Thursday, January 31, 2008

ok here's where i'm at:

just sitting here chillin like bob dylan...* listening to the charlie parker project, which i haven't heard before. excellent, constantly invigorating and fascinating music! there will plenty to say about this i'm sure... one of these days. right now it's gotta get in the queue. here's a look at (the top part of) the queue:

1. penultimate braxtothon phase two review (moers quartet)
2. playlist two
3. thoughts on for alto
4. charles gayle and sonny simmons reviews (honest!)

very tempted also to undertake a proper look at comp. 6d (i.e. the second one on 3 comps of new jazz). just examine that one piece in as much detail as i feel like. this would in turn be the first of however many, focusing in more closely on single tracks which revisit the first two braxtothon phases. (also, possibly looking at various versions of one composition. but maybe not quite yet...)

with all this in mind - i am seriously considering posting some sound files. in the first instance these would be single tracks from official recordings which are nonetheless (well and truly) out of print. but i would like to know what people think before i make a decision. if i post sound files, will you be interested? remember if you don't mail me or comment, i shan't know either way.

* or was it matt dillon? ;-)

Sunday, January 27, 2008

building stacks (1)

(hint: just scroll down to the list if you can't be bothered with the text!)

see, i don't know if anyone was actually reading at the time i posted it but i was thinking of braxton playlists, back in december... the post entitled functional stack deals with the subject, though if anyone wants the full story it actually begins in a comment i'd added to the preceding post (dated dec. 16th) - i don't remember ever discussing this with other jazzers, so maybe the whole playlist/mixtape (etc) thing is a habit more carried over from my rock (etc) listening. but i've always found it helped me a lot, facilitating the matter of zeroing in on particular sounds or styles, penetrating to the essence of something by removing a part of it from its own context and placing it alongside similar holographic fragments, different partial images for consecutive perusal... this would be a way of looking at it now; naturally i was compelled to do it long before i thought of it in quite those terms, indeed i have been doing it for years.

when i first got into jazz i carried on doing it... i did it for others and also for myself. a playlist of mingus. one of monk covers, three of monk. two of dolphy. and so on and so on... the way my collection sprouted last year, sooner or later there was always going to be some serious b-listing - but, as i found out when i first tried to assemble one on the fly, it was tricky stuff. on the one hand i don't tend to encourage my former list-obsessiveness if i can help it - occasionally i allow it limited license but even that can get out of hand - on the other, three of the tracks i decided to use turned out to be three variants of the same "prototype" and would have been better placed on three separate playlists... etc etc. yes, it's easy to get carried away sometimes but if it's worth doing at all... anyway, over the last three nights i have been scratching away at this little project, not devoting too much time or effort to it... but wanting to get it workable, inevitably imperfect.

that left me with three volumes, almost four hours of anthony braxton... not much from the later stuff, simply because the pieces i have tend to get longer and longer; basically it covers the years '68-'84 (with the odd exception). the idea is to enhance my understanding of some of the master's compositional principles, especially, and at the same time to work some of the rep tunes/motifs properly into my ear-memory (so that when i reach the collage phase in the braxtothon i will hope to pick up a lot of the key cross-references). and, you know, to enjoy myself while i'm doing it ;-) despite all this self-important rationalisation, the real reason i do it is to enhance the pleasure of the music.

i did try and balance at least some of the elements. this was mostly pretty obvious:

- three tracks with wheeler on each playlist (many of the pieces from the first few creative ensemble books - i.e. what later became known as the 6 series, 23 series, 40 series - were recorded on albums featuring wheeler so there's a lot more stuff with him herein than there is with, say, lewis)
- several albums yielded three selections, so one on each
- one "pulse prototype" on each (see functional stack post)
- several other tracks built on broken-accent time or with variable tempo, etc - not on same list

this was last night i finished, and i only listened to the first one - but it was a lot more successful than the abortive december experiment which wasn't especially easy on the ear. indeed i ended up listening to the entire thing when i only thought i had twenty minutes or so in me - i was absolutely knackered after a tiring week, but each time a track finished i'd hear the start of the next, perk up and think "oh go on then, just one more"... so yeah it didn't go too badly, though by the end of it my eyes were slits i reckon... still the music held my attention pretty well throughout.

