Sunday, August 31, 2008

***braxtothon '08: session 009 (+)***

***music files included (see end section)***

- finally we get to the '76 quartet, and just in time: this version of the band is not long-lived, and (by the time my collection catches up with it) will soon be dissolved. exactly when lewis first played in the quartet, and how many performances there were by this band... two things i don't know yet. the sessionography project could take a long time to get there as it's a huge task, and some of the sources (e.g. the archives of a certain euro jazz fest) are not exactly 100% reliable. but martinelli, in his liner notes for news from the 70s (see below), names the graz concert as the "third to last" by this version of the band. just dortmund and berlin to follow this, then...

session 009: stefaniensaal, graz (2011 update - this boot was recently made available at TCF)
date: 28th october 1976

1. - a long, slow, ringing double voice calling out into silence, into space... seconds, weeks pass and eventually a second note confirms the heart's hope, that this is in fact my dear old friend comp. 23a back for another flight. that's a lovely surprise, first off. the piece comes full circle (*1), now so replete in fulfilled possibility that it's become an opener again... well, that sounds like the romantic ideal, so it's a question of how far the reality matches up.

the truly funereal pace of the opening theme seems only natural, such generous amounts of space being required in order to do full justice to the grandeur evoked by trombone and contrabass clarinet together - and possibly to allow anyone who did remember the piece well to savour the different voicing, lewis more of a second foghorn than anything else, a long way removed from wheeler's high, keening muted trumpet on the version which (still) sounds in so many ways definitive. and sure enough the two are manifestly continuing their platonic love affair in public, rejoicing in each other's voice.

naturally enough, all this is taking place against a familiar backdrop of washes and swathes of cymbal, waves on the beach, an effect which altschul seems to have mastered a lifetime ago already. holland is not really noticeable at all in the first couple of minutes. and in hindsight there's the important clue straight away, the one which offers the key to discovering the internal dynamic of the quartet of this point, fully in motion with the new man not only installed, but already a seasoned voyager of braxton's music with or without the others: in theory the replacement of wheeler with lewis opens the scope of the working band right up, way up, but of course in practice it's going to be limited to the speed of its slowest member, and we're about to return to an unresolved question, first turned over for inspection here.

with hindsight (and weeks between first, second and third plays of this recording) it's inescapable for me, right here on the first track the faithful bassist's leaving the music is foreshadowed. if he's playing arco during the theme (possible, even at that pace, for him to do so without my knowing for sure - we know his bow technique is immaculate, one of the steadiest in the business) then he adds nothing to the weight of the monster - just as his weight was not required for the opening theme of the studio version - and when he first becomes clearly noticeable as a separate voice within the cleared space, it's in the third minute, it's plucked notes and it sounds a bit jazzy. right there, a whole huge cluster of universes get wrapped up in a black drape and sealed off. the territory has just been circumscribed into something far smaller than the two leaders (which is what this sounds like, braxton and lewis co-piloting the group on this short journey) had envisaged, and one wonders what sort of subtle shock passes between them at that moment. but then at 2.43, holland uses the bow to lovely effect and we know now that it's not a question of anything being ruined as such, the group can adjust and accommodate... but that's what it has to do now in any case. the far-flung territories explored at such intense length during the two reed-and-bone duos... maybe those aren't attainable tonight, or at any event not yet.

so it ends up being simply a pretty, ornate rendition of a "standard", albeit one of b's own - the highlight, surely, comes around 5.40 when lewis picks up the very first cues of an impending alto master-tag and goes along for the ride, perfectly matching the leader's next swooping phrases with effortless timing and breathtaking confidence, the trick literally having the same effect on me third time round as it did the first, drawing a gasp of pleasure as soon as i detect the audacity of what lewis is about to do, watching then in awe as he executes the double tag with perfect precision. but yes, or rather no, this moment, glorious as it is, does not represent any vast addition to the collective knowledge of the territories which lie within the range of this vessel. even the first time round, i picked up jazzy routines from altschul at times, sucked back into it by holland, the result sounding incongruous and rather inappropriate. and although the two horns toy with the piece expertly, spinning their own separate trajectories languidly through space, in the certain knowledge that they will intersect at beautiful moments as-yet unglimpsed (and they do), they are more or less out there alone, altschul caught somewhat between two gravities, two directional pulls, holland straining back or simply unable to kick on - around 4.00, what is he doing?

so... within less than seven minutes the piece already straggles towards change, the four players shuffling hesitantly into place for whatever the next territory might be; though in practice the two horns end up unaccompanied for a short while, continuing their exalted conversation briefly - in the rarefied space where the others apparently can't or won't follow.

