Wednesday, April 30, 2008

braxtothon '08: week one - behind the scenes

this is like one of those "making of" dvd extras that most people never watch... and those that do, can never bring themselves to sit through more than once ;-) but i still wanted to write it.

* * *

at the time, i thought i was just booking a random week off in march. this was months ago... well, i knew that it was mrs c's birthday, early in the week, but had no idea back then that easter was gonna be so early. in the event, my "week" (in which i'd planned to relaunch the braxtothon, in time for spring) turned out to be weds and thurs... and even those were early shifts for mrs c, so that my day began far earlier than i'd have wished, in the cold, with a dog walk; then i had to try not to collapse in a heap, remembering that by 4.45 the car would be pulling up again and the airspace in the house would no longer be all mine to fill... so... this time i figured i would try something diferent: listen while i had the listening time, write later. indeed, with mrs c at home but busy for most of the easter weekend, that left me three days (ha!) to write up the whole lot.

or something. well, this was the last planned piece - i'm writing it precisely three weeks later (i.e. tues). still, that probably makes it sound worse than it was in the end! it's true that portions of the last ten or eleven articles have had to be dragged out of me, sentence by sentence, para by para... and at times it seemed as if it would never end, but it's never felt like a waste of time and i've never lost interest. some of it came easier, some of it was pretty torturous - but i do think that on balance a bit more time and thought and distance can only be of benefit, in getting to think about the music. works for me, anyway, cos here i am finally with one day off before week two begins with a one-off day, but extended into the evening... not sure yet exactly how to put that time best to use.

* * *

week one - weds

001 fall '74.

'nuff said... having finally written proper braxtothon notes for this album, i backed right off everything for the rest of the day, took it very easy indeed. in fact i chucked a dvd on and stayed well clear of listening to any music for a few hours. later on i felt totally depleted, for whatever reason. when i did go back to the stereo, it was with demon days by gorillaz, while i washed up - it's an album i like a lot, but of course it now seemed as if each (short) song went on far too long.

week one - thurs

this was a really good day, from start to finish, and despite the weather letting me down big time (it's supposed to be nice on these days! i thought i had made my wishes clear on that one) i came out of it feeling great.

listening sessions had to be squeezed around other little things, but that worked fine, because the obvious schedule for the day was: 002 news from the 70s - 003 five pieces 1975 - 004 montreux. easy, about 90 mins music in total, and a natural day's excursion since it charts a short period near the end of wheeler's association (with the group, and almost with the music). anyway, that worked out fine and it was also a staggeringly rare instance of my doing everything else i wanted to do also. the rest of the day went really well too, even though the weather didn't play along.

session 002 is a little longer than it need be, because i have figured out in advance (coming downstairs with a small pile of cds, gathered from a careful trawl) that once i've heard the gröningen 23e, i shall want to compare it quickly with the moers one, and shall then go back to the '73 châteauvallon concert to determine now whether that began with 23e as well. so, the may '75 version (which i actually last heard on the last night of october, after the half-arsed "session" of fall '74 which i was trying to get away with - got nothing of lasting value from the piece on that occasion, but then i didn't even make notes... i was fooling myself, phase two had already finished) left me feeling secure, at least, that i wasn't gonna get this piece mixed up any more, i just had to remember that it was the ayler piece and that's it right there, the transition to ecstasy. having listened to it in '75, i then carried on as i'd intended, gave a brief few mins to the '74 moers rendition, which is in reverse (i.e. grows out of a link-phase following the bass solo), then put on châteauvallon - and straight away, this time, recognised not 23e but 23a of course, as described elsewhere. it sounded a bit different in those early days, but that's what it was all right.

for some reason i had a complete mental block when it comes to 23e - i.e. i kept forgetting that it was also recorded in the studio... and up next, i mean right away.

session 003... oh yeah, of course. - probably it's because when i went through the archives looking for playlist material, i omitted anything longer than about ten mins - not totally true, but it ruled out the studio 23e which is almost 17 mins in length. i would have heard that album probably only once, at the time i downloaded it last summer, and until recently i had no more contact with it, just had not found time to get back to it (true of most things... which is what triggered the braxtothon in the first place, i.e. the desire to find the time to listen to all the braxton i'd amassed! i didn't realise all this writing was gonna burst forth)

anyway, the results of this session are already known, 23e dominates proceedings to a great extent.

during the lunch break, synchronicity has provided me with journal violone by barre phillips for accompaniment... famously the first ever solo bass album - or first improvised, at any rate..? either way, it's pretty amazing stuff, some of bp's arco work in particular (way down at the bottom end) so powerfully impressive that it leaves me wondering whether b. ever hooked up with this guy, and if not, why not.... [later on, done with the sessions and on the net, i had juba lee by marion brown, from '66 but with an opener whose abstract-looking title ("512e12") may be more reminiscent of tristano than braxton, but whose theme is oddly familiar, almost a sort of pre-echo of what our man was to specialise in a little later.]