playlist one

1. comp. 23b - studio, 1974 (tr.1)
2. comp. 29a - studio, 1993 (tr.2)
3. comp. 6d - studio, 1968 (tr.2)
4. comp. 40i - studio, 1979 (tr.5)
5. comp. 6a - studio, 1971 (tr.3)
6. comp. 40(o) - live, 1985 (encore)
7. comp. 23f - live, 1974 (tr. 5/1st encore)
8. comp. 51 - live, 1976 (tr.1)
9. "marshmallow" (warne marsh) - studio, 1974 (tr.1)
10. comp. 6c - live, 1976 (tr.3)
11. comp. 40b - studio, 1981 (tr.1)

- "marshmallow" is one of only two covers/standards i chose... in this case it was partly because that's an interesting date, and a recording which i didn't have at the time i reached that date in the braxtothon - and particularly because i don't know marsh very well and this could be very helpful in theory, potentially quite instructive

- the final selection on this list restores comp. 40b to its natural position as a closer; i think i can understand why b. opened that album with it, and besides - he had a new closer lined up for that date, comp. 52 (will have more to say on this album when the braxtothon reaches it, till then i'll only go into more detail on the track if prodded/requested)

- the third selection was responsible for the single biggest shock on that first return to the braxtothon-territory :- taken out of context, and heard through crappy laptop speakers i had trouble recognising the piece from my own description of it, indeed that same description appeared now to be so hysterical as to be utterly useless... but when i actually got back to the piece properly (in the playlist sequence, with 'phones) it was easy enough (phew) to see where i was coming from, albeit i was now hearing it a little differently, with a longer perspective... this was in fact the most problematic inclusion anyway, that is i found it the hardest to sit through in this context

- selection 5 is the "pulse prototype"

- selection 7 is in broken rhythm (terrible sound on this for an official release though... the review of this album is coming very soon, indeed next stop in the braxtothon)

- for more details on selection 2, see detour (1) from last tues

the most obvious imperfection is the presence of two circus marches, both played by quartets with trombones (40i, 6c) - in theory this is precisely the sort of axis along which i would split the material. interesting to compare and contrast, though? maybe, we'll see...

details on vols 2 & 3 to follow in due course... as you can no doubt tell, i could be cajoled/provoked into further discourse on any aspect of this whole obsessive business, or indeed on any of the individual selections listed above... feel free to comment, or mail me (see comments) - meanwhile that's enough verbiage for one day...!

keep the faith/spread the word

...and above all truth and beauty

a (non-braxtophile) regular on the r3 messagebored grew concerned recently with what he perceived to be the sanctification of certain musicians (well... one in particular shall we say) and the concomitant denunciation of others. as far as the latter is concerned, i can say that perhaps one or two of us in that place have been damning of some players on some occasions, but as regards the exaltation of "saint anthony" - it's just the way his music makes some of us feel. more than one of us (hardened, even brutalised cynics in some cases) has talked of b's music making the world seem worth living in. from the outside, i can imagine how this might sound: fanciful-bordering-on-hysterical at best, insufferably pretentious at worst. yet neither of these inferences touches the truth of the matter.

thursday evening saw me sitting in front of the computer with any number of things i could have done, time on my hands, yet immediate inspiration lacking; after slumping further and further on my chair and losing all interest in anything, i eventually shut down the computer in disgust and went off downstairs to sulk and listen to some music. i took the third volume of the yoshi's ninetets with me (1997 gtm, for those of you who don't use the discog on a daily basis..!). it's taken me a whole month to get through these three double cds, (what turned out to be) my xmas present to myself: six discs, six gtm compositions, six horns among nine players; i needed to pick the right occasion each time. and each time has been different: most successful and enjoyable so far was the second half of vol. 2 (comp. 210), but for whatever reason, i had retained almost no memory of the fifth disc which followed. now here i was poised for the sixth... finish the sequence, probably just start again - this all being (among other things!) practice for the iridium box, the rosetta stone (to pinch an image from morton and cook and apply it elsewhere*).