2. - the good news is, with the above limitations established (and in about four mins we'll receive confirmation of just how early they were established), the band settles down to play a cracking high-end free jazz set, including holland who takes up the bow early on here and reminds us again of what deftness of touch he has with it.

growing organically from a free space of whistles and squeaks and flutters, a group texture slowly shifts and takes shape, the arco bass dominating for a moment or two, hinting briefly at a repetition series - it's a red herring, and as the four start to converge on the next jumping-off point, a background for fast line extension is being set up, which resolves suddenly into "four winds" (at 4.35 in second file). back when i first bought news from the 70s (a few years ago, before i knew... etc), there seemed nothing very odd about such a choice of material - for that matter when i first heard the graz gig (spring '07?), it didn't strike me as a surprise either, but it surely would do so now if i didn't know it was coming. it's as if a simple homecoming is being set up for tonight rather than any serious attempt at deep exploration - but that's ok too, so long as there's no coasting involved... well, lewis takes first solo, and with the theme left behind and a generic fast free jazz backing, he works his way busily through several minutes, unable to stray very far from the path, but with that huge tone, incredible speed and occasional humour to "fall back" on, he manages to keep up the pace easily enough. yes, i can't conceal the fact that i'd prefer to hear him moving farther out at this point but still, with the three of them (minus the leader) in full flight i have to admit that the engine sounds wonderfully well-oiled. teasing his way back into the theme, lewis hands over to holland again for a full bass solo, without the bow this time.

again, this is where we're in danger of losing momentum because pizzicato, holland's solos often fail to add up to more than the sum of their parts; i.e. where others move beyond mere notes into pure, free utterance, the bassist tends to flourish handfuls of the things without ever seeming to suggest that there could be something more. and that is what happens here, scurries up and down the neck (with tremendous technical facility, as always) not disguising the lack of actual musical growth here, but at least we retain movement and, again, the momentum is not lost. around 11.25 we finally hear the sopranino nosing its way into the space, and at last the leader will take his turn. as usual, before long (and again, several times before he is done) he will make me sigh with delight here, but although the impetus is harnessed for several more minutes at full pace, eventually peaking with great intensity at about 16.25, the sound of the sax, bass and drums together in this sort of environment is so comfortable and familiar, it's worryingly easy for the listener to relax into it and doze off slightly (which is what happened to me at this point in the actual session). alternatively, if high-performance free jazz is all you ever wanted the band to play... look no further.

lewis brings a charmingly casual outlook to the restatement - what, you done already? ok, sure - and a fast drum solo wraps things up here. when the four voices next converge, we'll again be on the outskirts of somewhere new...

3. - and appropriately enough, after that, the next transition phase seems to drop us off near "q&a", which three of these guys played on many occasions, some years ago now... this is really the freest, most open and extended piece we're entering now, and it's the last phase of this short (second?) set. (the encore which follows was surely the last music played tonight.)

free and open is very much the order of the day as all four players stretch their limbs easily, unwinding and unfolding in their own time, lewis filling the hall with his golden bell, holland just as happily non-idiomatic as anyone else here, and by this point even in today's listening, i'm pretty much won over at last by the group's actual performance on the day. the sound, too, is remarkably well captured on this recording, holland's guitar-like plinks and plunks (stopped, right up high on the neck, third minute) clear evidence of this - we have all we need in terms of detail.

first time round my attention was very much divided, one part of my mind frantically scrabbling around for comparisons, not entirely happy with being unsure of the territory - by today i had given up on this, and was able to observe the gradual shaping of the piece a bit more closely. yes, they really do their take their sweet time heading anywhere, and it is interesting to acknowledge here how comfortable everyone sounds with it, flung out into the nether regions with few signposts even visible. towards 4.30 there is a significant build-up, but it subsides into elapsing steam, eked out into the ether - by 5.00 it almost sounds as if richard teitelbaum is playing, and we drift. so, shift up, shift back down - but now we are ready to go somewhere, as holland counts off a theme on his own (commencing around 5.13 in the third file), and by 6.00 they are all playing this piece, whichever it is (later it sounds uncannily like a faster first cousin of 40n or even 23e, but it's not either... one of the 60s is what i keep wanting to say). whatever it is, with the theme more or less laid out (won't be fully run through until later), we're back into leisurely strolling and stretching. at ten minutes in, where are we - and where are we going?