session 004 leaves me in slightly odd state, pleased to have got through it in a way - although a short session (montreux, three numbers in two album tracks), it didn't catch my enthusiasm especially and by the end i'm really thinking, that was it for wheeler - of course we know that it was pretty much it for wheeler, so i'm not pretending to have reached the conclusion completely naively but... by now you can tell something is missing.

in the evening, then, i went over to my mate's place. he has a lovely hut, secluded away on the edge of a forest and a stone's throw from the beach below; everything about the place, i mean everything about it, is imbued with magic for me. usually when i go there, the weather turns glorious, even if it was vile before - today the weather mojo is well and truly not workin', it remains grey and horrible on the way over (which itself takes me through a bizarrely wild and unpredictable territory, and tonight the luck was bad, all sorts of freak hazards - but none of them involved me) and on the way back we get wet and cold walking me back up to the car, not stopping for a moon-lit gaze at the bay and the horizon, as we usually would (my friend passed up the offer of a job in the florida keys, to return to this place) because it was so unpleasant. the full moon coinciding with the vernal equinox did not bring any good will to anyone, it seems, but if there was no good news in that freezing invader of a wind, there was no malice for us, either... we weren't caught up in any of it but it wasn't a happy story.

mmm... and of course in between there was self-treatment with remedial herbs, for repairing damage to the shen and aiding the stream of insight... and there was braxton (couldn't believe i was playing him braxton, but fall '74 really is that listener-friendly - of course it helps that in his case the spacey, whacked-out soundscapes of side two are considerably less of a hurdle than they would be for most jazz heads). i knew i was gonna get away with it as soon as the conversation turned to blackbirds.

on the way home, since it's a special occasion, i had playlist three on... very rarely listen to jazz of any variety while driving, never mind this sort of thing... far too distracting... anyway, tonight's different, so it emerges that tonight is when the penny finally drops, i realise that i have actually placed the only modern pulse-track piece (from 1984) right before the track which started it all, 23g. this is the second time i hear the piece with enough attention that i get frustrated with it. still, the rain stops at least, 23g gives way to the sublime gorgeousness that is 6(o) and my luck holds: just in time, the petrol light comes on to remind me of what i'd forgotten, that i need gas before i get home - somewhat distracted by the music, i'd passed the petrol station already and had to loop back. that's just a minor hassle: if i'd forgotten and had actually run out, this could have been right at the top of the hill in between our two locations... on a winding, poorly-maintained single-track road through weather-beaten farmland, in the shadow of the old mental hospital (whose name no-one round here will mention without practically crossing themselves) - i love driving this challenging road, love driving between his place and mine in either direction (traffic permitting) but the idea of getting stuck up there of all places, and on a night like that... heh heh, no thanks, you can keep that one. it's the sort of countryside (familiar to me from growing up in somerset) of which i would be tempted to believe anything, bodies stacked in barns being the least outlandish of it. and why did they always build the asylums in places like that?? the only places that would have them, i suppose...

anyway... got home fine, mrs c. snug and warm, dogs warm and welcoming... and after catching up, i disappear off to mail mcclintic sphere and then to put together the outlines for what i want to do in writing this week up.

* * *

week one - fri

knackered. doubling my morning coffee intake did not help at all, it has to be said. neither did anything else. yet somehow i did manage to write up the whole of fall '74 by the time i crawled back into bed. it took me all day and was like getting blood out of a stone, really had to be laid out word by word at times (made me feel sure it would be utterly unreadable) but at least i got it out of the way. that had been quite a daunting task actually so fuck it, i felt better for having done it! but it wasn't exactly a dynamic day and all i could think was: first writing day like first listening day, second will be like the second, i.e. great.

week one - sat

and three weeks later... etc.

- no, that's not quite true, but it is the short, simplified version... basically the next two weeks saw me dragging my arse along the ground and scraping the stuff out, line by line - five pieces 1975 required re-listening before i wrote up the notes, in segments - then finally, after i'd decided it was now pointless to do montreux after so long and made more sense to wait, i had a little burst in the last few days which saw me simply sit down and let it pour out - not in a cataract, but still, now i'm at the other end, i.e. sort of in week two i guess, it didn't feel too bad getting here. there is certainly no sense this time of a rushing stream pouring out of me (as there was in oct) but what's emerging this time will, i hope, turn out to be rather more measured and hence (this is the important bit!) more sustainable. i reckon i can keep this up for a while without neglecting other areas of my life... besides, the music is calling me back already... see you in week two, your time :)

meantime this concludes the saga of braxtothon '08: week one

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