds on and on.

and once more, ladies and gents - before the theme restatement, one last re-entry from the leader, which takes my head off. (notes reduced to expletives yet again...) and that sounds like a very good and decisive ending..? no, it's not, they're still - ah, ok, that is actually that. clever at the end there, even. clever and effective, more to the point.

* * *

this band... at this stage, by the looks of it, there were two main continuing concerns being driven within the ranks of the aacm: the art ensemble of chicago and these guys. (more can be read about all this in lewis.) of course, smith and jenkins had teamed up with b. before, had indeed been there right at the birth, recording the very first braxton original composition on wax. what's more, after starting out under his name, then changing (?) to all three names listed equally, they had settled back under b's leadership as a working quartet, an engine room. but with the best will in the world, i can't see how this was going to work. easy to say in hindsight; but these important players can only be squeezed into the same space if the roles are clearly understood, or the territory is completely neutral: here the first pertains on the long third piece, neither truly pertains on the other two. this is because the leader is still trying to be democratic and use his friends' compositions, not unreasonable since his friends are (like him) advanced and serious musicians, but it's not gonna work here, it just can't. he has to lead. and evidently all of them know this, which is why he's the nominal leader of this quartet; but they can't work out how to share the power. b. is not able to impose himself completely on the ensemble by dictating all the repertoire; yet without his focus and direction, the other two pieces just don't sound anything like as convincing. this doesn't necessarily mean that i think smith and jenkins were inferior composers even: just means their pieces won't work properly under b's leadership. (silence was the only braxtothon album so far to get a mere CC recommendation from me... and neither of the pieces was by braxton.) these men could work as equals, but it's not fitting for the other three to be mere "sidemen" for braxton, since after all they are not his students. (none of this will be clear to the leader at this point, presumably.) hence, whilst the idea of their playing whole programmes of b's music is tantalising, at this point it can't happen... and without that, something just doesn't seem right. on side one, moments of individual brilliance are there, but collectively there is perhaps too much avoidance of treading on toes for anything very meaningful to happen. this, at least, is my impression...

... and how far that is simply a prejudiced, overinformed opinion which i failed to shake off before playing the album, is something i can't quite decide.

in any case, the band did pull off an all-braxton programme next time round... but next time was also in a way the last time, since from then on the name reverted (? i think) to creative construction company and, to underscore that, the only recording we have in the discog is a full programme of jenkins. leader no more even in name, our man went off looking for his destiny as a mentor, which - in the first instance -would soon turn out to mean relieving chick corea of his high-class rhythm section, via a curious sidetrack into scientology, and another doomed collaboration called circle... meanwhile, next time will be this time as far as gap-filling goes.

(?s - see comments)

Friday, September 5, 2008

critical massage, pt. 2 - "chromatic" vs belle cacophonie

saturn calling...

- because reconfiguring - or exploding - the rigid aesthetic exoskeleton imposed on the listening ear by society via the diatonic scale is not "colouration", which itself is something very specific, largely timbral/textural and a question for arrangers rather than composers as such; tearing the scaffolding down is something else, something apart. and it's what we need to look at (i think).

there are these two ways - reconfiguration (which itself is a form of musical/aesthetic heresy, punishable at the very least by lack of commercial success - herbie nichols... etc) and demolition, just blasting the whole thing the fuck apart, usually with all the noise and fury that this would seem to imply; but then this too will be seen to be appropriate since destruction is actually part of what's required in the first instance: the programming must be pulled out by its roots, and whether or not that is seen as destruction by the uprooter is neither here nor there: that is how the implanted part will experience it.

reconfiguration is often best done by piano players - notes are all right there laid out in front of you, picking patterns through them is an obvious game; elmo hope, sonny clark (ish), mengelberg, nichols, monk - aha, well, we'd better come back to monk.

demolition often best left to the heavy brigade - but that too can include pianists of course - taylor, crispell (earlier), bley, sun ra, i'm gonna put monk in here as well. just a quick glance at that short list reveals that the job can be achieved with flicks of the wrist as well as thunderous rendings of the skies.