by this stage, it's gone way past the point of trying to lay individual blame for any lack of momentum or urgency: it's more as if the excellence of the playing aside, the collective mind of the four players at this time cannot move any further than the speedy pattern-swapping that eventually develops as we approach and pass 11.00 - braxton having picked up and played with his own echo, lewis grabbing a piece of that action too - and back into cooking mode we go, smooth as you like; though rather unexpectedly, then, holland breaks it all up, digging immediately back into the theme and from 12.15ish, there it is, the sequence which would identify it once and for all (if only my memory for subtle differences between melodies were more acute!). a minute later, the two horns are seemingly in perfect accord, indeed all four are flying together at high speed now, and when the leader takes off eventually on a terrific clarinet solo, he has excellent support from the bass. furious bursts rub up against silken-smooth singing until lewis takes over around 15.45, b. still interjecting violently and at will, but without intruding since by now he and lewis are of one mind again; fulminating attacks continue from both with full, locked-in-tight support from the bass and drums to ensure that the set nears its end on a resonating high, more decorous arco bass and cunning pseudo-synth textures from the clarinet ushering in the silence and warm applause.

4. - and then the encore, and another charming surprise - well, it was in the actual session, when to hear the band rip into comp. 6i was just the icing on the cake; of course, since then (seems like ages ago now) i've been able to find a bit more context, namely the fact that the same piece was resurrected not for this date but for the "special quintet" earlier in the year. something about it obviously appealed enough to bring it back once again, without wheeler this time of course, but with the original rhythm section restored, still (just about) intact after more than five years.

- and this just seems like the perfect way to wrap up the evening, send everyone out into the night cruising on huge natural high..! with those prior limitations accepted, the old mutant bop rockinghorse comes charging out for one last (?) canter - and of course it reminds d.h. once again of where one or two of the ideas for tunes on conference came from, since we're about it... (i've said more than once on the blog that this piece is the precursor of holland's "see-saw".) but above all it gives everyone the chance to cook their ass off, so to speak. that chance in turn is seized gratefully, everyone plays a blinder and some serious fun is had. the theme itself now has a rest phase shoehorned into it, a spacious, time-stopping delay before the da capo, which hints early on how much fun really is up for grabs here.

lewis takes first solo, gets to scratch his bop jones, drop any j.j. johnson or curtis fuller hangups he may still have hidden under his shirt; but while we're talking bop trombone, hear that man play and remind me, this was the instrument which nearly got made extinct, 'cos no-one could play bop fast enough on it..? we know how things can change, and how much the 60s players suddenly had to draw on coming up, but one has to ask: those early bop guys, were they really, really trying or what? (*2) lewis whirls through this one with his tone on full display when he wants to sing it out there, lightning-fast when it's called for, all up and down and basically all over, not much in the way of extended technique as such, this not being that sort of piece (or indeed that sort of date as it turns out); but a good hard workout nonetheless, shaking out all those pockets earlier 'bonemen couldn't shake. when the leader sings his way teasingly in around 2.45, then takes over ten seconds later this sounds perfectly natural, this brisk excursion being paced for around the same time as the studio version (solos in a different order of course), not a big twenty-minute monster like some previous incarnations (*3). and besides...

...this number always was the cue for some major alto damage. stunning almost at once on entry, b's solo really takes flight off this simple base. not for once into manic gear-shifting and buzzes and barks, but in song form again, the hallmark phrases all in place but with a touch more lyricism than usual, albeit lyricism with plenty of bite. some long, lingering, floated lines work magic in there somewhere and the overall shape is one which impresses me greatly, especially today. it's all too easy for this impressiveness to hijack one's attention, shunt it into reverie - that's happening by 5.10, when b's invitation to indulge in speedy double-swoops is picked up by lewis around the third time of asking, the two then entering into the sort of reed-and-brass coda which b. used to get up to with wheeler - again, unbelievable but true, lewis is able to bring more precision to this sort of line at this extreme speed, and it's the leader who seems to flag first on this occasion. there's then a total breakdown for holland's last solo of the night, plucked again, racing away in much the same manner as before - only this time he does create undeniable propulsive movement, even if the notes don't seem to be saying much necessarily. ok, then the drummer gotta get some too, that's fine and mercifully brief - there's some delightful messing around in the rest insert during the end unisons, and bang, they're done.