i wasn't in the best of moods to listen, in theory, but at least i did use headphones (usually don't). anyway... within minutes my mood, my whole being, felt transfigured.

yes, the world seems more bearable when i remember that braxton is still at work within it.

and not just bearable - limitlessly beautiful. tone colours it seems i have never encountered before are generated, time and time again, by the controlled collision of disparate elements. one would call it a clash, except that what results is anything but that. the extraordinary depths of assonance which open up, like underground wells, all throughout the territory we're exploring together... at times i must force myself to remember that on first encountering b's melodies my ear, too, seemed almost to recoil from what sounded perversely, stubbornly alienating. and this after all those years of my seeking out unpopular music - ! even i struggled at first. this is how deeply we are conditioned to believe that skin-deep glamour is the same as beauty. yet beauty is entirely different and has depths which may never be sounded.

yes, the music also satisfies my intellectual demands, my desire for conceptual complexity, also indulges that part of me which sometimes fetishises (extended) instrumental technique. but what keeps me here is above all the sense of truth and beauty... without these precious qualities my interest might be piqued - but seldom retained for very long.

and yes, we each find beauty in different places. (this, too, is beautiful truth!). i have no desire to denigrate anyone else's taste, nor am i positing my own as superior to another's. i am just saying: this is what i was looking for, this is enough for me. for the time being, at least, that is true! at least half my listening time at present is occupied by mr braxton. everything else has to compete for slots in the remaining portion... i am happy to do this for the time being, not out of any sense of obligation (or "obsessive fixated doggedness" as one r3 boredee had it) but because there is literally nothing else i would rather hear.

the alchemical process completed, mood lightened and perspective expanded, i spent another couple of hours then cherry-picking from among my braxcanon... but that is really part of another story.

*one of the penguin jazz guides refers to (the collected) miles at the plugged nickel in these terms.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

detour (1)

[- this is the first in an occasional series, looking at recordings which are not likely to be examined in the braxtothon - some of them duos, the odd trio perhaps, or maybe groupings put together to play standards: recordings, in other words, which may well be fascinating in their own right but which represent distractions or diversions from the composer's chief concerns at that time (insofar as i can make presumptions about that!). these detours will not necessarily be heard under the strict conditions required for the braxtothon per se, but they won't be mere background music either.]

* * *

nine duets (1993)

first impression: that mario pavone - with whom b. would soon co-lead a standards quintet, handing reed duties over to others - is another of those "watchmaker" bassists, demonstrating considerable dexterity and subtlety of touch but perhaps lacking "weight", or physical presence. in this i immediately find myself linking him with dave holland, mark helias, probably john lindberg... as opposed to, say, mark dresser or chris dahlgren, neither of whom lacks subtlety but both of whom add more weight to proceedings. (at least, that's the way i tend to hear it...) j-f jenny-clark, whose 1973 tenure in b's quartet is regrettably not documented in the official catalogue [but see the châteauvallon entries posted in december - day six, session 2] was another who could get in there and elbow the others out of the way a bit, not so concerned about delicacy perhaps...

... this impression is backed up by the fact that b. chooses a pair of ballads from among his own works for this date; but right from the off, with pavone's tune "the call", that's what i'm feeling. pavone can swing hard, walks with a spring in his step but seems to lack muscle - not for the first time i find myself wishing that this didn't have to be the case, wondering whether it's the perceived demands of b's music which lead bassists to play with more concern for accuracy than for power; or whether he simply attracts that sort of player in the first place. however... it must be noted here that my first impression is only correct up to a point, and to my surprise it's pavone's other contribution ("double", sixth in the programme) which makes me rethink. here, at least, he does show a lot more presence in the bottom end. maybe i'm being a little unfair.

