Friday, February 22, 2008

*** music file here ***

(pic: jason guthartz)

right, so this is not the promised encore from the moers '74 quartet(t)... that'll follow when i get round to it! this is something i hope you'll like as much as i did, a braxton solo piece from the cecil taylor historical quartet - as it was apparently billed, i.e. the same line-up that played london last july, that is taylor with braxton, wm. parker and oxley... i'm sure you all know that this group played several concerts in italy later in the year, and indeed everyone probably knows that the gigs didn't go too well overall... some, ah, cognitive dissonance between the players perhaps. BUT this recording of b's solo from the reggio emilia gig (angelica festival, 13th oct 2007) is lovely anyway. early on he does something very impressive... which may distress any wildlife in the immediate vicinity.

thanks for this go to mr improv, our man on the spot with the minidisc, and to king kennytone... who provided said hardware in the first place, and sorted out the recording at this end. click here to hear it:

  • Anthony Braxton - Reggio Emilia 13.10.07

  • * * *

    update ... kk's version of the full concert is now up at the inimitable japanese knotweed preservation society:

    (a different recording of the same concert is also up, at inconstant sol)

    Wednesday, February 20, 2008

    gap-filling... part one

    first (batch of) impressions of, and conclusions on for alto

    preamble: all this does not constitute a review! so far i have listened to the album piecemeal, all of it at least once but none of it more than twice, or any of it with the sort of isolated, focussed intention i pay during actual braxtothon sessions as such... as we know, at the time of the braxtothon's inception i did not have this recording in my possession and hence, though i could hardly avoid mentioning it, i was in no position to say anything about the music...

    - since then, i have acquired a copy (see 3. below)... and as i say, i have listened to all of it, but although none of it was treated as mere background music, none of it was given my full and undivided attention either. like i say, the chance to "do" it as a braxtothon album had been and gone, and to be honest about it, thank gawd fer that because otherwise i could have been scuppered right at the start... this would just have been too difficult, too intimidating to take on, certainly at that stage! even now - when i feel that my understanding of b. as a composer has evolved considerably (my familiarity with him as a soloist has not changed so much, though in that regard too, my impressions have definitely been filled out with a lot more detail) - i balk at the idea of tackling something as portentous as this work in any fashion except by way of cowardly compromise, nipping in and out to make any pertinent observations i can whilst not even attempting to pass any sort of overall judgement... nope, i'm happy to hide behind the "out of sequence" excuse and leave it at that... besides, i rather expect that in this case i will have fresh observations to make each time i hear the album... though whether i always get round to reporting on those is another matter. (this article itself has been brewing for weeks and weeks! where is my amanuensis, is what i want to know... ahem)

    1. dedicated to john cage - oh no it isn't. now, this has apparently been resolved - relatively recently, but resolved. jason guthartz is satisfied to give the order as you see on the restructures discog (link above). the chuck nessa article does not explain the whole story, and i don't (yet...) have mixtery, the graham lock book cited, but yes, it does seem a bit jarring that braxton would have chosen to dedicate the storm after the brief calm, the furious second cut, to cage and it's a little odd that no-one got this cleared up for so long afterwards. (understandable how such things could happen in the first place, mind.) the dedicatee of this notorious firestorm of sound (the solo composition now known as 8f) is of course cecil taylor. the short drone piece tacked onto the end of track four, identified by nessa (for the first time, he suggests) as a separate track all of its own, is in fact the one dedicated to cage. (but see 4. below...)