* * *

the actual session was prolonged slightly by the need to check news... for a match, just to make double certain like... by now i realise it's pretty unlikely that "four winds" was played more than once, but still... anyway, yeah, same show.

news from the '70s... every friendly experiencer's home will be enriched by the addition of one of these, assuming you can still find it... (*4) - it is interesting that "winds" was singled out in that way - it's not the clear highlight of the set (certainly not for me) and dave's bass solo is very likely his least interesting of the night; surely the encore... well, but perhaps this was just by way of recognising a beautiful friendship, which spawned a musical association lasting many years, and which saw a nascent band through a whole series of crucial phases. in any case, i can vouch for the fact that taken out of context and/or played on the album, it sounds fine and indeed wraps things up nicely.

* * *

here is the music

(see inside, first comment for details.)

no grading for this, never commercially released - download it and see for yourself... but it's an interesting gig. well... actually it's probably not that interesting, but the quartet plays a blinder anyway. there may be those out there who would wish that the band had always played like this. (and had never split up..? or what?) the set gathers in impetus as it goes on, in terms of confidence in each other at least - for me the peak is simply the encore, comp. 6i which i reckon is as good as the studio version, maybe even better (more democratic, b. still very much hogging solo time on crucial recordings in '71 - though one could hardly blame him for that).

very good free jazz date, then... it remains the case that a small number of very switched-on concertgoers might have justifiably felt that there was something missing... though it's not likely to be the first thing they remember afterwards, sent out into the night with that huge glorious racket echoing in their ears. the question is: was the imminent breakup of the band actually discussed beforehand, or did it only happen after this little tour of europe was over? it seems like a surprisingly conservative set, but did holland in particular have to be eased back in? well, there's another question and here's a third: again, how many gigs did the band play together before this one? i'll be looking for answers to all of them in due course.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

solo archetypes - 8f: the particle cannon

machine gun is the image listeners tend to fall back on, confronted with the white-hot outpourings of the original (in all senses) version of this, gushing forth from the grooves of for alto; and it seems apposite enough, braxton's high-speed attacks and air-shattering, race-car dynamics inevitably conjuring destructive images in many listeners' minds - but of course, at best it's a weak metaphor to use, since it's what everyone always says in these cases. besides... destructive? no, no, not this man - that's surely quite the opposite of what he was looking to achieve, even at his angriest.

so this newer image, still a bit intimidating but not inherently destructive, came to me some time ago now (*). the prime directive here, as ever, is not to destroy but to make things happen - in this instance, the furious energies of the "fast pulse intensity language" generate their own momentum, each fresh burst causing a reaction which unleashes a concatenation of notes, which in turn explode thrillingly in the ear. the basic technique being utilised is one of b's hallmarks: very fast playing, intermittently staccato - each attack clearly separated from the previous one, presumably by tonguing - and legato, attack and release elided together in one (even faster!) stream. this is the archetype i am addressing here: later solo compositions can no doubt be identified which are related to this one, but more generally we will find that the majority of b's saxophone improvisations (particularly those on alto and sopranino) make use of this signature technique at some point, often at length. for good measure, a number of blurred and distorted tones are thrown into the mix - these are the attacks which phil woods apparently heard as mistakes, technical weaknesses, in his infamous blindfold test - but i will return to the subject of tonal distortion later, in examining comp. 8g.

in listening again to this important recording, i've come to the conclusion that b's technical control was already far closer to the awesome near-perfection of (not much) later years than some people thought; it was their hearing, not his playing, which lacked subtlety. around the three-minute mark - what seems like dozens of pages into the music, so fast is the tempo! - the dynamics become more varied, some attacks now quiet and restrained amid the flurry of notes: this, surely, is all the evidence we might need of very considerable instrumental mastery. again, when the first of two peaks is reached (4.25 - 5.10) and the playing climbs up into partials and shriek tones, a degree of precision is being exercised which is perhaps beyond the comprehension of many "jazz ears", attuned far more to harmonic complexities than to extreme tonal variations: to my ears, the sounds b. is producing at this point are exactly those he is hearing in his head, not just random undifferentiated screams. (the same applies to the second peak, beginning around 6.50.) of course, in the eyes of many, such an approach is just undignified, at worst completely mindless and nihilistic, at best exuberant yet immature. i have no time for such a conservative viewpoint: to my mind, those who hold it have simply never confronted their own turbulent emotions - or, worse yet, they have no depth to their character at all.