what sun ra knew when he reputedly told trane to play an apple is that using sound to tell a pretty story - and often therewith to inculcate a complex set of normative social and aesthetic values - is just one of the many uses to which musical sound can be put: and he showed us some of the others! listeners who engage freely with his music are, in fact, transported beyond themselves. (this is of course not unique to sun ra... happens to me rather frequently with braxton..!) it is not just colour, not just an effect - it is the substance and it's not good enough to have to use the term "chromatic" when dealing with it. naturally... we are stuck with it for the time being. but free sound is surely what we're really trying to deal with. bailey - again, the demolition can be subtle but it's equally devastating to the structure which is being demolished. defenders of diatonic purity are scornful in their dismissal of bailey precisely because he is such a potential threat... braxton too i suspect. times may be changing, though... we can still have our say in this.

* * *

monk i keep going back to - as a breaker of sound he is almost unsurpassed, yet was content to eke this out so finely and over so much time that many seem not to have noticed it in him at all; yet some of the themes can almost make one ill with the ear-dismantling necessary to learn them ("played twice"), and although these may be regarded as exceptions in a smallish book full of deceptively simple blues and nearly-as-simple 32-bar songs, digging deeper into even the simplest (say, "misterioso"..?) reveals merciless clashes on the higher harmonic levels which are the real clue as to what monk was hearing. let's not forget also that the recorded performances have the bass parts missing - the parts monk played with his feet on the invisible pedals, notes which only he could hear and which many have wrongly assumed was dancing. well, the man was known to dance and on stage, but only (pianist) laurent de wilde among the authors i've read has pointed this out and explained it, and it's worth remembering.

having taste means having your own taste

seek your own music

(if we were all exposed to diamond-clef gtm from day one we would have truly free ears!)

Sunday, August 31, 2008

***braxtothon '08: session 009 (+)***

***music files included (see end section)***

- finally we get to the '76 quartet, and just in time: this version of the band is not long-lived, and (by the time my collection catches up with it) will soon be dissolved. exactly when lewis first played in the quartet, and how many performances there were by this band... two things i don't know yet. the sessionography project could take a long time to get there as it's a huge task, and some of the sources (e.g. the archives of a certain euro jazz fest) are not exactly 100% reliable. but martinelli, in his liner notes for news from the 70s (see below), names the graz concert as the "third to last" by this version of the band. just dortmund and berlin to follow this, then...

session 009: stefaniensaal, graz (2011 update - this boot was recently made available at TCF)
date: 28th october 1976

1. - a long, slow, ringing double voice calling out into silence, into space... seconds, weeks pass and eventually a second note confirms the heart's hope, that this is in fact my dear old friend comp. 23a back for another flight. that's a lovely surprise, first off. the piece comes full circle (*1), now so replete in fulfilled possibility that it's become an opener again... well, that sounds like the romantic ideal, so it's a question of how far the reality matches up.

the truly funereal pace of the opening theme seems only natural, such generous amounts of space being required in order to do full justice to the grandeur evoked by trombone and contrabass clarinet together - and possibly to allow anyone who did remember the piece well to savour the different voicing, lewis more of a second foghorn than anything else, a long way removed from wheeler's high, keening muted trumpet on the version which (still) sounds in so many ways definitive. and sure enough the two are manifestly continuing their platonic love affair in public, rejoicing in each other's voice.

naturally enough, all this is taking place against a familiar backdrop of washes and swathes of cymbal, waves on the beach, an effect which altschul seems to have mastered a lifetime ago already. holland is not really noticeable at all in the first couple of minutes. and in hindsight there's the important clue straight away, the one which offers the key to discovering the internal dynamic of the quartet of this point, fully in motion with the new man not only installed, but already a seasoned voyager of braxton's music with or without the others: in theory the replacement of wheeler with lewis opens the scope of the working band right up, way up, but of course in practice it's going to be limited to the speed of its slowest member, and we're about to return to an unresolved question, first turned over for inspection here.

