Sunday, March 2, 2008

october 07 braxtothon... bailey day



{note: this is the last of the original braxtothon (phase one and two) entries from october 2007. as some of you may remember, i was stranded in 1974 at the end of that month... phase three will eventually begin with new york, fall 1974 - which i tried and failed to shoehorn into phase two! this will be coming soonish, there's a couple of other things on the way first... stay tuned.}

* * *

this is sort of a side excursion - it's not listed on the tour itinerary at all, loose though that is... at the outset, upon realising how many hours of material i was dealing with, i made the tough decision to eliminate all those recordings which did not include b's composing. that way there was at least a chance of making some sort of progress "through the years"... so when brent mentioned in a comment that he was curious to hear what i made of royal volume 1 my first thought was that he was destined to be disappointed on that score; but the idea wouldn't quite be dismissed: no sooner had i considered it than i knew i had to make an exception for bailey of all people, these two being the strangest-looking twins one might hope to see. both utterly committed to giving freely and honestly of themselves with every last utterance, both completely serious and absorbed in their music... seemingly very different in their musical aims (one building language types out of thousands of separable and identifiable idioms, the other attempting the impossible task of constructing a language with no idioms at all), they are nevertheless more similar than dissimilar and it's easy to imagine they both recognised this very quickly. braxton, we know from lock and elsewhere, felt at once that this was a natural playing partner for him; i have not read bailey's thoughts on the matter but his respect for braxton is certainly on record (v. improvisation, "jazz (2)" for example).

so... in this case it will be very interesting to see not only what sparks flew, but what traces are left in the music to follow... i thought i would probably listen to royal when the time came, since that was the one which had come up - and because it consists of two extended pieces instead of shorter ones; but of course when i really thought about it, i couldn't resist hearing some of their first public meeting as well.

first session: first duo concert (first set only)
date: 30th june 1974

restructures link

time is limited today so i picked the first, shorter set... actually this was going to be semi-background music, i wasn't planning to approach it like a strict session, just absorb whatever i could ... but in the event the music was so rivetting that i couldn't do anything else at all while it was on. made for each other...

in point of fact this is a continuous set as well, it's just indexed very helpfully into the separate "areas" of the set - i am not sure who defined these areas, or what parameters were set for them by the musicians; in some cases a particular idea or set of ideas seems to be under examination (eg area 2 which begins with forceful, plosive entries from both and continues to explore sudden, fast attacks) but maybe not in all. in any case b. makes it easy for us by switching instruments each time, so perhaps that was the parameter, or one of them... for area 4, he lays out altogether and lets bailey play solo for a few minutes (the reverse happens in the second set). area 3, which is designated "open", begins with b. charging out on fully fired-up alto sax, embarking quickly on what sounds suspiciously like one of his own solo pieces, bailey having no trouble keeping up with him but seemingly forced into the role of accompanist for a while; yet this, too, settles down into a patient co-operation over time, and this co-operation, really, is what characterises the whole set right from the start, the two musicians reaching out for each other in the soundspace and connecting frequently. the bell-like euphonies of the first area, the chopping and pecking attacks of the second... the approaches vary and mutate, but the two (contrary to what some writers have rather bizarrely suggested) are clearly playing together throughout, one might even say this is the case while only one is audible (somehow...) - the playful (yet still serious) sixth and last area perfectly sums this up, bailey noisily toying with his tuning heads and pushing the resonances of neighbouring strings in and out of synch, braxton supplying the reed's own version of the resulting harmonics, even hinting at feedback.

short and sweet this (for a change)... and now:

second session: royal volume 1
date: 2nd july 1974

restructures link

is it just because there are no handy index markings this time, i find myself noticing more the (famous) stubbornness of both players? and i remember now why some people don't hear much communication going on, because they don't hear a great deal of dialogue as such... some improvisers didn't like working with bailey, on the grounds that he just did his thing regardless of whatever else was happening... i am sure that quite the same thing has been said of braxton also, this being yet another thing they have in common, then... but there's the key to it: their similarities, above all their complete commitment, enable them to play together in parallel as well as in conversation - so that they just sound good together and hence enjoy playing together, which in turn makes it sound good... etc. once the ear is open to this sort of music, this is the sort of sound one can live inside, rather than just listen to - and besides, communication and dialogue are not the same thing anyway, and they do communicate, they do in fact demonstrate a sensitivity to each other's utterance which is as subtle as their separate drives are single-minded. if, y'know, that makes any sense.

