Thursday, July 31, 2008

braxtothon '08: a quick recap

so... where was i? oh yes, stranded in '76... for a number of reasons, the braxtothon has made far less progress this summer than i'd envisaged. as reported previously, the short piece i wrote (more than two months ago) detailing some of the week two behind-the-scenes stuff and looking ahead to "week three" (one day, two sessions) now seems totally outdated and irrelevant. this replaces it, then.

one of the reasons for my inactivity may perhaps be a slight sense of anticlimax. 1976, filled with all manner of discographical treasures, keeps the chronological explorer waiting (and waiting some more) for the return of the working group - the quartet - and part of me was champing at the bit to get there. the band had really needed some new blood, and with kenny wheeler (apparently willing, but unable to push on any further) replaced by george lewis, it would be fascinating to see how this affected the working quartet, what new heights it could attain as a result.

but when i did finally get there, i experienced a definite feeling of deflation, albeit one which took time to sink in properly. put simply with hindsight, by the time the quartet recordings arrived, i was unable to avoid the conclusion that the rhythm section had already produced its best work in this group and had almost nothing left. the quartets now seem rather flat and uninspired, especially (this is the crux of the matter) when compared to the pair of astonishing reeds-and-trombone duos which precede them. yes, this is even true of dortmund.

how ironic: way back (as it now seems) when i dealt irreverently with conference of the birds, i was taken to task by several people who cherish that recording, and at least two of them suggested that not only was i being grossly unfair in treating their sacred cow so shabbily, i would balk at being so ruthless with my own (understandably but quite incorrectly, some readers assumed that i have been listening to braxton for years and years and have carried the aristas with me from my youth, as some of them have the holland album). but this has not been the case, nor do i think it ever could be: i haven't been at it for years at all, much of the material came into my collection very recently and is largely unfamiliar to me... and the actual listening sessions are usually so intense that they tend to wipe out any trace memories of previous hearings. this was not quite true of new york, fall 1974 admittedly - yet attentive readers will still have noted that i pulled up well short of declaring that album an unqualified masterwork (let alone the "best" album of b's career, as some critics have glibly suggested). and in the case of dortmund, an album i loved and had recommended to several people as an ideal introduction to b's work..? again, one listening did not quite overrule previous familiarity; but still, by the time i got to it, i simply could not avoid the sense that something was missing - something important. so: ironic, because i *do* seek to update my own impressions, and am therefore usually doomed to slaughter my own sacred cows, whether i intend to or not. i find that the overall gain nevertheless outweighs the (perceived) loss.

* * *

the above is partly an attempted explanation of my slow progress, and partly an advance warning: there are disappointments coming up, at least for any readers who have been eagerly waiting for me to announce that dortmund is the greatest album in the history of the world (etc etc). not gonna happen. but let's not get too far ahead of ourselves here: individual sessions brought their own conclusions, of course, and besides, there is still plenty to enjoy in what's coming up. and here's what's coming up: first, the second duo with lewis (donaueschingen, session 008); and then eastwards to graz. and whilst i gave a spin to the final (in both respects) cut of news from the 70s, just to check it really is the same concert, i have the whole show from graz and that is actually session 009, not just the single dave holland piece. session 010 is dortmund, of course - then things get a little complicated; session 011 will be berlin (haven't actually got there yet... told you i was stranded), but it will also take in montreux first, which was technically covered in session 004 but never written up of course. there's taking time and letting impressions settle, and then there's just losing momentum altogether, and somewhere along the line the one became the other... but i'm still here, and the journey will continue. at this point, no promises at all about how long it will eventually take..! please bear with me, it is a learning process...

[the berlin concert is not the last entry for 1976, of course: that'll be the sackville duets with roscoe mitchell, issued under the latter's name, writing duties split down the middle. but that now strikes me as leading far more clearly into the future than the quartet recordings, which essentially now seem to me to represent the past; and besides, it will make sense to tack onto that session the one track from mitchell's nonaah album which features braxton - another duet, recorded in jan '77. accordingly, there can be no neat conclusion to this demanding year anyway; and berlin will therefore mark the end of another phase for the braxtothon... just as it did for the the working group.]