with hindsight (and weeks between first, second and third plays of this recording) it's inescapable for me, right here on the first track the faithful bassist's leaving the music is foreshadowed. if he's playing arco during the theme (possible, even at that pace, for him to do so without my knowing for sure - we know his bow technique is immaculate, one of the steadiest in the business) then he adds nothing to the weight of the monster - just as his weight was not required for the opening theme of the studio version - and when he first becomes clearly noticeable as a separate voice within the cleared space, it's in the third minute, it's plucked notes and it sounds a bit jazzy. right there, a whole huge cluster of universes get wrapped up in a black drape and sealed off. the territory has just been circumscribed into something far smaller than the two leaders (which is what this sounds like, braxton and lewis co-piloting the group on this short journey) had envisaged, and one wonders what sort of subtle shock passes between them at that moment. but then at 2.43, holland uses the bow to lovely effect and we know now that it's not a question of anything being ruined as such, the group can adjust and accommodate... but that's what it has to do now in any case. the far-flung territories explored at such intense length during the two reed-and-bone duos... maybe those aren't attainable tonight, or at any event not yet.

so it ends up being simply a pretty, ornate rendition of a "standard", albeit one of b's own - the highlight, surely, comes around 5.40 when lewis picks up the very first cues of an impending alto master-tag and goes along for the ride, perfectly matching the leader's next swooping phrases with effortless timing and breathtaking confidence, the trick literally having the same effect on me third time round as it did the first, drawing a gasp of pleasure as soon as i detect the audacity of what lewis is about to do, watching then in awe as he executes the double tag with perfect precision. but yes, or rather no, this moment, glorious as it is, does not represent any vast addition to the collective knowledge of the territories which lie within the range of this vessel. even the first time round, i picked up jazzy routines from altschul at times, sucked back into it by holland, the result sounding incongruous and rather inappropriate. and although the two horns toy with the piece expertly, spinning their own separate trajectories languidly through space, in the certain knowledge that they will intersect at beautiful moments as-yet unglimpsed (and they do), they are more or less out there alone, altschul caught somewhat between two gravities, two directional pulls, holland straining back or simply unable to kick on - around 4.00, what is he doing?

so... within less than seven minutes the piece already straggles towards change, the four players shuffling hesitantly into place for whatever the next territory might be; though in practice the two horns end up unaccompanied for a short while, continuing their exalted conversation briefly - in the rarefied space where the others apparently can't or won't follow.

2. - the good news is, with the above limitations established (and in about four mins we'll receive confirmation of just how early they were established), the band settles down to play a cracking high-end free jazz set, including holland who takes up the bow early on here and reminds us again of what deftness of touch he has with it.

growing organically from a free space of whistles and squeaks and flutters, a group texture slowly shifts and takes shape, the arco bass dominating for a moment or two, hinting briefly at a repetition series - it's a red herring, and as the four start to converge on the next jumping-off point, a background for fast line extension is being set up, which resolves suddenly into "four winds" (at 4.35 in second file). back when i first bought news from the 70s (a few years ago, before i knew... etc), there seemed nothing very odd about such a choice of material - for that matter when i first heard the graz gig (spring '07?), it didn't strike me as a surprise either, but it surely would do so now if i didn't know it was coming. it's as if a simple homecoming is being set up for tonight rather than any serious attempt at deep exploration - but that's ok too, so long as there's no coasting involved... well, lewis takes first solo, and with the theme left behind and a generic fast free jazz backing, he works his way busily through several minutes, unable to stray very far from the path, but with that huge tone, incredible speed and occasional humour to "fall back" on, he manages to keep up the pace easily enough. yes, i can't conceal the fact that i'd prefer to hear him moving farther out at this point but still, with the three of them (minus the leader) in full flight i have to admit that the engine sounds wonderfully well-oiled. teasing his way back into the theme, lewis hands over to holland again for a full bass solo, without the bow this time.

again, this is where we're in danger of losing momentum because pizzicato, holland's solos often fail to add up to more than the sum of their parts; i.e. where others move beyond mere notes into pure, free utterance, the bassist tends to flourish handfuls of the things without ever seeming to suggest that there could be something more. and that is what happens here, scurries up and down the neck (with tremendous technical facility, as always) not disguising the lack of actual musical growth here, but at least we retain movement and, again, the momentum is not lost. around 11.25 we finally hear the sopranino nosing its way into the space, and at last the leader will take his turn. as usual, before long (and again, several times before he is done) he will make me sigh with delight here, but although the impetus is harnessed for several more minutes at full pace, eventually peaking with great intensity at about 16.25, the sound of the sax, bass and drums together in this sort of environment is so comfortable and familiar, it's worryingly easy for the listener to relax into it and doze off slightly (which is what happened to me at this point in the actual session). alternatively, if high-performance free jazz is all you ever wanted the band to play... look no further.

