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of the week two behind-the-scenes stuff and looking ahead to "week three" (one day, two sessions) now seems totally outdated and irrelevant.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.]

1 comment:

centrifuge said...

not that anyone's asked, but i did say i'd keep you updated... the feeling that nothing could wind me up or annoy me has indeed passed - ! by now the pressure to lapse back into old habits is considerable, but i'm trying hard to avoid it... it was never very likely that i was going to get through the remainder of my life without losing my temper, but for a week or two it really felt like that... and that was a gift in itself... or maybe a holiday :)