the first piece (* comments) begins with a perfect illustration of this, because braxton is out of the gate very quickly, immediately inspired, and it's hard to believe that he's not thinking ahead (in that desmond-influenced way) and either playing one of his precomposed solo structures or at least knocking one up on the spot - it doesn't sound second-by-second improvised, and of course this leaves bailey with little to do but fit in around and behind, his response being simply to keep doing what he does, refusing to be a mere accompanist here... and again, instead of a clash, what results is somehow harmonious. well, maybe congruent would be a better word (but maybe not)... anyway, with 21 mins on the clock a similar pattern has emerged, a braxton solo taking off (he just can't help himself) - this time bailey's response is to force his way in, and b. acknowledges him, accommodates him. in between, either it wanders at times or it's me, but if it does, it's not very often, and even when b. starts up with a flurry of tags (16.45ish) - which could indicate that the two have drifted apart - it actually sparks another burst of conversation.

bailey makes some wonderful sounds during the course of these two pieces (and b. sounds, oddly, almost zornesque - before zorn was even on the scene - at the beginning of the second) and even threatens at one point, about 5.30 into the first piece, to make a melody out of a series of sparse, clangorous chords (i say chords - two or more notes at a time, those are chords right?!) - of course he does no such thing. and there's a very exciting fast section (from about 7.15), and a delightful moment around 11.45 where it seems both players are simply tossing handfuls of sound into the air; by the end of the second piece i was flagging a little, i confess (under pressure of severe canine distraction), but basically i really enjoyed these recordings and would have loved to see the two men play together.

did i learn anything? maybe not much - apart from the surprising "zorn noises" (shall be keeping an ear out for recurrences), b. did little i haven't heard him do before, but the satisfaction which one imagines must surely have been engendered by these encounters may yet spill over into what was to come..?

25 comments:

ubu xxiii said...

'Royal' is a prize one, eh? I still haven't heard the Emanem set they did together at Wigmore hall, apart from the 'rehearsal pieces' on Bailey's 'Fairly early with postscripts'.
As I've probably mentioned before, the 1st time I heard both Braxton & Bailey was together with Evan Parker in 1976, before the Incus schism. It was something of a landmark in my musical development. The year after I was back for more at the Company sessions in ICA, documented on 'Company 6 & 7'. Great stuff.
When you say, cent, you'll deal only with recordings that feature Braxton's compositions, doesn't that include his free improvisations or spontaneous compositions? He isn't a sideman on most of these, insofar as the old hierarchies exist or are observed. What about his compositions played by others, whether in his absence or presence? I know you have to draw a line somewhere.
On the subject of critics I've been reading Ben Watson's book on Bailey, better than I expected, due to the generous space given to the words of Bailey, Oxley (& to a lesser extent Gavin Bryars who maunders on a bit). One comment from DB 'Lee [Konitz] has, as virtually all radical players do, gone backwards. It's usually described as 'maturity'. He's much more of a conventional player now than he ever was' is relevant to the debate about 'Jazz library' on Braxton.
Now, the target this series sets itself, to give a considered overview, with the best available recorded examples, of a musical career often lasting decades & going thru numerous phases, in an HOUR, is ambitious. What a listener can expect is that the commentary shows signs of a wide-ranging & informed period of close litening to the music in question, so that the commentator has it at his fingertips, rather than just name checking.
What I resented most was the attempt to 'theme' the thing by constant reference to Bird. (He isn't Phil Woods or Lou Donaldson, thankfully). I find Braxton's 'standards' output much less valuable on the whole than his own music. (He isn't Paul Desmond either, thankfully)
But as the man said, Graham Lock & Mike Heffley are the 2 main authors who've made sense of the music, & Braxton of course has moved on since then.

centrifuge said...

* the pieces on royal vol 1 are entitled "opening (opening)" and "opening (closing)"; i mention this because some understandable confusion persists: i have seen the second piece titled "closing (closing)" in at least one place. presumably royal vol 2 - which has never been issued - comprises the piece later titled "closing", in however many parts.

no, i can't quite believe it took me till bloody march to finish running a series of pieces i wrote back in october, either... time flies..!

and now back to ubu xxiii...

centrifuge said...

damn, ubu, you got there before i even had a chance to drop in my own comment ;-) i had to pop out straight away after posting.