lewis brings a charmingly casual outlook to the restatement - what, you done already? ok, sure - and a fast drum solo wraps things up here. when the four voices next converge, we'll again be on the outskirts of somewhere new...

3. - and appropriately enough, after that, the next transition phase seems to drop us off near "q&a", which three of these guys played on many occasions, some years ago now... this is really the freest, most open and extended piece we're entering now, and it's the last phase of this short (second?) set. (the encore which follows was surely the last music played tonight.)

free and open is very much the order of the day as all four players stretch their limbs easily, unwinding and unfolding in their own time, lewis filling the hall with his golden bell, holland just as happily non-idiomatic as anyone else here, and by this point even in today's listening, i'm pretty much won over at last by the group's actual performance on the day. the sound, too, is remarkably well captured on this recording, holland's guitar-like plinks and plunks (stopped, right up high on the neck, third minute) clear evidence of this - we have all we need in terms of detail.

first time round my attention was very much divided, one part of my mind frantically scrabbling around for comparisons, not entirely happy with being unsure of the territory - by today i had given up on this, and was able to observe the gradual shaping of the piece a bit more closely. yes, they really do their take their sweet time heading anywhere, and it is interesting to acknowledge here how comfortable everyone sounds with it, flung out into the nether regions with few signposts even visible. towards 4.30 there is a significant build-up, but it subsides into elapsing steam, eked out into the ether - by 5.00 it almost sounds as if richard teitelbaum is playing, and we drift. so, shift up, shift back down - but now we are ready to go somewhere, as holland counts off a theme on his own (commencing around 5.13 in the third file), and by 6.00 they are all playing this piece, whichever it is (later it sounds uncannily like a faster first cousin of 40n or even 23e, but it's not either... one of the 60s is what i keep wanting to say). whatever it is, with the theme more or less laid out (won't be fully run through until later), we're back into leisurely strolling and stretching. at ten minutes in, where are we - and where are we going?

by this stage, it's gone way past the point of trying to lay individual blame for any lack of momentum or urgency: it's more as if the excellence of the playing aside, the collective mind of the four players at this time cannot move any further than the speedy pattern-swapping that eventually develops as we approach and pass 11.00 - braxton having picked up and played with his own echo, lewis grabbing a piece of that action too - and back into cooking mode we go, smooth as you like; though rather unexpectedly, then, holland breaks it all up, digging immediately back into the theme and from 12.15ish, there it is, the sequence which would identify it once and for all (if only my memory for subtle differences between melodies were more acute!). a minute later, the two horns are seemingly in perfect accord, indeed all four are flying together at high speed now, and when the leader takes off eventually on a terrific clarinet solo, he has excellent support from the bass. furious bursts rub up against silken-smooth singing until lewis takes over around 15.45, b. still interjecting violently and at will, but without intruding since by now he and lewis are of one mind again; fulminating attacks continue from both with full, locked-in-tight support from the bass and drums to ensure that the set nears its end on a resonating high, more decorous arco bass and cunning pseudo-synth textures from the clarinet ushering in the silence and warm applause.

4. - and then the encore, and another charming surprise - well, it was in the actual session, when to hear the band rip into comp. 6i was just the icing on the cake; of course, since then (seems like ages ago now) i've been able to find a bit more context, namely the fact that the same piece was resurrected not for this date but for the "special quintet" earlier in the year. something about it obviously appealed enough to bring it back once again, without wheeler this time of course, but with the original rhythm section restored, still (just about) intact after more than five years.