that first cut does remind me of other things - it is reminiscent both of b's comp. 23c and also of some of the more playful moments of conference of the birds (which, again, is likely to have reinforced my impressions of pavone's being a relatively "lightweight" player in his approach). b. takes it on alto, and there are no doubts about the quality of the playing... but it's not necessarily an opener which promises much in the way of substance. (i don't know, maybe i'm being way too harsh here - these are all attempts to rationalise my first impressions.) far more like it is the second piece, comp. 29a, a "medium pulse line for thematic extension", written in the mid-70s but apparently unrepresented on record except here; originally conceived as one of five pieces for piano and two wind instruments, here it's (of course) a duet in which, paradoxically, the contrabass is the higher-pitched of the two voices... the maestro negotiates this one on what sounds like contrabass clarinet (could be sax? details not forthcoming in this case) and, as usual, this means time to get busy. the piece has an irresistible, push-and-pull rhythmic pulse which breathes naturally in and out; and it demands already a more physical approach from pavone, who to be fair does get stuck in there for this one, smacking the strings quite hard and even (around 1.25) making the sort of percussive noise which one associates with paul lovens - despite several replays i can't work out what surface was actually responsible for this! this piece really is a delight - at once witty and fiery, it pushes both players hard and although the written lines fall apart somewhat in the restatement, the commitment and enthusiasm are highly infectious.

i never planned to go through this track-by-track in detail, so let's try and be brief about the rest of it..! the two standards ("i remember you" and benny golson's "stablemates") are handled deftly enough, but i have trouble focussing on both of them; pavone's playing here reminds me a bit of the duo album shepp made with nhøp (but i only heard that once). the aforementioned "double" (a written line in which notes are played twice, in isolated pairs) unlocks pavone's most powerful playing and inspires a quite varied alto solo from b, who constantly dips in and out of the source material while alternating very fast lines with floating, singing phrases; as the heat is turned up, the harsher tones start to appear in the sax and pavone really pounds away at his bass, even taking over for a while as b's alto slips quietly into the background without stopping.

that still leaves four braxton originals, only one of which (the strident comp. 65) was originally conceived as a duet, though for sopranino and trombone (earliest of several recorded versions appears on elements of surprise with lewis); there's also comp. 87, a very demanding piece with extreme interval jumps in the theme, which b. takes on a selection of clarinets by the sound of it; comp. 135 starts out as a rather unorthodox-sounding ballad, slow plucked bass and breathy flute telling the story, then a solo bass passage leads to b. returning on one of the monsters he loves so much before the pattern inverts itself (this a favourite device among b's ballads), another brief bass solo leading to a closing flute section. all these numbers put pavone through the mill to some extent, and he negotiates them all skilfully if haltingly at times (but really, playing this stuff on a contrabass... god only knows how hard that is, i'd better shut up or risk offending any bassists who might be reading).

b's ballad writing - can i say it evolved after the (early) seventies, or would that be assuming too much? probably, but with the proviso that i could easily turn out to be wrong and have to take it back in due course, that's what i'm going to say about it. the ballad writing for soprano sax which appears around 1970-73, say, is characterised by a great deal of underlying menace, the lead voice(s) subjected to all manner of dangers and horrors (all this is covered in more detail here and here especially); the world apparently seemed quite a hostile place to the young composer, scars of a segregated chicago upbringing perhaps still fresh. later ballads remain tense and edgy at times, but i don't hear the same fragility in the narrative voices, more confidence - albeit a watchful confidence. this may be too easy a conclusion (academia providing a degree of security and shelter which was possibly missing in earlier life)..? in any case i wanted to look finally at the third piece on the album, comp 6(O), a ballad structure from the first creative ensemble book, at least two decades old by the time this was recorded.

the piece, dedicated to frederic rzewski, was first unveiled in the trio segment of the 1972 town hall concert ( - sandwiched as it was between two very fast numbers, it was almost relegated to the status of light relief... and (as you can see) i found it hard to know what to make of it at the time. but i do remember holland's careful sketching out of the landscape... how does that compare with this version, recorded more than twenty years later? here, the landscape seems a lot less sparse than i remember it from before, the arco bass stepping along confidently, pausing briefly at intervals to take stock; a gorgeous flute soars on top, plaintive at times (and with much of dolphy's gentle breathiness in the descending runs especially) but piercing at others, high notes in particular nailed with startlingly clean and aggressive attacks. all over within five and a half minutes, the piece this time strikes me as pensive rather than haunting... but i still suspect that many of its facets are not clear to me.