    2. now... furious, yes. scorched earth, etc? you're not listening properly. and neither was phil woods, evidently... technically wanting? you are kidding right?? find me a better woodwind player than this man, out of the extended family of jazz musicians of all types - one with better or more comprehensive technique..? nah, don't even bother trying to talk me round on that score... even in '69 (or whenever it was - it's curious that there is no reliable date yet for this landmark recording), when b. was not quite the finished article as a player (though really not far off), i reckon he could have wiped the bloody floor with woods or any other bopper, and that anyone who hears lack of technique in this piece is simply not allowing for their own very limited listening tastes and/or prejudiced ears... i think that some people mistake (what were already incredibly precise) tonal and timbral distortions for fluffs, or they simply can't help assuming that the torrents of sound must be rushed, uncontrolled, since they themselves feel uncomfortable listening to them.

    now, one could say that braxton was asking for it, throwing down the gauntlet in such a way: lead in with something sweet but barely noticeable, then sweep away all traces of it with a (controlled) outburst intended, above all, to hint at all the things which remained yet to be done with an alto saxophone... but also, surely, on some level, to indulge the ego just a little bit, to make a very emphatic personal statement which therefore invites a certain amount of the inevitable (even if misdirected) adverse criticism. i'm also drawn yet again to make a comparison with dolphy, whose first album under his own name (outward bound) kicks off with an alto number on which the leader's solo begins at such startling speed that braxton's own reaction on first hearing it was, he says, to assume that he was hearing a violin because he had never yet heard a reed instrument played that fast... yes, one could very easily imagine that this was dolphy unleashing a decade's worth of pent-up frustration, BUT: that would be something of a red herring, since the actual first take of that piece (dolphy's famous "g.w." - the first take appears on recent remasters of the album i think, but is definitely included on the odds-and-sods compilation called here and there) has a solo which is very different in mood and has very little of the exhilarating urgency on display in the master take... equally, as exciting as that iconic piece on for alto is, i think it's probably a mistake to get too hung up on it, because... it is only one piece.

    a lot of people seem to forget that... and this unfortunately can lead to all sorts of critical glosses, for example remembering for alto as if the entire album sounded like comp. 8f. so - does it? no, it doesn't. far from it, actually, all of which makes braxton's perpetual complaint (i.e. that he has rarely been given a fair hearing) fully justified. there is in fact a very considerable variety of textures and approaches on this album, since right from the outset such variety was a crucial ingredient in b's aesthetic. so yes, i do get rather annoyed on b's behalf when i hear certain critics talking of how the later solo works are "more mature" or begin to show a better use of space, such comments rather patronisingly implying that this earlier work, invigorating as it might be, was immature and characterised by a failure to use space at all... such assumptions are simply groundless, and say far more about those critics' memories (or even about their ability to listen openly in the first place) than they do about anthony braxton.

    finally - "scorched earth", as such? again, the suggestion that the aacm members in general, or braxton in particular, were attempting to erase the memories of all that had preceded them is not so much debatable as just complete crap as far as i'm concerned. i can't see that there was ever any evidence that the aacm showed anything other than appropriate respect towards the various traditions which they inherited; but the first imperative for these forward-thinking musicians (unlike, say, for a hard bopper who would first and foremost have needed to prove himself capable of slotting into that particular style) was to play their own music. i think it's fair to say that the critical establishment has never really understood this... well, of course it's far easier (and considerably more dramatic) to cast the aacm as bloodthirsty revolutionaries. perish the thought that the truth should get in the way of such typecasting. [ok, that's enough of that for the time being... i have more to say on this specific matter - stereotypical views regarding the aacm - in a forthcoming article, examining some aspects of the derivation of b's solo style; and and i have recently ranted about (anglo-american) critics generally on the radio3 messagebored... and will have more to say on the subject at some point! the fact that critics are allowed to get away with forming opinions ultra-fast (may even be championed for doing so) and then simply remember their own opinions, rather than the original work itself, strikes me now as being just profoundly wrong. anyway...]

    3. this album really is a good advert for vinyl. i'm actually glad i didn't buy it on cd (that's right, i succumbed in the end and downloaded an illicit rip...) because it's not well programmed for continuous play like that. on vinyl, when the listener has to get up and go through the ritual of turning over the record and restarting it, there is no way of avoiding the knowledge that one piece has finished and the next is about to begin. one may even have a peek at the info at the same time. so there's no chance of falling into the cd listener's trap, that of not noticing that track 5 has finished and track 6 has begun, which is otherwise very likely if one is not paying extremely close attention to the unfolding of the narrative. it's exactly what happened to me.