* * *

at the time of for alto (once again - whenever that was, exactly!), it made perfect sense to put this aural strafing - as many were bound to hear it - up front, following the brief prelude which seduces the ear on your way in; and it made perfect sense that such a passionate piece of playing should be dedicated to cecil taylor. it says something (i'm not sure what - maybe several things!) about braxton's career right there, that for years and decades to come, a labelling error would be repeated passim, leading people to believe that this opening piece was dedicated to john cage (i.e. the composition later known as 8e). in a way, that was a helpful error, since it clearly associated b. with an american iconoclast and musical truthseeker/pioneer; it probably also hurt the young musician's career to some extent, since the other iconoclast was white and therefore represented the fine arts, this bit of braxtonian presumptuousness being a deeply-embedded thorn in the side of some reactionaries, as we know... but in any case, the mismatch between music heard and title as printed is one on which i've commented before. that b. wanted to honour cage is beyond doubt. that he proposed to do so utilising "fast pulse intensity language" does not make much sense - certainly it makes so much more sense that this torrent should be dedicated to taylor, who would surely understand the central urgency and focussed drive of the piece better than most. was c.t. ever told..? perhaps the mistake reflects the anti-magnetism apparently acting upon these two geniuses, keeping them apart for so long - and compromising in various ways the meetings they did eventually have...

* see comments.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

a quick vote for eugene

restructures link

does everyone already know about this one? it's not an obscure album at all, and indeed it's still in print, for a change... i had never prioritised it for some reason (well... maybe that cover, which looks to me like something a child might chuck together!) - until recently, that is, when i decided it was missing in my life...

... so, with that rectified, the album has ended up doing a lot of duty lately as background music - that's what it's been in theory anyway. in practice, several times i have ended up stopping what i was doing in order to sit quietly and give the music more of my attention. this is a very interesting programme, given a committed and inspired reading by a young and lively-minded group of players - many of whom, presumably, would never have dreamed they'd be working with anthony braxton before mike heffley made contact with him. the fact that such an ambitious project came about from such small beginnings - and was realised with great success - reconfirms this man's extraordinarily encouraging influence.

braxton and heffley aside, few if any of the musicians will be familiar - but don't let that put anyone off. the territories here are challenging and obsessive, some fairly bristling with tension (comps. 134, 45, 71 for example - the last a fairly close relative to comp. 40f which is up for examination very soon), synth and electric guitar are both present... and the 80-minute concert is rounded off with comp. 59 - the little concerto for two soloists, already familiar to many of us. those of you who don't know this one - go on, give the deserving retailer of your choice a spot of business... and those who already have it, what do you think?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

braxtothon '08: session 008

europe, fall 1976... the end of the year approaches, but there is still plenty of music to squeeze in before we get there... back on the euro live circuit (what would american creative musicians have done without it?), we are almost ready to hear the new version of the quartet, at last; but first there is another reeds-and-bone duo to negotiate. what, another one? doesn't that seem a little odd..? it's not the most commercial formula ever devised, and besides, the earlier album was so damn good, surely it's not worth releasing another in the same format unless it could somehow be even better? well now...

session 008: donaueschingen (duo) 1976
date: 23rd october 1976

restructures link

this time around, the duo will play as if they were a group, that is to say the main set will be seamless, no pauses between territories... that's the first notable difference, and the second is that this time it's a lewis composition which kicks things off.

no change in one respect, though - braxton takes first showcase. and it's the monster..! right from the start (of the album at least - was this actually the start of the set?) b. is on contrabass clarinet, that fabulous sound... and for the first minute he puts the instrument through its paces unaccompanied, lewis joining him after a natural pause; both men start to spell out a slow, mournful theme - this is "fred's garden" - but it's a theme which is happy to be interrupted from time to time, lewis taking over solo for a bit, impressing again with his full, ringing tone - and though the two horns return to the theme then, this soon enough gets messed up, and the fourth minute sees the first hints of dual freedom escalate very quickly into full-blown mayhem. by 3.55, with both horns trying to outdo each other in low-pitched blasphemy, it sounds like a bubble-blowing contest in some gas-infested swamp... fantastic! but, as one might have come to expect by now, that's precisely when the balance shifts back again and the next entries from both are clear and melodic, the next section of the long and winding theme being spun carefully out. (in this respect i'm reminded of comp. 23e among others, but only a little bit. the way the theme treads ponderously along, counting itself slowly off - in between explosions of madness - does remind me of some of b's ballad themes, but the whole setup in this case sounds far more akin to free improv. braxton has always claimed not to have been influenced by the euro free guys, simply because his basic style was fully formed before he encountered them, but is the same true of lewis i wonder? more likely the european developments were just one more module on the younger man's "syllabus"..?)

