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.


centrifuge said...

some time ago indeed, and i'm only just getting round to setting down some thoughts about it - alas, my workrate is pretty feeble, especially compared to that of our main man... (if i wrote down even half of the impressions which actually pass through my consciousness when listening to the music... still, the good ones eventually come back...)

back in april, (the blog) folly for to see what posted a shortish solo live set from 1971: http://tinyurl.com/649avz
- as you can see from the comments, at the time i was satisfied that the third piece played was comp. 8f, though on returning to it recently after playing and replaying the original, i'm not quite so sure..! i still think it's *probably* that same piece - but maybe not, after all?! as i've said before, identifying the pieces played in the solo concerts can be fraught with difficulty... and that difficulty only increases in later years, as the solo books stack up!

centrifuge said...

sigh... sitting here listening to *for alto*, i realise my mistake right away: that third piece in the 1971 concert is NOT comp. 8f, rather it's the "blues" piece listed on restructures as comp 8(a/b), a fairly meaningless title which suggests that it somehow slipped through the net when the opus numbers were handed out... since i can't assume that people reading folly... will also read this, i suppose i'd better leave a comment there as well..!

lee said...

It's funny how certain random things align. I spent all of yesterday thinking about David Murray after your comment the other day. I didn't listen to any of his work, just thought about him, his music, his evolving aesthetic, and why I still consider him an avant-garde/free jazz musician. This, somehow, inspired me to listen to Peter Brotzmann's "Fuck de Boere" album with my wife (she's a relative newcomer to free jazz and seemed to dig the rawness in Brotzmann).

This morning I listened to the live version of "Machine Gun" again. After that, I moved on to Frank Wright, then finally played some Murray--the duo/quartet album "A Sanctuary Within." Then I listened to "8F" (which, great point, does make more sense as a Cecil Taylor dedication).

I can't say yet why all these pieces flowed together in my mind, but there's something there--call it the Braxton-Murray-Brotzmann theory, something about each musician's evolution as an improviser and composer. I don't know how best to express it (no thesis required!), but I just thought I'd mention it in light of the opening paragraph of this post. I'm really enjoying this discussion.

centrifuge said...

hello lee, - "funny how certain random things align" - i find it reassuring myself... and what's random mean again? :)

mrs c. don't dig no free jazz, alas :( we still have other music in common but we also have totally separate (partially-consuming) interests, which works pretty well (in some ways..!) - mine is mainly music of course... i don't really consider my commercial cds (all of which i still like, or i would jettison them at this point) to represent my "taste" very much any more, never quite know how to explain that to people at work... anyway, glad to hear your missus dug it :) [mrs c. did greatly enjoy merzbow on two occasions (if that means anything to you), also boyd rice, neubauten, mr bungle nick cave jesus lizard etc etc so it's not as if we never had any cool concert experiences together :) and i would guess that in a live context, she coulda dug it if no-one mentioned the "j" word beforehand... anyway, i'm rambling now... i'm not denying that i have a tendency to do that -!]

now... the scent you have picked up is surely the important thing: the fact that right now you don't know where it'll take you, exactly, is not the point; the point is, it's taking you SOMEWHERE and must be followed..! this is exactly the way it all spontaneously erupted with the braxtothon last october. and of course i STILL have no idea where i'm going with it really :))

so anyway, i'll be interested to hear what you come up with, but it's good that you don't feel you have to rush it... let the fluids churn until something temporarily stable rises out of the seething mix, long enough for you to get a good look at it {{{***}}}

nice talking to you too man! believe it or not that was the original hope... comments are blog oxygen, hard to appreciate that until one is actually putting in the time to maintain one... of course i have long since got used to "publishing for myself" so whatever comments *do* come in are gratefully received as an extra... and i know a few friends do read it but seldom comment, which is fine of course... but it's always very nice to make a new friend through the music, and i have made some very good friends through the music..!

ubu xxiii said...