which dates (free improvisations or spontaneous compositions) do you have in mind? but basically, no, i was planning at the outset to disqualify this sort of thing, otherwise it would just all take too long - of course in the end it took longer than i thought anyway, so that's even more reason to try and stick to recordings of brax playing (predominantly) his own pieces; i don't have that many versions of his compositions by others anyway.

i've been put off ben watson...

the "bird" stuff on jazz library is understandable, if a bit lazy: all alto soloists who came after parker have to deal with him, but the idea that parker is braxton's touchstone is somewhat wide of the mark i reckon. similarly, the idea (espoused by brian morton) that b. constantly needs to keep going back to the american songbook in order to refresh himself is ... i don't want to get carried away here and say things i might regret, so i'll just say it's a bit lazy, again - ! it's also, i think, a complete misunderstanding. (chances are that returning to standards is more like light relief than "inspiration" as such.)

back to bailey... to these 1974 meetings in particular: one of the many things that set my teeth on edge in the programme was the suggestion that b's trio with evan parker and paul rutherford (1993 - two decades after these recordings) was the first time braxton "got" the europeans. it irritated me because a) i don't think it's true at all and b) the clip they played then signally failed to illustrate the point morton was supposedly making, i.e. that 1993's meetings saw braxton finally stop trying to be himself and come over to the way of thinking of the british guys - towards the end of the clip (during which all three men basically sounded very much like themselves), b. took off on one of his solo flights, not sounding remotely concerned with trying to play like a euro free improviser at all. again, the opinion was (i'm guessing) formed at the time, never checked or updated, just rolled out on demand at the time of broadcast.

of course, the opinion in question also raises the point: why is it up to braxton to come over to the european side, rather than the other way round? indeed, the brit-centric nature of the prog was another irritant. george lewis a little-known collaborator?? outrageous... but these british critics possibly think of kenny wheeler first, every time, simply because he is (sort of!) british... this comes across as rather tediously parochial rather than jingoistic, though it could easily be both.(if david g. or anyone else really thinks i am being unfair here, fine! let's have it out.)

i don't understand why the received opinion on
the '74 meetings is that they just didn't work. if one or two people read the braxtothon post and are led to doubt what they will read elsewhere, so much the better...

zenkojiman said...

For me, Braxton's playing of standards is integral to who he is, and to how he chooses to define himself musically.

On the Iridium set, CD 'tracks' are there just as convenient entry points when there are no gaps in the music.

Thank you for the brilliant solo piece from Italy. I am a flat-earther, technology-wise, but even I have managed to get this wondrous piece onto a CD.

zenkojiman said...

Oh ... I think that Brian Morton may be right. At any rate, it does not feel right to dismiss the playing of standards as in any way 'lazy'. There's almost something elitist in this kind of stance. For instance, I wonder if in Braxton's free playing, you'd be able to locate where his playing was 'lazy' or 'formulaic'. I hold my hands up to say that I wouldn't.

Anyway, Braxton's playing of standards is invariably interesting and rewarding. I hope he gives us more; much more.

centrifuge said...

z-man, thanks... not had the pleasure of your company for a little while :)

i'm glad you enjoyed that terrific solo!

i'm not sure quite what you're taking issue with as regards the standards business - i certainly didn't intend to imply that this is lazy on braxton's behalf! i meant that to *say* what morton said is laziness on the critic's part... oh, he's really a traditionalist? that's a nice unexpected view to surprise people at parties, yes he delves back into standards to refresh himself you know...

now, i do think these excursions have more of the quality of light relief, because there is total freedom in interpreting the material and the fun lies in meeting the players and exploring the (outer implications of the) music - that might not sound much like light relief but it's not the real serious business, because the man is a composer - and his pieces gotta get played!

please understand that i really like b's approach to standards, most of the time - on the other hand these dates're not generally top of my list to acquire (though i would like to hear some of the quartets with kevins norton and o'neill). i think in general the songbook is a lot closer to your heart than it ever could be to someone of my generation... i didn't say it on the bored in the end, but i have no desire really to hear evan parker playing standards, i must admit... i don't remember much about that dave green (monk) session on r3 though i did hear it at least twice...

i will try and "do" the charlie parker project at some point, cos that one really is fascinating i think... and probably (74) in the tradition, too - but for me the solo work is (i said this elsewhere) far more likely to be the key, the central discipline which holds everything else together - of course b. almost always plays standards in the solo recitals too, so to some extent the two opinions may not be so far removed... but (with a few obvious exceptions) i don't think it's really the tunes as such which keep him coming back.

zenkojiman said...