as far as i can tell, this is the only recorded version of lewis' piece. "fred's garden" is perhaps not the cheeriest place to visit, seemingly dark and spooky, inhabited by sparse groupings of gnarled and twisted trees - and there's always that charming swamp over by the compost heap! but in any case it's a good place to start here, providing all the necessary ingredients: tension, strange beauty, absurd humour. more than once, the audience is provoked into delighted laughter - what did we miss? from around the 7.00 min mark, b. switches to sopranino and the two players chase each other around for a while, then fall into march time, both exulting in it (back at moers in june, the same possibility was raised and dropped; in between, we can assume that lewis has rehearsed some of b's march pieces, specifically comp. 6c). here the march is introduced more in the manner of a ticking clock, and it's something which both pick up so quickly that it must (?) have been prearranged - tick, tock, tick, tock, until it becomes clear that this is actually a countdown, and we'd better run for cover before that old land mine of fred's finally explodes... ah, no, maybe it was just a false alarm. but in any case there's (never) any time to look back and reflect at what's been, because what's now is always so compelling: in a microcosm of the duo's basic approach, the next minute or so sees all manner of variations in attack and mood from both players: soaring beauty, crabbed and warped weirdness, it's all there so that even that which is not played is yet implied. outrageous squeals from the braxbird, and more mad laughter... this is the stuff! even at its most edgy, the music is always spirited and lively. stop me if you've heard this one before, but these two players were made for each other.

from around 9 mins, the landscape begins to shift and change, moving by increments towards comp. 6f. this is only unusual because it's a duo; it's standard practice for the quartet, in continuous performance. rarely do we get a clear-cut ending of one territory, leading to the next: rather, as one piece starts to wind down, the basic tessitura of the following piece is established little by little, so that in many cases it's possible to get clues as to what will come next; only when all the key elements are in place will the theme begin, to confirm which area we are now exploring... here, the pair give hints in the form of swift pecks and very fast little linking runs... around 10 mins, there's the theme and within thirty seconds we can see exactly why b. has revived this old piece, surely the longest-serving of his entire repertoire at this point. both men just find it inspirational, and lewis in particular drives the pace hard as both horns toy with dynamic variations, alternating very forceful attacks with very quiet ones. a gentle passage ensues, still urgent in its coded message at this speed, but beautifully restrained; and then, by degrees, the concept of forcefulness is leaked back into the mix - the next couple of minutes see all sorts of variations, again, a perfect holographic fragment of the greater world of possibility that opens up whenever these two men take the stage together.

by 14 mins things have slowed right down, a sleepy trombone puffing out a line of sorts while the clarinet which joins it, though not sleepy at all, still has the usual hypnotic qualities (this bird is nothing if not a charmer). soaring, haunting evensong becomes a playful series of exercises, becomes free improv, all cycles moving organically into each other with deceptive rapidity, the basic texture of the music changing every few seconds but never seeming to change suddenly, not at all. (gtm already implied.) braxton, for sure, will have honed this sort of skill in europe, but also back home with the other aacm masters - and the same traditions presumably already inform the young lewis, the rest being down to his natural ebullience and curiosity as a sound-maker. in any case, however they arrive at this level of wizardry, the upshot for us is that one idea after another is dangled before the listener's ear and an attentive mind will be greatly rewarded. no-one need ever see the title comp. 6f
(or "73 kelvin", etc) on a tracklist and think, "ah, not again, i don't need to bother with that". there is no such thing as a routine version of it. (of course i would hope this is true of all the compositions -!)

the restatement sounds ridiculously fast when it arrives, but they are both so zoned in by now that they just sound as if they're enjoying it (and probably were). in due course they wind it down slow, very slow, lewis collapsing altogether into rasping clouds of flatulence, then singing through the middle of the clouds, and the next clarion calls from the trombone signify the opening of the next territory (*1), comp. 64. so good, they played it twice - this piece was of course the superb opening number for the previous duo, at moers, back in june. and this version, of course, sounds totally different... this just the sort of thing which makes track-listing live recordings so very tricky. but it is specified, there in the catalogue of works (*2): comps 64-8 are "designed for many different interpretational context possibilities". there is something of the same cartoon menace in this performance as there was at moers, but that earlier music was not written out, exactly, and neither is this.