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

total immersion

"these cds offer nine portals to another world: a world with its own set of rules, its own geography, its own sense of time, its own opportunities. a world that we can learn from and be inspired by"

- taylor ho bynum (liners to 9 compositions (iridium) 2006)

in the end, i made myself wait an entire year before buying the iridium box set. there's a number of reasons for that, none of which need airing here. the main thing is that this year, i sorted out my own birthday present in advance and made sure i ordered it in plenty of time. it arrived a few days before, and i allowed myself to unpack it, but only to check that the contents were correct and had arrived in one piece - ! no sneak peeks, no breaking the seal of the shrinkwrap, no removal of the bubblewrap jacket, even... i simply permitted myself to hold it for a moment or two, feeling its reassuring weight, tantalising myself even further...

on the day itself, things worked out pretty well. mrs c had been unable to get out of going to work, so i figured out beforehand that there would be just about enough time to play the entire thing in her absence... and that's exactly what i set about doing, the minute the car pulled away. no, i'm not insane: i had no intention of trying to absorb every nuance, braxtothon-style; the music was played, and it filled the house, providing the backdrop to the day as i went slowly about my business.

* * *

i didn't read any of the liners until a couple of days later, and when i did i was pleasantly surprised to read the short article by thb, from which the above epigraph is taken. this is exactly the sort of conclusion i had reached on my own recently, regarding ghost trance music in general - it's the instant sidestep effect to which i referred in the third gtm day post. each gtm piece is a key to another plane of existence, a world to be inhabited and explored, rather than a linear progression or journey. i had also suggested (in the second such post) that each gtm piece is like a museum or art gallery, containing any number of different rooms, only a small number of which may be visited on any given occasion. but this collection is apparently one gigantic gallery all in itself, and each set within it represents, say, one wing or suite of rooms... these performances clearly take us to the same alternate world, each time. and although the nine pieces were performed over four successive nights, today i found that listening to them in sequence, with no more breaks than are necessary to change discs, feels perfectly natural, indeed it seems now that such is the way the music was meant to be heard: each piece begins with the main theme, as always in this type of music, and each ends quite abruptly, as if ready to lead directly into the next. no, for the sake of the players and listeners, that is not the way these pieces were performed; yet the istanbul concert, for example, shows how this seamless sequencing might work.

within seconds of the first set i find myself transported, and feel not only captivated but nourished. as i've said, the first gtm day saw me in severe pain, pain which lasted for several months, on and off, but which culminated in almost a week during which i was scarcely free of it for a minute or two at a time. eventually i found the key to ridding myself of it, and in the process i threw out a whole load of useless baggage from my childhood. in the few days which followed, i often felt as if my head and chest were hollow, a huge empty space, waiting to be filled up with good things. what better than this? again, at the risk of repeating myself: these are the ultimate nurturing spaces, timeless capsules within which no-one is judged, and everything is not only possible but permitted. as bandleader and teacher, mr braxton has been heading in this direction for a long time now, fostering an atmosphere in which all his musicians were required to bring only themselves to the music, and which encouraged them always to do their best. for the time being, at least, this gorgeous box set (and the packaging itself is beautiful enough to fetishise) represents the epitome of this attitude. in size, in variety, in the number of different threads of the composer's music which are woven together, it really does seem to be "THE point of definition" in (b's) work thus far".

* * *

the music, as usual, changes every few seconds. groups and subgroups form and come apart, ideas converge and diverge. the one and only time (can't remember when this was) that i found myself hearing an apparent groove, immediately rocking along with it, i no sooner formed the thought that this was startling and unexpected than it had broken up again, replaced by something so different that it at once became a flicker in the memory, one distant impression among thousands. i know that i was most frequently aware of mary halvorson, the one musician (i later ascertain) who is hardest to spot visually, onstage: yet she is so often right in the thick of all that is happening, and there seems to be no end to the multiplicity of ideas and sounds which she can call forth. of course, i am also continually aware of the leader, whose marvellous solo voice is so deeply ingrained in my consciousness by now - i still find it very hard to tell the other reed players apart, at this stage.