Sorry if I misunderstood you, Cent. But I suspect I didn't really! You probably do tend to equate standards with laziness. I am kind of trying to argue the opposite. Evan Parker is of 'my generation', and so I'd guess song structures must mean something to him (I actually think they do to everyone). Sun Ra is another guy, to whom I've gone partly on your recommendation, who sees free and standard playing as, far from being mutually exclusive, mutually enriching.

You have to remember that Brian Morton knows Anthony Braxton - the real AB - I'm sure you must already be aware of the article in The Wire, Issue 252, but if not, try to check it out.

I was re-reading an interview with Evan Parker this morning, in which he was talking about, I guess, a kind of internal bullshit detector, which sometimes says to him in the course of his soloing:
'Oh this is going terribly. When the f-ck is something going to happen? What is this shit about? How many times have you done this before? Are you still happy with this rubbish?' As I say, Evan may have that kind of detector, but I wonder just how many (how few) fans of free improvisation share it.

I quite often check this stuff out, but don't often feel I need to comment. I still love the photos. If you were to consider turning this into a book, I think you would need an edit function. But I'd buy it, for sure.

atanase said...

hello & thanks

centrifuge said...

i believe that (last para) is what's known as a backhanded compliment ;-)

editing it would render it redundant really. the whole point of the exercise for me (certainly at first) was to concentrate far more on the music than on my own writing. naturally it's imperfect, and doubtless full of rambling and repetition, since i have well-established tendencies in those directions... but so long as i feel that i'm getting closer to the music, i don't really care much about the details of the writing style (or lack of it).

having said that... a book has been sort of requested... (i don't know if you saw the comment from the main man, but if not, it's on the previous post... not wishing to blow my own trumpet too much, but it's relevant to what i'm gonna answer next!) and i daresay that if it (the book) happens, a certain amount of judicious "pruning" may take place - though what i certainly am *not* interested in doing is trying to rewrite it the way a professional journalist might write it.

brian morton "knows" the real AB..? but what do you mean by that - he interviewed him? all i can say to that, really, is that in b's comment below he gives a (very) short list of writers he thinks have shown real insight into his work... he doesn't mention morton.

i don't deliberately set out to offend people here, and i realise that morton is very popular, at least in britain... and that i *won't* necessarily be very popular for saying i don't think much of what he has to say about braxton! but i don't, and my main concern is to express what i feel about that, and about criticism in general (some of these guys seem to think that they set the bar, and it's up to musicians to try and reach it) - if that makes me unpopular, i'll have to deal with that. the more i thought about some of bm's practisedly-offhand remarks in the r3 prog, the more irritating i found them. i don't think he really has much of an understanding of ab's music at all. let's put it this way: if i'm wrong and he does, then he gave a very poor account of it in that programme, or it was very infelicitously edited..!

still, thanks for the recommendation - i don't have access to the magazine, but i'll see if i can find the feature online somewhere..?

"You probably do tend to equate standards with laziness" - this is maybe my turn to be mildly offended! you're attributing to me a view i haven't expressed, and backing it up with the word "probably"?? i can't say i'm particularly happy with that..! NO, i actually was referring to laziness on the critic's part - and that really was what i meant! yes, i would rather hear braxton's own compositions, they interest me a great deal - so of course i am going to be less enthusiastic about other people's material. that does NOT mean that i think it's "lazy" of braxton (or anyone else) to play these other pieces!

finally, the evan parker bullshit detector - well, that's interesting, although i'm unsure whether you are having a pop at me personally there, or at others on the bored, or just sounding off a bit - ! in any case i strongly suspect that *all* regular improv listeners have that sort of mechanism inside them (what are you *saying*? that some improv fans don't really listen to it?! - people do sometimes talk of this music as if it were glamorous, as if people would somehow "pretend" to be into it just to look cool... cool in the eyes of whom?? this is probably the least glamorous music in the western world we are talking about!). NOW - whether any two listeners would agree precisely on which parts worked and which didn't is doubtful! but i bet you most of them could give a good account of why the "good" bits worked FOR THEM.

(on a side note, those comments of parker's sound more like internal "demons" to me than a bullshit detector!! they certainly don't sound very encouraging...)

well, there was certainly plenty to get hold of there... thanks :)

centrifuge said...

atanase, hi :) that last monster was a reply to zenkojiman, not to you (as i guess you will have divined...)!

ubu xxiii said...