when b. joins the trombone this time, he is on contrabass sax, two monsters now on tour, sending postcards back to the radioactive swamps of neptune, no doubt... the exposition of the piece is far more measured and ruminative than the instant acceleration of the earlier rendition, but still, by 1.30 both are playing forcefully, leaving ringing echoes behind them in the soundspace and at 2.30 we're right in the middle of a brief but very intense storm, b. overcoming his instrument's inherent limitations(*3) by mixing in attacks made fully with the voice and breath. in between, the pair have casually dropped in the first written phrases and around 2.50 they return to these, initiating almost a minute of exchanges which clearly recall the earlier version. when they appear to have locked each other into an unhelpful groove around 4.05-4.10, this turns out to be simply the conclusion of a given passage, signed off with another birdcall motif. 4.30, another emphatic blatt from lewis cues up an exchange of high pitches and squeaks, whistles from the reed, radio static from the brass, yet another excursion which takes us into clouds of noxious gases before it's through, but lewis is just so outrageously good at this. by 5.30 both are down at the opposite end, pooting and blarting like restless ships in a harbour. by 6.30, with the whistles now being mixed in with the poots and blarts, it would be pretty hard to identify the sound sources. lewis now has a mute on - and mr braxton, somehow, has managed to get this most cumbersome of beasts to perform some of the tricks its cousin revels in - indeed the ensuing barnyard conversation exposes so much versatility in the reedmonster that i find myself (later) wondering if it's not a clarinet after all - but i'm pretty sure it's not. in any case, at 7.35 there's a clean break and although the next entries from the leader are more squeaks, he's now on alto as it turns out. pecks and kisses are exchanged (a favourite technique between these two!), interspersed with fast and fluid runs now. then another change, already: squiggles up high become clarinet swoops lower down, and then we're suddenly being shown something quite different.

stately, grandiose monologues come now, and then back into unison, but although both toy with dynamics expertly as they tease out some more written phrases, the multi-dimensional key which was displayed and used at moers does not make a reappearance. so when a very fast section kicks off, shortly before 12.30, i'm wondering whether we have switched territories again - the last part of the set deals with lewis' "duet 1" (back to the no-frills titles). regardless of when that switch takes place exactly, it's back to monologues now, seductive beauty and furious barks from the clarinet, culminating in more whistles, and yet more brazen brilliance from lewis; as b. takes over again, around 14min, it still sounds remarkably like a braxton territory but then we're presumably in a free space, within a partially prescribed environment, whoever actually conceived it. then it changes again: lewis takes a phrase from b. and jumps around with it, the leader then doing the same, and now the exchanges are much more rapid, each overlapping as an idea is borrowed, imitated, mutated, batted back and forth with increasing abandon until it's no longer recognisable. lewis then sketches out a sort of mournful bugle call, which draws a few inbreaths and laughs and even a clap or two. structures grow and collapse. more organic growth and change. every few seconds could be isolated for inspection.

another switch, to sopranino sax, leads to the latest spectacular demonstration of where all those untold hours of practice went - for a minute or so, the leader really goes crazy but then, as he does, he decides to wind it right down and we're back to another game, the two matching attacks again, both using sighing cadences now, lewis cracking me up again when his crude humour comes to the fore... and finally with the end in sight, there's a sequence of written themes which, to be sure, do sound pretty braxtonesque... but maybe it's more a question of aacm-esque, who knows for sure.

the brief applause is surely edited, otherwise the "encore" begins almost right away, a delightful "donna lee" with which to send everyone off... not feeling the need to make a bold statement with it, the pair play it a little more sedately than one might expect, dropping down a touch to "chattanooga choo-choo" pace; quickly, they dispense with everything apart from the rhythm, both taking back streets away from the theme, but never losing sight of each other - again, they toss ideas to each other at one point in a "round" effect, both in place to pick up the thread of the main theme again and within three minutes, they're in and out, said all that needed to be said.

* * *

if it doesn't have quite the same startling quality as the earlier concert, that's only to be expected since word would have gotten around by now. in any case, for the quality of the music and the improved, better-shaped programme, this has to be a CCCC job as much as the earlier duo. with the main set worked seamlessly into suite form, and the standard popped on the end as a little encapsulation of respect for tradition, deviation from tradition, and continuation of tradition... this one works even better. i'm not totally convinced that the start of the album was the start of the concert, but it does provide a neat symmetry - and it means that the main set both begins and ends in a manner as pleasingly understated as the earlier effort was declamatory. as for the quality of the music, how would we choose between them?