    - track 5 is the original side two: comp. 8d*, ded. ann and peter allen, a very soft and reflective, deeply involving ballad structure which has frequent sustained pauses during its length and explores mainly the territory of quiet, breathy attacks - and this over the course of almost thirteen minutes, the whole being a very powerful demonstration of restraint and spaciousness, as well as indicating a tendency (already) towards long-form thinking and composing. (well, he can do short-form too, can he ever! - though he tended to borrow more frequently for those, and now tends to achieve similar relief through playing standards and enjoying new collaborations.)

    - track 6, the first half of the original side three, is comp. 8c*, ded. susan axelrod, which is actually a very different beast... but which begins with a quiet, breathy series of attacks; considerable dynamic variations and contrasts are a key feature of this composition, though, and after listening to some very forceful (beautifully-played) louder moments, i found myself thinking, hey, hang on... and sure enough the counter had moved on, but as to exactly when... couldn't say. yes, there is of course a brief pause between cuts but track 5, as previously mentioned, contains silences anyway.

    {an album which can confuse the listener through its use of spaciousness and silence... do i really need to stress the irony here? well, i just did.}

    it's not as if i was doing anything else at the time: i was in the bath. sure, chances are i was off and away in my head; i had never intended to give the music my undivided attention (through it frequently demanded it of me, through its startling beauty)... but if you don't believe me, check it out. track five becomes track six... as if by magic. [the (simplified and abbreviated) catalogue of works in lock's forces in motion lists 8c as "ballad language", which - as usual - doesn't tell the whole story by any means, and 8d as "very slow language with silence"... which still doesn't tell the whole story, but is pretty accurate.]

    this now makes me even more determined to buy a really nice double album copy of this. yes, in the meantime i could've bought the cd but... i didn't. wanna make something of it? well, leave a comment, let's by all means get this out in the open... we are all doing it, but some people don't like to talk about it... right?

    in the meantime... caveat auditor. programme yer cd player, if you must listen to this holy scripture in that perverted format ;-)

    4. this business of dedications and composition numbers... it isn't quite cleared up, is it? not by the look of it. perhaps i will learn more when i track down the (other) lock book, but until then - what is the meaning of a (retrospective) title like comp. 8a/b? this opus is not listed in the catalogue of works..? nor does it sound as if it is likely to be. the unhelpful description "blues" is... unhelpful. what was going on here? how come nobody noticed for so long? and by the time they did, did nobody remember? ah well.

    that's part one. part two: declaring that the drone at the end of side one (tacked onto track 4, on the cd) is actually comp. 8e* (dedicated to john cage), doesn't quite seem satisfactory either (though it's a hell of a lot more convincing than passing off the second track as anything of the sort): 8e supposedly explores "medium fast relationships". mmm. (8f, ded. c.t., utilises "fast pulse intensity language". that's more like it...)

    in the latter case... perhaps that's all braxton felt like dedicating to cage on that day. or perhaps the truth is yet to be fully explained..? again - why all the mystery and vagueness? were medicinal herbs involved? i think we should be told ;-)

    5. finally: our man is fallible after all! or at least he was at one point... i confess i was very disappointed by the original, inaugural rendition of comp. 8g, ded. kenny mckenny. off-handedly encapsulated as "multiphonics - medium pulse", this piece was an important document in b's personal manifesto, or so i believe. there are later versions of it which have had my eyes virtually popping out in amazement. yet this version, obstinate in its persistence, cannot seem to cover much ground and never really catches fire. at least, that's what i found, having got really quite excited about sampling (finally) that river at its source. later on, he would play it much, much better as far as i'm concerned. but, naturally, this was heart-warming in itself... human, fallible! those gifts are not (purely) preternatural: they bespeak untold hours of practice at a critical stage of development. in this early time - whenever the hell that was exactly - all the elements are not yet quite in place. that just makes the album even more fascinating... and i am sure it's one to which i will return on many occasions.