I wouldn't say Braxton's playing of standards is invariably either interesting or rewarding. Given the intonation problems (bad reeds, acoustics or some misguided wish to emulate Paul Desmond?) & prolixity those 4 CD boxes from Leo could easily have been edited down to 2 single albums & nothing very essential would be missed, which is not of course a put-down of the musicians involved, as such. But I'd still like to hear the recording of him jamming with Warne Marsh. Contrary to (much) received opinion I think Braxton brings something quite illuminating to Monk's music (kindred spirits?) but not to Andrew Hill's. I also like 'In the tradition' which some critics slag off; it's full of surprises.
Cent, free improvisation involving Braxton? The duos with Bailey (tho I don't know 'Moment précieux'), Company, highly recommended, & the Emanem album with Milo Fine, not consistently great, but gets more gripping as it goes along. I don't find the duos with Andrew Cyrille very inspiring or inspired, & of the 2 improvised pieces on 'Small ensemble music (Wesleyan) 1994' the duo with percussionist Eric Rosenthal doesn't seem to achieve much. A mixed bag, I think, a bit like the standards.
It's up to him how & what he wants to play, but I agree that his own material is the heart of the matter.

centrifuge said...

(... i guess some forms of folk music are probably less glamorous than free improv but that's about it...)

ubu - oh yeah, company {{doh}} that, alas, is exactly the sort of thing i had in mind to exclude from the braxtothon. too much of a distraction, and/or too intimidating, take your pick... actually that reminds me, company 5 is on my wants list - anyone got that?

otherwise - i don't know those others you mention, except bailey, and well, i've kinda done him ;-) don't be surprised if i end up coming back to that partnership though.

i've actually just got listening to some of the 23 standards box tonight - but as enticing as it is i'm already suspecting that it's way too long, you're right - still, i shall hold off till i've actually listened to it! but surely these were collector's pieces rather than - ok, i've said enough about this already - any more opinions on the matter?

oh yeah, i agree with you about the monk *album* at least - not sure about this "off minor" yet (and haven't heard "round midnight" so far, but he does frequently play that, albeit usually solo). not heard the hill album. (the hill piece on the woody shaw album with b. as a sideman/guest is good - never did get round to finishing that article.)

zenkojiman said...

Ubu. You should have a read of what Graham Locke says about 'intonation problems' in his book Blutopia.

Cent. Our correspondence seems to have become a bit litigious, so it is probably (that word again) time for me to quit the scene. I was trying to be helpful, really. My use of the word 'probably' was there to suggest hesitation; but then you talked about standards being 'light relief', and about your having no wish to hear Evan Parker playing standards. Also, on the R3 Jazz Board, you once expressed surprise that I could like both Jarrett and EP: I found this a bit hurtful, as well as strange, as I have never respected boundaries in any of my listening.

You are a very self-confident and focused guy. But I think you should show some respect where it is due. I am not an apologist for him, but Brian Morton has done masses for Braxton. Voluminous space is allocated, quite rightly, to Braxton in the Penguin JG. Serious articles on Braxton are not exactly two a penny, so I am surprised you are not aware of Morton's exceptional piece on Braxton in February 2005 The Wire.

If you were to seek to publish a book, you would have to think seriously about audience, economics of publication; and above all, about acknowledging those who have gone before you - notably Locke and Morton (I am not aware of others of worth).

You plough your own furrow, which is fine. But I maintain standards ARE important to Braxton, as they were to Sun Ra (check out The Singles, one of the most important documents in the discography). I'll leave with a brief Braxton quote from the Wire article. I love the man, and I hope that the communication earlier on this board really did emanate from him:

'Harmony is still the basis of my musical information, but harmony understood in new relationships with parameters of melody and rhythm.'

Harmony. Melody. Rock on.

centrifuge said...

z, thanks for your (parting) thoughts and sorry if i offended you. something in the centrifuge persona does encourage me to go in a bit strong at times. thing is, i have to allow that or i'd never get anywhere with it.

since z is "quitting the scene" for a while i don't think it's appropriate to answer his points individually. on the other hand, i would like to clarify one thing before any chinese whispers start: i have great respect for graham lock (haven't read mike heffley yet). i was effusive in my praise of the forces in motion book last year, both on c#9 and on the r3 bored, and to anyone else who would (pretend to) listen!

i do try and give respect where it's due - this is important to me. thing is: without wishing to sound like a megalomaniac, *i* will decide when it's due. this is not about ego - it's part of a longterm, wide-ranging attempt to question received opinion (as such)... i've driven a few people crazy with this at work, but in a world where people are constantly encouraged to form opinions at the drop of a hat, i really think it's very importnat.

atanase said...

braxton -> wolf eyes -> olson ->
->graveyards!!! GRAVEYARDS!!!!!!!!

what a band!
what a concept!
what a trip!
what do you think?

what am i on... again...

ubu xxiii said...

