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??


centrifuge said...

finally... how long did it take me to get this up? anyway... at the time i wrote this review (and until very recently) i was under the impression that this album was well and truly out of print, impossible to get hold of... indeed glmlr's lossless vinyl rip was in a queue to be posted on c#9 at the time of that site's closure. HOWEVER it has been brought to my attention since that although it has never been issued on cd, it may still be available from the label on vinyl (??).

i am assured that the poor sound quality for much of the set is nothing to do with the rip, that the album always sounded like that, which i can believe. it really is pretty bad, and varies only from pretty bad to execrable (a long portion of the set is almost unlistenable: half the sound just disappears basically, and for so long that the listener begins to wonder whether it really ever sounded any better in the first place... but it does eventually return to some semblance of normality)... we know that these albums were not always made with the greatest of care... SO... i can't exactly recommend the purchase. on the other hand, if the album is technically in print then i shan't be sharing it online any time soon (which i was debating). no, but i am planning to post a rip of just the first encore, an interesting technical exercise (broken accents) which can't be heard anywhere else in the catalogue... stay tuned.

glmlr said...

If anyone can find this today (new, sealed and unplayed) on the original vinyl, I'll pretty much eat my hat!

centrifuge said...

ok, i take it back... the SOLO moers album is still available from moers music (vinyl only of course). the GROUP album was never issued by them, only on ring records... so yeah, the chances are that this one is indeed well and truly gone! that's got me thinking again now... it's far from being my favourite from this period, but still, there must be plenty of people who would like to hear it..?

Cschenked said...

Ill listen to anything I can get my ears on with this lineup for sure. Im certainly not as well versed in all things Braxtonian as most visiters to this site but three or so months ago finding and picking up New York, Fall 1974 on vinyl at my local record shop has peaked my interest and Ive been enjoying what I can of Anthony since. What Ive read here has been educational but often I feel slightly removed since most of it is out of my immediate reach, I often pay more attention to the writings that apply to things Ive come across on other blogs or record stores. Those are my two cents, thanks again for the reads.

cschenked said...

or visitors... you pick

centrifuge said...

...and thank *you* for the comment(s!)... it's taking me a while to move projects from conception to fruition at the moment, but the encore will be put up as a teaser when i can figure out the most propitious time to do it... first i have another post to get out the way...

centrifuge said...

please note that sambeck has posted mp3 files of this album now, at his new blog:

Lee said...

Finally listened to this after months of circling around it. I found it oddly weightless. I'll need to listen to it again, but I couldn't find anything to hold onto. The music just kind of slipped along. I look forward to a second listening session having read your notes (I try to only read about recordings I've already listened to), but I can't say I'm in a hurry to play this one again.

centrifuge said...

i haven't listened to it again myself. i still like 23f (first encore) - but it has to be admitted that i've never *quite* revisited the excitement of hearing it under braxtothon conditions, when listening to it in isolation (it's on one of my playlists) -! the sound on that album is terrible for an official release, plenty of "internal mixer" required...

thanks for commenting on this! good idea not to read about what you haven't heard ... why rob yourself of the chance to hear with your own ears? ;-)