- and this just seems like the perfect way to wrap up the evening, send everyone out into the night cruising on huge natural high..! with those prior limitations accepted, the old mutant bop rockinghorse comes charging out for one last (?) canter - and of course it reminds d.h. once again of where one or two of the ideas for tunes on conference came from, since we're about it... (i've said more than once on the blog that this piece is the precursor of holland's "see-saw".) but above all it gives everyone the chance to cook their ass off, so to speak. that chance in turn is seized gratefully, everyone plays a blinder and some serious fun is had. the theme itself now has a rest phase shoehorned into it, a spacious, time-stopping delay before the da capo, which hints early on how much fun really is up for grabs here.

lewis takes first solo, gets to scratch his bop jones, drop any j.j. johnson or curtis fuller hangups he may still have hidden under his shirt; but while we're talking bop trombone, hear that man play and remind me, this was the instrument which nearly got made extinct, 'cos no-one could play bop fast enough on it..? we know how things can change, and how much the 60s players suddenly had to draw on coming up, but one has to ask: those early bop guys, were they really, really trying or what? (*2) lewis whirls through this one with his tone on full display when he wants to sing it out there, lightning-fast when it's called for, all up and down and basically all over, not much in the way of extended technique as such, this not being that sort of piece (or indeed that sort of date as it turns out); but a good hard workout nonetheless, shaking out all those pockets earlier 'bonemen couldn't shake. when the leader sings his way teasingly in around 2.45, then takes over ten seconds later this sounds perfectly natural, this brisk excursion being paced for around the same time as the studio version (solos in a different order of course), not a big twenty-minute monster like some previous incarnations (*3). and besides...

...this number always was the cue for some major alto damage. stunning almost at once on entry, b's solo really takes flight off this simple base. not for once into manic gear-shifting and buzzes and barks, but in song form again, the hallmark phrases all in place but with a touch more lyricism than usual, albeit lyricism with plenty of bite. some long, lingering, floated lines work magic in there somewhere and the overall shape is one which impresses me greatly, especially today. it's all too easy for this impressiveness to hijack one's attention, shunt it into reverie - that's happening by 5.10, when b's invitation to indulge in speedy double-swoops is picked up by lewis around the third time of asking, the two then entering into the sort of reed-and-brass coda which b. used to get up to with wheeler - again, unbelievable but true, lewis is able to bring more precision to this sort of line at this extreme speed, and it's the leader who seems to flag first on this occasion. there's then a total breakdown for holland's last solo of the night, plucked again, racing away in much the same manner as before - only this time he does create undeniable propulsive movement, even if the notes don't seem to be saying much necessarily. ok, then the drummer gotta get some too, that's fine and mercifully brief - there's some delightful messing around in the rest insert during the end unisons, and bang, they're done.

* * *

the actual session was prolonged slightly by the need to check news... for a match, just to make double certain like... by now i realise it's pretty unlikely that "four winds" was played more than once, but still... anyway, yeah, same show.

news from the '70s... every friendly experiencer's home will be enriched by the addition of one of these, assuming you can still find it... (*4) - it is interesting that "winds" was singled out in that way - it's not the clear highlight of the set (certainly not for me) and dave's bass solo is very likely his least interesting of the night; surely the encore... well, but perhaps this was just by way of recognising a beautiful friendship, which spawned a musical association lasting many years, and which saw a nascent band through a whole series of crucial phases. in any case, i can vouch for the fact that taken out of context and/or played on the album, it sounds fine and indeed wraps things up nicely.

* * *

here is the music

(see inside, first comment for details.)

no grading for this, never commercially released - download it and see for yourself... but it's an interesting gig. well... actually it's probably not that interesting, but the quartet plays a blinder anyway. there may be those out there who would wish that the band had always played like this. (and had never split up..? or what?) the set gathers in impetus as it goes on, in terms of confidence in each other at least - for me the peak is simply the encore, comp. 6i which i reckon is as good as the studio version, maybe even better (more democratic, b. still very much hogging solo time on crucial recordings in '71 - though one could hardly blame him for that).