* see comments

Saturday, August 9, 2008

*** braxtothon master-list, part one ***

and not before time..!

ok, so the following are links to the original articles, in chronological order. this bit of housekeeping should (finally) make the site a bit more navigable... don't forget, any comments will come through to in the form of unread mail, so any comment on any post will be seen, and will get a reply (anonymous insults remaining the exception to this latter rule). let me know what you think! cent x

october '07 braxtothon, phase one:

introduction/ground rules etc

day one/1 - 3 compositions of new jazz

day one/int.1 - for alto

- see also gap filling, part one

day one/2 - silence

day one/int.2 - the 8th of july 1969

day two/1 - circle - circulus
- also comp. 6f* from another date (early circle/circling in)

day two/2 - the complete braxton 1971 (disc one)

day three/1 - the complete braxton 1971 (disc two)

day three/2 - circle - paris concert (selections)
- also news from the 70s, session one

october '07 braxtothon, phase two:

day four - creative music orchestra (1972)

day five (...)/1 - town hall duo (news..., session two)

day five (...)/2 - town hall trio

day five (...)/3 - town hall quintet

day five/int. - conference of the birds
(WARNING: you probably go to hell if you read this one)

day six/1 - four compositions (1973)
- see also here for specific (attempted) analysis of comp. 23m*

day six/2/pt.1 - châteauvallon 1973 (radio broadcast)

day six/2/pt.2 - châteauvallon 1973 (encore)
- also news from the 70s, session three

day seven/1 - solo - live at moers festival

day seven/2 - live at moers festival (quartet)

bailey day - first duo concert (set one)/royal vol. 1

there was also the following detour:
braxton & mario pavone, nine duets (1993)

Monday, August 4, 2008

critical massage

heh. it's taken me well over a week to get around to opening up my new books at all - i'm not even talking about the composition notes/tri-axium writings here, those are quite daunting enough for me to have put them off until the end of the current braxtothon phase, as reported previously - so it was only yesterday that i actually made a start on radano, and discovered that he begins his first chapter thus:

for a stretch of time in the mid-1970s, composer-saxophonist anthony braxton stood at the center of a controversy that laid bare the inadequacies of conventional jazz criticism. demonstrating inimitable improvising skills, while simultaneously transgressing traditional aesthetic and social boundaries, braxton challenged critics to come to terms with a creative world that called into question accepted definitions of jazz and the jazz musician.

- hmm, very interesting - tell me more:

their failure to meet that challenge led to a period of confusion, contradiction and myth-making as writers praised braxton's undeniably original jazz work while obfuscating the meaning of his rarefied artistic concepts. the curious, ironic tension between accolade and mocking condescension exposed the limitations of traditonal jazz categories, categories that could not make sense of an artist who responded to the new aesthetic licenses of the postmodern epoch.

right, so - in other words, someone was onto all this bullshit some time before i got here and started making a (very localised) fuss about it. this, after all, is precisely the sort of patronising nonsense i've observed amongst the british critical fraternity, no need to mention any names since - if the truth be known - plenty of them are equally culpable.

don't get me wrong, i am not whining that someone beat me to it. no, on the contrary, it's a relief to realise others are fully aware of the problem. in that case, the next question is: does no-one else think it noteworthy that the cat was out of the bag fifteen years ago (if not before), yet none of the critics did a damn thing about it? admittedly radano's book will not have been widely read outside the u.s. (or even within it, dare i say), but still - did these guys not have any idea that people were onto them?

one needn't be surprised: the capacity for human self-deception is practically infinite, and besides, having an influential voice seems (all too often) to mean not having to listen to anyone else's. (*)

* * *

there'll be more to say on this, i'm sure. i hope also that it will lead to a bit of dialogue... this is precisely the kind of issue i'm interested in discussing here (it goes without saying that i am still happy to discuss the music! but i'll say it anyway, hint hint). as i read on, i will keep readers posted about my reading and subsequent musings... braxtothon continues shortly, and i will also be running the first of a probable short series, examining archetypes in the solo composition books.

incidentally, back on sacred cows again - it occurs to me that as well as surprising myself with my conclusions about the '76 quartets, i shall also have deviated from the "gospel according to lock", just in case any readers thought i was guilty of unquestioning approval of that particular writer ;-)

* yeah, yeah, i'm a fine one to talk... etc.