I've read 'Forces in motion' twice, & it makes more sense of Braxton's musical language than anything else I've read, but 20 years have passed since its publication, which means nothing of course on ghost trance, diamond curtain wall & long, long albums of standards. Mike Heffley's book was written in the 90s & if his book on European jazz is anything to go by, it would be articulate, closely argued & pretty demanding, but still not quite up to date.
Brian Morton may have done some serviceable writing on Braxton in the past, but I didn't think the necessary (in the context) job of re-listening to a lot of Braxton had really been done properly in preparation for that programme, & if you're busy, it's understandable. But instead what the listener got was memories of listening, maybe based on notes made at the time. Who appears on 'Jazz library' to comment depends on who the BBC can get.
They've done more for Braxton's music over the years by just broadcasting live concerts, & giving listeners the chance to hear for themselves. Making any kind of enlightening commentary on his music is hard enough, & I don't think radio in this country has risen very far to that. (Resonance has played sizeable chunks at times, but of course no comment.) The only exception I half remember is Brian Priestley interviewing Braxton briefly on a series radio London (now defunct) used to have.

centrifuge said...

atanase - well, whatever you're on, you evidently aren't the only one... quite a few people seem to like that meeting! i haven't heard the "real" version myself, just an audience boot which is a bit of a challenge... and i haven't even heard that for some time. i guess i'll probably get the cd at some point...

ubu - thanks for those further thoughts, and for reassuring me that i'm not just being obstinately disrespectful..!

zenkojiman said...

Cent. You sound a mite relieved that I might go silent for a while; don't blame you there. But anyway, as a nice second-hand copy of Forces in Motion landed on my doorstep this morning via Amazon Marketplace, and in light of AB's own Foreword, I thought I'd give you one more quote from the Morton article. By the way, it's the cover item, with a superb cover shot of AB, plus nice photography inside too. Anyway, the quote:

'It's an open question whether Braxton has done himself any favours, both critically and commercially, by expressing himself in such abstract and abstruse terms. When my wife says she hopes we might one day see him in Scotland, he replies softly, "I look forward to making such a journey in the next time period ... in order to study your mythology." We had been thinking more more of walks on the lochside and a few glasses of Laphroaig.'

Ubu is entirely right about it being time for a new book. But to my mind, it has to be a book which sees Braxton whole. Just do a search on Amazon on 'Braxton Standards', and you'll see how many times he has reverted to them. You know this already, I'm sure. Best wishes for the book project, if it crystallizes for you.

centrifuge said...

on the contrary, zoot, i'd prefer you to stick around... it's true that i'd rather not argue (here of all places.. i am happy enough to argue on the bored!! but i take my shoes off before coming in here), and - as you may know if you have read previous comments as well as posts - i am prickly about being given advice, regardless of who's offering it, unless i requested it. i still get prodded into argument fairly easily, of course.

i assume that you're still reading at this point, so let's have a look at that quote you selected... in what way is this shedding light on braxton, other than saying "he's a bit mad this guy"? i suppose it could be regarded as amusing, perhaps this is even why you offered it - but it didn't make me laugh or even smile when i read it, all i felt was (again) minor irritation.

here's something i'd like to offer for your consideration: an interviewee is expected to answer the questions put to him/her (unless they are totally outrageous/libellous etc). so if morton wanted to talk to braxton about standards, you are going to read a lot about standards in the article. and this is the real kicker: isn't it convenient for a jazz critic - who is expected to sound like an expert on hundreds and hundreds of musicians, on cue - who has only strictly limited time, in practice, to devote to all but a very few players - to be able to say "ahhh, of course braxton is really about harmony and bird and the songbook, and is indeed only able to keep going because of his revisits to it"..? because that lets the writer off the hook, means that he will never have to try and penetrate those imcomprehensible bloody originals, which do sparkle at times but god only knows what the guy is on about...

yes, i agree, it's a good thing such a (relatively!) high-profile article existed, especially if it was the cover feature - for that, i can feel some gratitude (odd, but true); does it inspire my respect? that, as always, remains to be seen: it's judged case-by-case, and in the meantime i don't feel as if i have to give morton props just because of the fact he wrote a feature..! but yes, i would possibly try and track down a copy since you mention it... if i get it, i will report back in the usual place, i.e. in a post...