very good free jazz date, then... it remains the case that a small number of very switched-on concertgoers might have justifiably felt that there was something missing... though it's not likely to be the first thing they remember afterwards, sent out into the night with that huge glorious racket echoing in their ears. the question is: was the imminent breakup of the band actually discussed beforehand, or did it only happen after this little tour of europe was over? it seems like a surprisingly conservative set, but did holland in particular have to be eased back in? well, there's another question and here's a third: again, how many gigs did the band play together before this one? i'll be looking for answers to all of them in due course.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

solo archetypes - 8f: the particle cannon

machine gun is the image listeners tend to fall back on, confronted with the white-hot outpourings of the original (in all senses) version of this, gushing forth from the grooves of for alto; and it seems apposite enough, braxton's high-speed attacks and air-shattering, race-car dynamics inevitably conjuring destructive images in many listeners' minds - but of course, at best it's a weak metaphor to use, since it's what everyone always says in these cases. besides... destructive? no, no, not this man - that's surely quite the opposite of what he was looking to achieve, even at his angriest.

so this newer image, still a bit intimidating but not inherently destructive, came to me some time ago now (*). the prime directive here, as ever, is not to destroy but to make things happen - in this instance, the furious energies of the "fast pulse intensity language" generate their own momentum, each fresh burst causing a reaction which unleashes a concatenation of notes, which in turn explode thrillingly in the ear. the basic technique being utilised is one of b's hallmarks: very fast playing, intermittently staccato - each attack clearly separated from the previous one, presumably by tonguing - and legato, attack and release elided together in one (even faster!) stream. this is the archetype i am addressing here: later solo compositions can no doubt be identified which are related to this one, but more generally we will find that the majority of b's saxophone improvisations (particularly those on alto and sopranino) make use of this signature technique at some point, often at length. for good measure, a number of blurred and distorted tones are thrown into the mix - these are the attacks which phil woods apparently heard as mistakes, technical weaknesses, in his infamous blindfold test - but i will return to the subject of tonal distortion later, in examining comp. 8g.

in listening again to this important recording, i've come to the conclusion that b's technical control was already far closer to the awesome near-perfection of (not much) later years than some people thought; it was their hearing, not his playing, which lacked subtlety. around the three-minute mark - what seems like dozens of pages into the music, so fast is the tempo! - the dynamics become more varied, some attacks now quiet and restrained amid the flurry of notes: this, surely, is all the evidence we might need of very considerable instrumental mastery. again, when the first of two peaks is reached (4.25 - 5.10) and the playing climbs up into partials and shriek tones, a degree of precision is being exercised which is perhaps beyond the comprehension of many "jazz ears", attuned far more to harmonic complexities than to extreme tonal variations: to my ears, the sounds b. is producing at this point are exactly those he is hearing in his head, not just random undifferentiated screams. (the same applies to the second peak, beginning around 6.50.) of course, in the eyes of many, such an approach is just undignified, at worst completely mindless and nihilistic, at best exuberant yet immature. i have no time for such a conservative viewpoint: to my mind, those who hold it have simply never confronted their own turbulent emotions - or, worse yet, they have no depth to their character at all.

* * *

at the time of for alto (once again - whenever that was, exactly!), it made perfect sense to put this aural strafing - as many were bound to hear it - up front, following the brief prelude which seduces the ear on your way in; and it made perfect sense that such a passionate piece of playing should be dedicated to cecil taylor. it says something (i'm not sure what - maybe several things!) about braxton's career right there, that for years and decades to come, a labelling error would be repeated passim, leading people to believe that this opening piece was dedicated to john cage (i.e. the composition later known as 8e). in a way, that was a helpful error, since it clearly associated b. with an american iconoclast and musical truthseeker/pioneer; it probably also hurt the young musician's career to some extent, since the other iconoclast was white and therefore represented the fine arts, this bit of braxtonian presumptuousness being a deeply-embedded thorn in the side of some reactionaries, as we know... but in any case, the mismatch between music heard and title as printed is one on which i've commented before. that b. wanted to honour cage is beyond doubt. that he proposed to do so utilising "fast pulse intensity language" does not make much sense - certainly it makes so much more sense that this torrent should be dedicated to taylor, who would surely understand the central urgency and focussed drive of the piece better than most. was c.t. ever told..? perhaps the mistake reflects the anti-magnetism apparently acting upon these two geniuses, keeping them apart for so long - and compromising in various ways the meetings they did eventually have...

* see comments.