    * * * * *

    those are the five things i wanted to write about - you can see now why this was not a review. it's taken me several weeks to get those impressions coherently expressible. or that's how long it's taken me to be ready to get it out of me... in this instance i am precisely recounting my reactions rather than the music itself. not a review, no chance of a grading, everyone's got the album anyway and those who haven't know they gotta get it. (one way or another...) peace out.

    Tuesday, February 19, 2008

    building stacks (2)

    see also playlist one

    so, no need for any preamble this time then ;-)

    {oh yeah, except that to say that my references to "proto-pulse tracks" etc in that earlier article need to be taken with a pinch of salt, as i have since realised... this will be covered in depth during a close-up examination of comp. 23m, coming soon... but read on}

    playlist two

    1. comp. 40f - studio, 1979 (tr.2)
    2. comp. 55 - live, 1976 (tr.5)
    3. comp. 23d - studio, 1974 (tr.3)
    4. comp. 65 - studio, 1993 (tr.7)
    5. comp. 23m - live, 1973 (tr.3)
    6. comp. 6i - studio, 1971 (tr.5)
    7. comp. 69q - studio, 1983 (tr.4)
    8. comp. 115 - studio, 1984 (tr.3)
    9. comp. 40m - studio, 1975 (tr.5)
    10. "maple leaf rag" (joplin) - studio, 1976 (tr.4)
    11. comp. 52 - studio, 1981 (tr.6)

    - ok, so obviously "maple leaf rag", in duet with muhal richard abrams, is the other standard (cf. playlist one).

    - this time the final selection is the last track from the same 1981 quartet album which provided the closer for the first list..! those of you who know this album will doubtless appreciate the seductive qualities of both of the album's "bookends" ... when i first realised i had stuck 40m and 52 in the same list i figured i'd have to change it, the two being really very similar inasmuch as the written melodic line of the latter is more or less a rewrite of the former's, though the feeling is (subtly but) distinctively different... (and 52 is another very well chosen piece for the '81 date, taylor-made almost for blackwell's strengths as a jazz drummer). in the end i kept them both together for comparison and contrast, since the written lines are so similar.

    - 6i is the ass-kicker i'm always banging on about (from complete '71). how this catchy number didn't catch on is... well, depressingly obvious, it being a braxton composition. but i love it, have listened god knows how many times to this version recently... and was delighted to discover that circle played it at the hamburg '71 gig (in a version which lasts a full twenty mins).

    - this is a lesser-known version of 40f, which of course kicks off the famous dortmund ('76) concert. i'm not saying this one is superior, it's just easier to anthologise :)

    - 23m is matched up with 6a in the first list, i.e. these were the pieces (along with a third on the final list) which i dubbed "pulse prototypes" etc. this piece (23m) is the subject of my first detailed track-analysis (forthcoming) so i shall leave it at that for the time being.

    - 115 is in variable tempo, a very entertaining (if somewhat queasy) effect as the band accelerate and decelerate together.

    i guess that about wraps this one up... as before, no more details on tracks etc unless i get prodded... you know where to prod :)

    Wednesday, February 13, 2008

    october 07 braxtothon... day seven (2)

    preamble: right, this is it... we're going in... this is an actual, officially-released live quartet performance coming up... now obviously i have "cheated" before i got here and filled in some gaps with what was available to me, but still, this moers group set has a little extra significance... the quartet first showcased on complete 71 is now the main vehicle, along with the solo concerts of course (which will never cease to be a central discipline of b's music)... and we know now what we didn't then, namely that the same postbop quartet would mutate and reform in all sorts of different ways to constitute collectively a huge and wide-ranging "jazz experiment", not the whole of the man's work (of course) but a significant part of it.

    was it intimidating? a little :)

    did it live up to the billing?