The study of Braxton solo pieces would be a all-absorbing field of study in itself. A while ago I posted an attempt here at a brief analysis of some of the 8 pieces.
Recently I've been listening to Roscoe Mitchell's solo album on Sackville. He came from a similar milieu to AB's, & gave a comparable close attention to the minute particulars of certain areas of instrumental facture. The problematics were not of course identical, as these are 2 different individuals. Another Sackville album documents their only recorded meeting in duo that I know, & I'm sure cent will have something to say about this in due course. So I'll be content to remind people how unique it is in both musicians' discographies.
With Mitchell again on 'Nonaah' some of this solo playing might sound like crazed fire-spitting to the unprepared ear, but of course it's really composition of the most spontaneous kind. His comments on the liner notes about the ongoing struggle with the instrument, & achieving some kind of symbiosis, are worth reading.
The David Murray connection is interesting because Braxton's chair in the saxophone quartet on 'New York fall 1974' (widely ignored by critical pens) was filled a few years later by Murray when WSQ began.

centrifuge said...

ubu xxiii, hello there :) yes, it took me a little while to find those comments of yours which were not in an obvious place... they can be found on the following post from the end of jan: http://tinyurl.com/6bkm4v

i've said in various places now that mitchell is another player i'm very interested in - i suppose i am less interested by his composition, since i have not taken much trouble to look into it (yet) but as a *player* i find him absolutely extraordinary, his one of the few names which would spring to mind as representing the same instrumental level as braxton, no questions asked. i love that sackville album and i've enjoyed the duets - not yet done a session on it, that will eventually mark the start of braxtothon phase four, but not just yet... anyway, the story continues at its own pace..!

murray... i am definitely curious to know what people think of this guy, maybe we need a poll of some sort... what do you reckon? i don't myself know quite where to place him... and i'm not familiar with his work during the last quarter of a century..! i literally only feel that i have a good sense of him during those first few years - but then too much of what i have heard (and read) of the "successful years" has turned me off quickly...

i am pretty sure that was the *braxton* sax quartet btw... the wsq may have gotten the idea off him, or maybe not quite exactly, but i suspect the man who could give us the best and fullest answer is the one already in the ground, hemphill, another master i automatically situate on the same level as braxton and mitchell... with all due respect to lake and bluiett, i don't think of them in this same way. and murray - ? i don't know yet... it's not actually a high-priority issue for me to find out (!), but i do really like his playing (on the earlier recordings) and he's likely to be a musician on whom all my readers have some opinion..?

lee said...

My wife got interested in free jazz kind of by accident. I would just play things while I was working at home, and she responded to different pieces, different players. Ayler got her attention first. Then, Masada. I don't think she'd dig other Zorn projects (maybe Naked City, but not Painkiller). She's getting into Murray and Braxton, but Brotzmann really caught her attention. The raw emotional energy of "Machine Gun" is pretty hard to resist.

Murray's a really interesting case. I understand why he's difficult to get a handle on, and I don't think I totally get him either. In my mind, Murray's kind of a Sonny Rollins type: "Freedom Suite" one minute, "Way Out West" the next. There's whimsy, but there's also a lot of fire. The recent stuff isn't as directly "out" as some of the older recordings, but he's still playing with different line-ups and combinations of sounds. Murray's probably written all his classics already, and I think that's likely his biggest obstacle. You compare that to guys like Braxton, Steve Coleman, and Roscoe Mitchell, who are all still actively composing and creating new languages. Murray found his language a long time ago. That might be why the older recordings are so fascinating. He's really searching for something still, especially on the solo recordings. I suspect he just isn't searching anymore. Just as long as he doesn't cut a record of Joni Mitchell covers, I'll be happy.

centrifuge said...

"I suspect he just isn't searching anymore" - ultimately i think that this is what many people would say about david murray, not necessarily in so many words. that's a big problem for some of us, perhaps not so much for you, but... keep hanging out here, you might be surprised at what develops ;-)

now, mrs c. does dig her some zorn from time to time - we saw blade runner together (though they weren't billed as such) in london, a concert which we both really enjoyed - although one of my regular visitors wasn't so happy! i saw the *crowley at the crossroads* show (moonchild premiere) too, but zorn wasn't onstage, in fact he was standing behind me at the desk and i couldn't see him at all :(