it is a delight to spot fragments of previous "greatest hits", such as comp. 40b or comp. 23h or comp. 52; some of these recur over the course of the series, cropping up several times, in different contexts, played by different subgroups and at different tempos. but above all, it is a delight of the profoundest kind to know that the amount of music contained in this box is effectively almost limitless: no matter how many times one listens, there must, surely, always be more to discover. this, i know long before i am finished, is my favourite anthony braxton recording: one reader did keep asking, until i eventually persuaded him to desist... well, now i can answer. in fact, it's probably my favourite album, simple as that: these nine sets, taken as one kaleidoscopic whole, this sprawling castle of mirrors and false walls... i have found my desert island music. by the time the ship arrived to rescue me, i could be long past caring.

* * *

very little was retained, afterwards. and, just as with the first gtm day, i find that it's impossible for me to know afterwards what i can take away from the experience. the very end comes as an anticlimax, much as it did on that first day: this time, mrs c arrives home about ten mins before the end of the last set, and although i greet her quickly and whisk myself back upstairs to finish, the spell is broken. but then the end must always come as an anticlimax: the end of the last set is no different from the others - it simply hovers in mid air, pregnant with possibility, ready to interlock with another piece. time means nothing here, so there can be no true endings.

one thing that did happen, though, for what it's worth... with a july birthday, in my youth i found i could pretty much always count on good weather on the day. for years this was the case, and it became self-perpetuating: however bad the weather was before or after it, on that day it would always be fine. this lasted until i turned thirty: on my birthday that year, it rained, and i could scarcely believe it. all my plans for the day (and they were hardly grand designs) were scuppered. and with the pattern broken, every year since has seen rain on the day (except once - see pic and comments). this year was no different - or was it? looking out of the open back door into the garden, a few minutes after the rain started, i found myself taking a deep breath and thinking how lovely and refreshing the rain was... this is never my reaction to rain, which usually depresses my spirits, and the thought took me so much by surprise that it was almost as if someone else had thought it... but there it was, whatever that means...

Monday, July 21, 2008

still here...

... yes, in case anyone is wondering, i haven't disappeared off the face of the earth, have just been unusually busy in my day job of late, with not much time to myself, and too tired/frazzled to write much... also, the little link piece i had lined up, detailing the end of the week two posts and the start of "week three" (one single day with only two sessions), no longer looked relevant by the time i got round to thinking about posting it. somehow i thought i would be moving a lot faster than this! in the event it's been a bit of a slow drag... but then there are various reasons for that, most of which i'm not planning to go into here...

... one thing i do want to share with you: last week saw a rather special package arrive from the states, namely the complete published writings of anthony braxton (tri-axium writings 1-3, composition notes A-E). i mention this simply because once i start delving into those, this will inevitably mark the beginning of another new phase - in my studies of the man's work generally, and specifically in the braxtothon. although the composition notes only go up as far as the 119 series (the seventh book of solo pieces - * see comments), all of the albums and concerts i will be covering over the next few months at least (could be years, at this rate!) will be drawing on material which is detailed in these books - there's no way of avoiding it, once i get stuck into the man's own writings, i am bound to have a very different perspective on his work.

- the current phase will continue for just a little while longer - until after the berlin concert, to be specific. more to be said on the 1976 quartets very soon, before the next round of braxtothon sessions as such.

* * *

two late birthday presents also arrived at the weekend: the george lewis book, which i am really looking forward to reading, and new musical figurations: anthony braxton's cultural critique by ronald m. radano. this latter book, published in 1993 by the university of chicago press, never seems to get discussed or even mentioned... but it will get mentioned here, in due course!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

gtm wednesday, part three

[final instalment - though there will be more to say soonish about a second long form gtm experience..! see comments, pt2 (sigh)]

6. 1530 - comp. 356 - chiasso, 2008 (unreleased - not iridium, disc seven) *

(the odd one out, the only session of the day which is not an official recording)

- similar palettes, in theory, on offer here as in the previous sesh, but twelve years later and with a total change of personnel - and the effect is markedly different, at least from the later sections of the istanbul concert which seemed to undergo a marked entropic shift... well, that's how that one appeared to me on this occasion, attentions divided as they were, and this one? waaaay more aggressive, right from the start, everyone practically blowing hot as if this were simply an unusually complex free jazz date... or maybe i've just heard a lot of gtm by this point, but that's how it comes across to me. in any case, the sextet really sounds focussed and hungry from the word go. [of course, by now they are all seasoned interpreters of the man's music and have also been benefiting continually from their involvement with it, and with him. and their enrichment nourishes him in turn, and so it continues in an upward spiral, not the sort we hear much about in (the dialogue about) everyday western life.]