    second session: live at moers festival
    date: 2nd june 1974

    restructures link

    our man has decided by now that the racing vehicle comp. 23b* is a set-opener, not a closer, so everyone has gotta be right on it from the word go today. well, that could go either way, couldn't it: nail it just like that, you'll all feel terrific, unstoppable; if you don't, though... what effect might that have? well... let's find out shall we, because nail it they don't, quite... by the standards of this leader the theme is almost sloppy. still, with less than a minute on the clock b. is off and cooking - by the 2 min mark he is producing sounds which have me writing ! on my notes... wheeler peeks in very briefly, ducks backs out again - we are in for the long haul, and somehow, although the leader is in full voice (and still setting up all the bits of equipment in the lab), by the time the counter hits 4.00 i'm somehow finding that the music sounds restrained, it's almost - no, i can't say it - it's ... the bass and drums, they're not cruising surely? these guys would never..? and suddenly i am totally unsure whether i've got so spoiled that i'm trying to set ridiculously high standards or what... but the momentum implied by the idea of this piece... where'd it go? that's not where we are at all, now... the leader is effectively continuing the solo extravaganza he began the day before, wheeler is relegated to the odd toot and splutter (he re-enters briefly at 6 mins but is driven back out sharpish, b. immediately blasting him into silence) - and holland and altschul (who can frequently get really worked up when b. is soloing) almost sound as if they are on autopilot... or if not, they sure are a bit subdued.

    or, y'know, it's just me... but rather to my surprise (and disappointment) i found myself struggling with this set - and it is a set: the double album probably contains the entire concert by the sound of it, which consisted of one long set (sides 1-3) and two encores (side 4), one of which is so good it almost makes me change my mind about the whole thing. the main set, though - there are times when it really picks up and the band finally seems to be firing on all cylinders, then it dissipates again. i am left with the feeling that there must surely have been better quartet performances than this (well... châteauvallon the previous year, for a start - but of course that wasn't the same personnel), and i can only wonder about what it is that's missing... and why.

    really this would remain my overwhelming impression of the set, so rather than traipse through the entire thing minute-by-minute i'm going to essay some general comments... such as musing on what could have been going on. that first alto solo - which lasts about ten minutes, wheeler first getting a look-in at 11.34 - very much gives the impression that b. was not finished after the previous day's solo concert and has more that he wants to get off his chest - the rest of the band don't quite seem to know how to handle that. maybe nobody was expecting it, even the leader? of course there are moments where the music really comes together but somehow each time the alto comes back out it's as if that's where the real business is being transacted. still, the crowd don't give any sign that they're not enjoying it (and are very appreciative of the various solos) and if nothing else, we know that stage has seen and heard some amazing alto playing over those two days.

    another thing: b. seems to have standards in mind at times... there are definite teasings and flirtations with actual tunes during his solos, nothing so crude as an outright quote, but perhaps the recent copenhagen engagement has him thinking of songs while he's playing... wheeler in turn seems to pick up on this (to be fair i didn't find anything lacking in wheeler's solos, even the first one, once he'd shaken himself out a bit after that sharp rebuttal and subsequent long wait); but there are times when a change of materials seems to be needed, and again this does happen during the first (long) piece - wheeler is finally followed by altschul, who immediately breaks up the flow and suddenly it seems as if we really need to be somewhere else - but we aren't, and the knowledge that the theme will come back for a restatement seems a bit incongruous somehow... when it does return, it's still not 100% accurate and bearing in mind that it has now sprouted the lengthy, tricky coda (which it didn't have the previous year), there is ample time for more fluffs and panicky grabs at notes before the piece ends and holland takes out side one with a bass solo.

    i really don't want to make it sound as if nothing good happens, so let's have a look at the highlights: side two contains comp. 23e* - which grows out of holland's solo and which the crowd greet as if it's an old friend - and the parts of this which work are really, really good: it occurs to me at this point that this piece (which may or may not be the mystery opener from châteauvallon) may be in some skewed way inspired by wayne shorter's "nefertiti", a number which b. had played with circle - and which they tore apart, at least in paris, having little concern for the original "no-one solos apart from the drums" version by the miles davis quintet, yet if the influence is showing through here it's precisely for that reason, i.e. that altschul really goes wild here as the fairly spare theme is eked out, little by little... that in turn creates a lot of tension which does get released, a rare double solo by both horns leading to wheeler on his own (for a change), though it's not long before the contrabass monster makes an appearance even then; the parts where both horns are heard together here are the ones i like best, but for longish sections this is not the case.