i shan't repeat what i've already said - in previous comments above, i have said things about standards which i hoped would make it clear that i wasn't disregarding them altogether. BUT THIS MAN IS A COMPOSER. he is not just an instrumentalist! like zappa - who as you know was the focus of my previous obsession, though that seems as nothing compared to this later one! - braxton is a composer, soloist, bandleader, also an educator, thinker... these aspects are all of importance, and of course if he chooses to play standards, they are likely to be interesting. BUT THERE IS NO GETTING AWAY FROM IT: the compositions are the key. incredible depth... which *does* make any standard sound like light relief to me, by comparison - and i bet you they feel like a holiday, pretty much, to our man. you will see for yourself, in lock, when you get to it: the point in the '85 tour where b. says after the soundcheck "i wish we hadn't played tunes. i feel as if i've played enough tunes for a lifetime..." of course we know he didn't feel like that forever after, but still, it shows us much about what he *really* wants to share with the world.

don't let this stop you, of course - or influence you at all! your pleasure is as valuable as anyone else's. but when you say "song structures" - are you deliberately implying that b's own pieces are not structured, or just not thinking of them in that way at all..?

finally - since i've answered every other damn thing by now! - are you sure that was me said that about jarrett and parker? when? *i* can't listen to jarrett any more, it's true, but i know you have listened to him both at far greater length and in far greater depth than i have.

stick around man - seriously. and like i said (somewhere above) - i will even review some standards, at some point ;-)

ubu xxiii said...

A comment from Derek Bailey on his 'Ballads' CD- 'Ballads' is nothing to do with the tunes. The record is about improvisation.'
Whether or not this sheds light on Braxton's world, there's no doubt the musical activities, composed music, free improvisation & the playing of repertoire from the jazz tradition (show tunes & jazz musicians' compositions) have become more compartmentalized & specialized with time.
Anyway I'd like to examine some minute particulars. 'Green dolphin' on the '20 standards' Leo box set. From the start it's easy to hear Braxton is going in & out of the tempered scale, but without any apparent expressive purpose (sopran(in)o's known to be a bastard in this respect at the best of times). He observes the changes, but the very predictable rhythmic composites he uses in the solos on these albums, which could be approximately described as a few bars of 8th & 16th note flurries, followed by a slow, often out-of-tempo section, then back to more flurries, isn't enlivened by sufficient harmonic, melodic, dynamic or rhythmic interest to make the track worth listening to again & again. (An off night?)
Compare this to Dolphy's version on 'Outward bound' & you'll find something that is noticeably different from the 'classic' Miles version of 1958, with its bass clarinet stop-go vamp intro leading to swing rhythm in the middle 8. , Original, loads of energy & invention.
In those Leo boxes I think the most successful moments are when the 4 musicians shred the tune ('Crazy rhythm', 'Freedom jazz dance', 'Blue rondo', the last 2 not even having a restatement of the head at the end).
If anybody wants a heated debate about 'Blutopia' maybe I should give out my e-mail address, as it would be 'off-topic' for the Braxtothon. Suffice to say that after the lively lucid exposition of 'Forces in motion' (yes, Mr.Lock really does make sense of 'Braxton-babble'), in 'Blutopia' he gets into a real muddle by taking received opinion for verified facts.

centrifuge said...

feel free to give out your email if you want, but anyone's welcome to discuss that sort of thing in here, really... don't forget the blog, contrary to most appearances, is not the braxtothon as such anyway... the vast majority of what's dealt with in here will always be braxton-related, but there will be the odd exception... and besides, i would think that debates about the merits of different books by lock are pretty directly relevant here. not that i can really contribute, for once... only read one!

i have listened to some of the 23 standards set, not the other one, though of course they are all (8cds!!) compiled from the same dates anyway... for me this is actually proving to be the most problematic listening of any braxton i've yet heard. the versions are (mostly) extremely long and although the leader plays some very good stuff, as does norton in particular, i really am finding it hard to work up much enthusiasm for the music overall. one can attribute that to various things (eg: the clean guitar tone and up-and-down-the-scales approach used by o'neil here doesn't do much for me), but i have to agree with you that eight cds is far too much material! still, i'm sure at least some of the collectors who bought the limited sets feel differently about the whole thing...

ubu xxiii said...