- braxton's first solo evidently is very hot on this one too; weakly enough, i have to admit that by the time i come to write about it, i can't remember anything about the experience at all (18th june, 12th july) but there it is in the notes, i got totally distracted from whatever i was "meant to" be doing at that moment by the leader's playing - my next comment is "never stops being hot even when it ain't", and again, i can't quite remember what i meant by that at the time.

- somewhere around 20mins in? the strings play part of 23h

- and then we are asleep for a bit, the sort of experience tantris was talking about recently... and all i can do is repeat what i said to him at the time, namely that this experience is one which feels intimately familiar to me already by now, even though my learning edge is still (yep) stranded back there in the first mountain range, 1976...wake, sleep... drift...wake suddenly... lots of activity...etc etc, it's a familiar pattern, a set of long-sighted rhythms in sequence, with plenty of wiggle room for the music as it takes life and breathes.

- much later, there is a brass march set against a sort of extreme metal/grindcore soundscape, which "works so well" - again, though that rings a delightful bell, i can't remember clearly who played the latter part - halvorson obviously, plus dalhgren presumably... what was siegel doing? i shall have to listen again and find out :)

7. 1635 - comp. 207 (yoshi's ninetets, first night, first set)

[- reeds reeds reeds... i daresay a few potential listeners, especially those starting around now, have blanched and balked at the thought of a nonet - sorry, ninetet - encompassing six saxes. i mean, that's front-loaded, plus these are early species gtm's so some find them a little dry. myself, having bought vols 1-3 (those which were available at the time - vol 4 emerged soon after) last xmas, i listened to them in order, once each over a period of a month or so and enjoyed some more than others at the time; this wasn't one of the ones i particularly enjoyed, and i hadn't heard any of them since (time!!)...]

- and my first thought this time is, yeah, that sounds great! - it's another fast piece, a complex clock set on fast forward, or maybe a beehive... norton is essential to this atmosphere early on. guess what, i can't remember why (as always i am compelled to list my failures as a listener or writer alongside everything else) but i'll guess he starts on vibes.

- first time round, i had trouble believing that nine players were involved, though over the hour - and especially over the series - that came to make more sense. but it certainly didn't sound like the racket one might expect from six sax players - the usual assumption is that one is rarely hearing all nine players at one time, and although this is certainly true at times, there are also, i realise now, passages where the whole ensemble is playing. indeed, this time, the size of the larger ensemble (compared to the previous two sextets) is noticeable at once. the extra weight is felt, literally straight away. and i realise that in certain cases the notes and attacks are so perfectly synchronised that the unattuned ear can easily hear one player where there are two or perhaps even three. (naturally this effect will tend to diminish in pieces which use the diamond clef.)

- as usual (a habit which has long persisted) braxton breaks out first, this time taking o'neil with him. the thing is... every solo from this guy is a blinder, so what conceivable reason is there for not wanting him to take first solo (that is after all what they are, even though they are not all backed in the usual jazz manner, i.e. deferentially) - it's not intimidation, it's encouragement...

- "it takes a while, but the potential for reed marvels is vast of course" - at the time i agreed quietly with certain others who felt that the palette was too heavily weighted in favour of reed scientists - of course, this would have been forced on our man to an extent, we can assume that for a while the majority of players who went to college specifically to work with him would have been reedmen... for a while... eventually plenty of others came forth {{{***}}} in any case, far from seeming a limitation to me now, the plethora of horns is a delight all in itself.

