Saturday, March 29, 2008

braxtothon '08: session -1

so... as previously explained (pretty much passim) i tried to squeeze new york, fall 1974 into braxtothon phase two. didn't work... i then swung to the other extreme, figuring that if i hadn't managed to cram it in at the last minute, that left me as long as it might take - to spar with this potentially-intimidating partner: i had already heard the recording more often (in a short space of time) than i had any other braxton album (with the exception of the first one i bought, the monk set), so the side one pieces, at least, were well burrowed into my ear memory, and in any case i had got used to hearing them in the live sets of that period, some of which i had now done as actual braxtothon sessions. somewhere along the line (as "semi-listens" to the album as a whole, or to tracks on playlists, stacked up), i reached the conclusion that i would probably now not bother to write about the side one pieces at any great length, happy to sum them up as being basically "jazz experiments" and not attempting to treat them in much more detail than that (pretty cowardly, and a cop-out given that i had deliberately avoided discussing these pieces from a formal p.o.v. when i heard them live!).

the album does split very neatly into two halves, is actually a rather beautifully presented album (inasmuch as the format's limitations are exploited very artfully): the first side, i figured some time ago, is a subjunctive, a sort of alternative present, the answer to the hypothetical question "what would jazz sound like right now, if we'd all been a bit more open-minded in our listening?" - and the second was very much the future, at least braxton's future..! the pieces on the second side are all way more adventurous, and consequently explore regions much farther out - yet still manage to report back.

my feeling - as i neared the time to resume the journey - was that i would address the old, cherished issue of the album's "desert island" status, draw the ultimate conclusion that the (self-imposed) limitations of side one's programme are such as to render the album incapable of standing properly alongside some of the later work (much of it, probably) - yet would still be unreserved in my recommending the album, and would pick it as the ideal starting point for a new "friendly experiencer" (making its print status all the more annoying), or as one of two such, at the very least. and yes, that's right, i wasn't planning to write about side one much at all, except for the odd sentence of summing up - unless of course individual details from the performances leapt out at me, while the magnifying glass was in effect.

this, then, pretty much brings the reader up to speed with where i was when it all went down... where my thinking was at, by the time i got my sleeves rolled up for the start of phase three... oh yes, and what i frequently remembered, then forgot again, was one key point about the composer: even though the side one pieces are formal experiments - as opposed to open-ended maps for advanced exploration, which are basically what this man deals in - because they are his formal experiments, they are never predictable, indeed essentially unpredictable: at no point can the first-time (or fifth-time?!*) listener say with certainty, "ah, yes, i can see where this is heading, where it will end up". twist after twist occurs in the narratives - none foreseeable, yet each sounding inevitable once it has shown itself... in fact, just like the man's solos (i come to decide later). but i'm getting ahead of myself there... this is merely the backstory for the first session.

*opinions will differ wildly on this!

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