i've listened to the album several times lately and i do recommend it. probably best if you take what i said about bass players with a pinch of salt..? probably applies to *all* my pronouncements, let's face it ;-)

- first thoughts on for alto
- braxtothon phase two: moers 74 quartet
- charles gayle gig review
etc etc

spread the word!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

anthony braxton on bbc radio

this week's jazz library on bbc radio 3 features our man. the programme, edited and presented as always by respected writer and broadcaster alyn shipton, is co-hosted this week by the critic brian morton (also widely respected). the programme can be heard online until late night, friday 18th jan (uk time):

no further comments at this point, but any opinions or reactions are welcomed...

indeed this is a good time to mention that if some people are trying to listen along with the braxtothon and/or are reading "old" posts... please don't refrain from commenting just because you assume the comments won't be read: i am informed by email of any new comments on any posts and will usually reply promptly. there is much more to be said about *all* this music! - c. x

Friday, January 11, 2008

cent's 2008 manifesto / lessons learned

happy new year to anyone who is reading... this project has been neglected of late, then saw a brief flurry of pre-xmas activity, which in turn generated no interest at all so that i ended up neglecting it again.

that's no good is it? i am here to celebrate the continuing life and music of anthony braxton... the desire to keep doing this has not gone away (though questions of point and futility do keep nagging at me). so i am going to return to it, and i am going to keep at it... and rumour has it that mcclintic sphere may even join in as well.

now, as regards the braxtothon in particular: i got very excited about it, but what did i learn? i do certainly know more about b's music than i did at the start; of course i also am now more keenly aware of how much i don't know. that's ok, though.

one thing is clear to me, at least... when the chronological journey continues (which it will, at some point), it will have to change somewhat. the idea of listening intently and as if for the first time, then at once setting down my ideas and impressions - it seems to have had some value, but it has many limitations. among them:

one, it became too hard to continue because SO many impressions were coming that writing the sessions up was getting to be very draining; in the end it just became a chore (at which point of course i stopped).

two, even under these circumstances i was not able to shake off the half-finished, wide-eyed writing style which i developed as a teenage short-story writer and never quite left behind. i start writing - there it still is. that irritates me.

three, as previously outlined (see the december post functional stack), in only hearing the recordings once and immediately sweeping on i was denying myself not just the chance to learn more about what i'd heard, but also the chance to check my own responses. when i came back to some of the recordings at playlist time, i was genuinely shocked to see how very different some things sounded when revisited, or when taken out of context.

so... when i return to braxtothon phase three - whenever that turns out to be - there will be some policy changes. the first listening session will go as before; then i shall allow myself some short amount of time in which to revisit, relisten, read up a bit maybe and generally let my impressions settle and coalesce. then i shall do the writing... also, as much as it still makes sense to me (in principle) to avoid reading anyone else's thoughts about material i'm about to hear, it's no longer practical to be militant about that. i have read too much and heard too much now. so whilst i don't plan to seek out other reviews as such, i shan't insist on ignoring them from now on.

what i hope to achieve by all this is a more balanced (and hopefully more succinct and focussed) rendering of my own thoughts on the recordings.

time will tell whether it works.

* * * * *

in the meantime... i have been listening to lots of things and have various unfinished, half-assed observations to make on quite a few of them... and some of these will start going up presently, along with whatever else comes to mind. hey, you never know, i may yet even publish those gig reviews from back in november..! of course, i have to write them first... but it's possible (fingers crossed) that the delay will mean a bit more focus and concision for once.

finally... i never quite did finish publishing the existing braxtothon entries. there didn't seem to be any point in putting them all up at a time when no-one was reading, or when everyone was busy with other things... those who are interested, please note that some of the remaining entries appear below, published in december (note that the review of the chateauvallon '73 gig is in two parts, which is probably not clear if one sees part two first. if you know what i'm saying). during the next couple of weeks i will put up the last two entries. the final session of phase two - new york fall '74 - is now just going to have to carry over to phase three. i can live with that.