- there are times where the horns all sound amazing, but o'neil seems to be on a different page altogether. then again... perhaps he is on a page all of his own; doubtless this would be ok. but does it work? again, if it doesn't ... that would still be ok. nobody is going to get hit over the head in this school.

- again, winding down the effect of the six horns is fabulous, all mumbling and pecking away, an extrapolated version of the conversational implications of comp.98. great... stuff...!

8. 1745 - comp. 286 (+147-20-69d-256-173-6j-162-23a) - disc two (link - trs. 3-4)

[i didn't make this clear in part one, but early on i made the decision to bracket the day with the two halves of this same piece, since it had to be split over two discs anyway - to what extent would i be able to hold over the ending of the first disc, and would i notice the expanded ensemble that much more after all the previous attuning?]

- yes, straight away the large grouping is noticeable, but not at all in any cluttered way ... i just found myself thinking, what a magnificent racket - much the same reaction i'd had at the start of the day in fact. robair in particular seems to have perfected the art of making his various idiophones and membranophones sound as if they began life as a dustbin. this is a compliment though :)

for a while quite near the end (i think..? sigh, can't quite remember now) there is a very memorable effect indeed: it's as if the hardcore regulars of a local boozer have been swooped up mid-argument, probably drunken and definitely loud but not violent - and dumped on a raft which is then set down a swift river, still arguing all the way as they are flung along, balancing for dear life. it's just... beautiful :-D

- and that was about it, for this first ghost trance music day - during the last piece i was heavily distracted, if i remember rightly i also had to switch rooms (and therefore players) midway through, also i was half expecting mrs c to arrive any minute, though in the event she was a little late and i squeezed it all in... the programme, assembled on the fly in just a few mins before i began, lasted just the right length of time, no breaks were needed... i'll be doing this sort of thing again..!

* * *

* alternatively, my one-part mp3 download of the chiasso 356 is available in the may 31st post gtm file here.

oh yeah i forgot: the words INSTANT SIDESTEP are written large on the first page of my scanty notes for this day... instant sidestep... translocation ticket... whatever, the effect to the attuned ear is that as soon as piece of gtm begins, the listener is whisked off instantaneously to another place, where everything is permitted for consideration, all voices are cherished... and all souls get the nourishment and support they need.

[the second such day, alluded to above, was very different - nine separate visits to the same alternate plane - now what could i possibly be talking about?!]

Saturday, July 5, 2008

braxtothon '08: week two interludes

1. richard teitelbaum: time zones

- side one: live, 10th june 1976

- side two: studio, 16th sept 1976

2. evan parker/anthony braxton/derek bailey: company 2
live, 22nd august 1976

- as the above makes explicit, time zones is two completely different sessions: chronologically, the live performance (recorded at karl berger's festival in new york state) follows only three days after the moers duo with lewis (punishing schedule..!); there is then a gap of three months before the follow-up in the studio, and before he gets there, mr braxton will have taken part in two more of these intimate encounters. the (artistic) success of the duets with abrams, covered in the previous article, and the intense rush of the company meeting with bailey and parker, are the sorts of experiences which could prompt further growth, so that the summer months which separate the two american sessions with the synth wizard are action-packed enough for change to be realistically noticeable, if one were to go looking and if one were qualified to look.

so i had to start off according to the timetable, stuck the first synth duo on nice and loud while i pottered about and made a cup of tea - then sat down and did the duets session, which was interrupted then; the following day i finished off the abrams duets (after a false start the night before) and immediately gave company 2 the same treatment from the day before, not concerned to give my full attention in these instances but always curious to see what does stand out.