    or there's side 3, with two very interesting pieces from (what would later be dubbed) the 40 series - they work well together since both contain distinctive little trills, albeit that's about all they have in common; the first (40(o)*) is unusual because it contains no soloing for at least the first six minutes, during which time the theme is played again and again by a different combination of voices, each time, different filters and effects showing us different aspects of the music; even when the alto looks to branch out, altschul seems to be persisting with the theme and for the only time in the set, the alto keeps its head down and shuffles off; b. switches back to the monster before the bass and drums start to cue up a new pattern, and 40m* is underway - another swinging theme with sly, sidelong glances worked into it and a mysterious "tailing off" at the end, b's own version of the sort of thing booker little might have written...
    but here, again, we find ourselves in the midst of another alto extravaganza and once again it's as if the bass and drums, knowing how superfluous they are, can't get much going - certainly the problem is not the leader, who seems to have an inexhaustible supply of new ideas, the ultimate blackbird... and indeed, as blackbirds will do, he continues to sing after the others have fallen completely quiet. that's the set - or nearly, just a quickie for wheeler before the theme takes us back out.

    * * *

    "for frank wright... this is dedicated to frank wright" - but comp. 23f* - which doesn't seem to be represented anywhere else in the discography - reminds me straight away of "iron man" by that man dolphy; except that there is a big difference: the angular theme is supported by a broken, drunken rhythm which seems to collapse in on itself, like listening to a library fall down one shelf at a time - the effect really is something very special, and i don't know how it's done, whether altschul is doing it himself or reading a very precise notation, but in any case the beat-less drum track holds no terrors for holland at all, he just walks straight through it untroubled... and the excitement generated by this build-up translates itself wonderfully into a superb bass clarinet solo which seems to explore whole dimensions beyond anything dolphy had (yet) envisaged... by 2.45 on the clock my notes are reduced to expletives and !s... wheeler, too, when he solos has me gasping - suddenly the rhythm resolves, wheeler stops at once and another bass solo over minimal drums gets us ready for the finale, comp. 23d* (the "ornette piece" - i hope no-one's offended by my calling it this, it will always remind me of that track on the shape of jazz to come). so there is still time for the audience to gorge themselves on yet another alto solo... b. does like to worry those fast runs at times, but it's as if he uses those to charge himself up and can then take off for minutes on end without resorting to any pet phrases or tags at all. and this time he really does quote - is it "as time goes by"?? did my ears deceive me? wheeler seems to pick it up too, for the start of his own solo; again, before the end we are off the boil, after the peak of excitement reached in the first encore - but at least we get sent out with a memorable theme in our heads, the "saved-for last" bit (which surely must be a direct reference to the beginning of "hat and beard") which sounds as if it could snake away in the internal jukebox for a couple of days.

    phew... i am not going to tell you how long it took to get round to writing that one up

    oh yes, a rating..? go on then - CCC ... i really don't think it was just me, something wasn't right here. but it's still a quartet gig, in toto, and its high-points mean that you will want to hear it... and that first encore is a delight. hmmm, about hearing it... how many people have got this album??

    Tuesday, February 12, 2008

    braxton/crispell duet online

    thanks to bigozine for putting this up:

    - and to p. the h. for being onto it so quickly :)

    it's not the complete concert (surely..?) but it is a full set of music, well recorded, scintillating playing so get it while it's available

    *** if anyone has the complete recording... do please get in touch!



    this is just a quickie while i prep the moers quartet for posting later... haven't been listening to much braxton this week, well not by my recent standards: charlie parker project (both discs, one week apart), one of the two (gtm) 2001 quintets w/scott rosenberg, the duet performance above... and the first part of playlist three, last night... but since i haven't even posted playlist two yet i'll shut up about that.

    and that my friends is a week that's light on the braxton... plenty more to come though!

    since no-one is really bothered whether i post sound files or not, i shall take my time over that BUT stay tuned for a trial run anyway.

    c x