Some miscellaneous notes & queries:-
One problem about Graham Lock's 'Blutopia' is the way it takes certain highly speculative theories as proven fact. On page 16-17, following on an interview with Marshall Allen he cites a book by George G.W.James whose thesis is that western civilization stemmed from
ancient Egypt, an example of black Afrcan culture. If you visit the Egyptian museum in Cairo (the least boring museum I've ever entered, as it happens) you'll see a mural from 1 of the pharoahs' tombs depicting the Egyptians battling the Nubians. The latter are depicted in terms that would be called racist these days, i.e. the Egyptians saw themselves as separate from black Africa.
Actually 'Africa, Asia & Europe' seem pretty obviously to me to be Greco-Roman constructs, born of the will to assert their names over regions of the world, in the Romans' case for clearly imperialistic ends. The Mediterranean basin was seen as the centre of the world, with the hinterland peoples being regarded as barbaric; Greeks & Romans both used the term 'barbarian' to mean people who couldn't speak their language. The Carthaginians (Hannibal & co.) were descended from the Phoenicians who came from what's now called Lebanon.
By the end of the pharaonic era, the royals (no doubt having fizzled out due to compulsory incest & interbreeding) were ethnic Greeks, the Ptolemies.
Archie Shepp's idea of getting back to African roots by playing in Algeria was equally misguided, since the minority of sub-Saharan
Africans who inhabit the Maghreb were descended from slaves, the arabs being as enthusiastic about slavery as white Europeans.
Ben Sidran's book 'Black talk' seems nearer the mark in this respect by claiming African-American music, anchored as it is in oral culture, is taking the ascendant over more literary/literate versions of 'culture'. That's a simplistic paraphrase; it's worth reading from beginning to end if you're into this music.

About George Lewis's new book on the AACM- has anybody seen it around GB yet, or even advertised? In the U.S. the publication date is autumn 2007.
About Moers records. Has anybody tried e-mailing them, & actually got a reply?

centrifuge said...

wow ubu :) there's a lot to think about it in there.

i tend not to find much time to read (or inclination, since schopenhauer dissuaded me...) so it's always nice to have others to pass these interesting things on..! i was a lousy scholar (and am proving still to be a very undisciplined writer) and i don't ever see myself reading shitloads of "informative" books the way some do - but like i say, i'm reliant then on others to pass on stuff which could well be of interest.

just tracing your comment back to its starting point - the work lock is citing (through allen?) has an obvious political agenda; if lock perhaps takes that a little too much at face value, this wouldn't be very unusual for a british white male intellectual, let's be honest ;-) i myself find lock's "i am a feminist" stance extremely grating in the earlier book - and was highly amused to see that crispell apparently found it somewhat embarrassing... but this is all fairly easily excused - in the balance, when the other side is loaded with so many positives! (and besides, the master himself already had a touch of the academic about him so the two men are well suited to each other, that's clear from the outset of the book)

don't know about (dates for) the lewis book... i'll certainly be interested in THAT, but not necessarily champing at the bit to get hold of it straight away... his style is very knowingly verbose, playing an elaborate game with academic language to amuse himself more than anything, riff with it... it doesn't always make for the smoothest reading, as has been noted (by others) in the past...

and no, i haven't had any contact with moers myself... anyone?

ubu xxiii said...

Something I meant to mention in connection with Lock's Egyptian thesis is that it applies most directly to Sun Ra of course (but [mis-]informs a large part of 'Blutopia'). If Sun Ra wished to follow such an autocratic & necrocentric sytem as the Pharoahs' to replace what he saw as christianity's slave morality, good luck to him. The least we can do is believe in his belief, without having to subscribe to it.
It reminds me of all W.B.Yeats' occult baggage, which somehow served as fuel for his poems, in a similar way to the 'Egyptian spaceways' with Sun Ra's music.
We're on much firmer ground with Braxton when on the Iridium interview he talks about 'the miracle of consciousness.'

centrifuge said...

not *that* firm though is it ... learning to step on clouds is involved!

i take your point, can also see why someone might wish to draw direct parallels between braxton and sun ra. (doesn't mean i would agree though.) and ellington? hmm... don't know nearly enough, do i.

i could see myself getting pretty deeply into sun ra - it's almost inevitable really, but i haven't permitted myself to get sucked in yet - one black hole at a time, please ;-) but as a bandleader, sun ra may have been closer to zappa, the harsh master rather than the supportive, nurturing father that brax seems to have become, at least - always was? i guess not everyone would say so...