"crossing", the first of the two synth duets, is dedicated by teitelbaum to roscoe mitchell and although it's very easy to say this when one has looked at the liners, that dedication does make sense, in the light of the sparseness of the piece as it develops, and the stubborn insistence of its desire to remain rather vague. of course, wandering in and out of rooms etc, i am a fine one to talk about vague, but mitchell's music very often strikes me as being deliberately awkward (braxton's is too of course, both of them understanding - along with many others - that creative growth only occurs beyond the margins of comfort), often seems to take "too long" to get anywhere, to show its intentions - naturally it's not too long at all, this is after all the composer's time we are on and he's gonna let us know it: and that's the whole point, that where braxton's awkwardness/difficulty is in "unnatural" melodies and non-harmonic solo vocabulary, mitchell's seems to me to be in continually testing the listener's patience, forcing his audience to submit to his time-frame. (the legendary live "nonaah" story is a prime example of this tendency, obviously.) something teitelbaum has in common with mitchell is an awareness that a landscape can be sketched out in just a few strokes. braxton, usually, is too full of song to be able to attempt much in the way of minimalism, except on pieces where he conducts others. it does strike me during the piece that it's a little odd to dedicate a composition to one reed master, and then invite another to play it; and when b. launches into an alto spectacular some time before the piece ends, as if unable to remain constrained inside someone else's design for that long without bursting out through a weak seam, it just seems to suggest again that if the composer wanted to write a piece for mitchell, perhaps mitchell would have been the man to ask about performing it.

still, the two players - teitelbaum and braxton, that is - clearly enjoyed playing together, and one can easily see why. they like making similar soundscapes, all strange flowerings and alien geometry. it's a pairing which can be revisited again and again. and they do actually play together when it suits them, the synth echoing the reed so closely for the first thirty seconds of "crossing" that it only gradually becomes clear what the sound source is; the modulations and trills that follow in the (generally sparse) opening minutes are tossed from one to the other also, and when braxton goes off, well into the seventh minute, teitelbaum pretty much follows suit - we can guess at this point that we have indeed crossed. evidently we cross back at some point, though the details were lost to me for some time there. for long periods, the piece doesn't seem to claim my attention though i wasn't really doing anything very involving.

"behemoth dreams" is a different matter. i am long since familiar with this piece, having fallen instantly in love with it when i bought the black lion (silence/time zones) cd a few years ago (back when the braxton entries in my collection were only just into double figures). i've listened to it in open rooms, with headphones, on playlists and even in the car. several friends have been treated to it on compilation cds (and probably skip it if they ever play them now, i can but try). it is, as the title suggests, a perfect soundscape for the continuing adventures of the contrabass clarinet, braxton's marvellous talking monster, fetched back from the hinterlands beyond dolphy's strange realms... it's an entire long-playing side of cbcl and that alone makes it a beautiful thing! and of course the synths weave the background tapestry, the winter winds which pick their way round the cave wherein the monster mutters and snores. on this occasion i made no effort to absorb the piece in close detail; i still love it, so if it takes me twenty or thirty more plays to unlock its various secrets that's fine with me. meantime, any serious braxton fan who doesn't know the piece will definitely want to hear it. (the black lion cd is clearly excellent value for money.)

* * *

company 2 is the sort of anomaly which some critics would like to believe never happened. according to a very popular and highly-rated jazz critic in the u.k., braxton just didn't get what the euro guys were about - at least not until 1993, at the inaugural london jazz festival, when certain critics actually paid attention, i mean, braxton suddenly became a better musician. (i have mentioned all this nonsense before. please bear with me.) yes, better because up till that point everyone knows his attempts to meet the european masters were doomed to failure.

you couldn't ask for a more straightforward demonstration than this, as clear an example as one could demand of the way in which critics take it upon themselves to set standards for artists to achieve, and then to judge whether or not they have reached those heights, and finally to pretend that theirs is to be the sole matter of record on the subject. with as much deference to this particular critic as i can muster (and i'm possibly making him sound far more reactionary than he is), the best i can suggest is that such scanty attention is doubtless a lot easier to blag when the subject is a musician that just about everyone finds challenging, hard to understand if not downright hard going - only a few hardcore nutcases are ever going to take issue with it, and most people will just assume that you still know what you're talking about.

but that's the trouble - i just want to make this clear: i don't have any personal vendetta against this critic (and am therefore not naming him), don't have any interest in getting into a pissing contest over it; but i must try and set the record straight, lest impressionable ears and minds hear the words of the great "authority" on the subject and think, well, i don't need to hear anything before '93 when it comes to the euro free guys then. it's just not true at all. and the final evidence, if any were needed, of the ciritc's sense of self-importance is the fact such an opinion can be held, grasped tightly for years despite the existence of simple, cogent arguments for the defence: one, bailey had worked with braxton before and if he hadn't enjoyed it last time, he would not have asked him back; and two, the fact that incus saw fit to release this at all clearly implies that they thought it was worth hearing. no, no, it just won't do: the expert's mind is made up, once formed the opinion can never be overturned. if on a subsequent occasion a different impression is formed, this must be the result of the performance itself being better (or worse). the critic will always modestly claim that he could be wrong, but will not, in fact, ever be so.

well, this is why i couldn't be a professional critic... i can only write about things i genuinely think or feel, and if i don't understand something, i am compelled to admit that. that's no good in a society where our critics are expected to be guardians of orthodox opinion, confident in their expertise at all times.

fuck expertise. it's way overrated as a commodity, especially where it takes precedence over honesty or integrity. on the other hand, if one has developed expertise honestly, along the way to fulfilling oneself then this is to be cherished, and so it is that although braxton's improvised reed lines are frequently more melody-based than parker's - and certainly represent a very different approach from that of bailey - they are accepted into the space and quickly sound as if they belong there. in any case there is a lot more to braxton's approach than fragments of melody..! those of us who have been following with attention* are well aware by now of the vast non-harmonic vocab base b. has developed for the alto in particular (and to a lesser extent for other instruments), and these "outer" sounds, more predictably, fit naturally into the space.

this is the point - exactly the same point i've made before, with regard to the bailey duo performances from two years earlier: the sounds work well together. the fact that bailey has no interest at all in tunes does not mean that he completely resists co-operation, and on this recording, he seems to me if anything to be unusually willing to meet his fellow players. he makes great use of (all manner of) bent attacks and releases, fiddling with the tuning heads as well as manipulating the strings, and does so in such a way as to co-create very vivid and colourful environments. parker generally remains austere and abstract (though not at all times, occasionally he wheels off into trane-isms from the final phase), but braxton's warped birdcalls fit naturally into the soundscape. it all sounds good to me! all three are hot, all three sound inspired, all three sound as if they're having fun and playing seriously at the same time. at one point in "AKHRAJAT" the two horns mimic an entire flock of birds together, bailey having dropped out for a few moments. there is no sense of incoherence or of fruitless struggle. rather, paradoxically, this meeting of parallel improvisers (all three rather known for their single-mindedness in this regard) becomes a sort of group improvisation after all. it certainly isn't minimalist or (generally) reflective, but it is often very exciting and to me, at any rate, there is the sense that all three got caught up in the heat and energy of the moment. b's regular changes of horn are perhaps the habit which most threatens to upset the balance, the flute in particular sounding like a risky choice in this context - but he generally makes it work, and let's not forget this is a process of experimentation, not everything will connect or come off, so taking risks is by no means a bad thing. (some would insist on it.) the monster sounds great in this context... but of course this is the great thing about the contrabass clarinet, one could simply take it anywhere ;-)

didn't really learn anything new about mr braxton though - although the temptation is to assume that this must be when evan parker taught him the trick of circular breathing, i didn't hear any clear evidence of this here (the flock-of-birds effect is the obvious place to look, so i relistened to that long piece). parker i thought sounded surprisingly unfinished at this point - i don't know that much about the stages of his development, but some of his core vocabulary would become far more authoritative (startlingly so) in later years. the violent flutter-tonguing, in particular, so strongly associated with him since what now seems like forever, is not really apparent here, or if similar techniques are employed they do not (yet?) achieve full force. again, that doesn't make it less interesting, he is definitely up for it and contributes to the fulminant atmosphere throughout. "AL" is a delightful compressed miniature all in itself, the tenor sparring with the cbcl, and "HIQ" sounds at times as if it could be a braxton composition. forget about all that hierarchical "best of" shit and check this one out for yourself.

* ... of course, those who weren't paying attention could still easily make the mistake of thinking that all those funny noises are just one big fluff, filling in probable holes in b's technique. so it would be easy, also, to assume that all braxton's playing is melodic, just skewed... well, there's a lot more to it than that...