Saturday, September 13, 2008
gap-filling... part two
(first album for byg actuel)
the title of this album is reproduced above - i can't render it for you in text form because it is not a collection of letters and numbers, a cipher: it is a relationship consisting of certain characters configured in a certain way. hence, really, even if the details were correct in the popular title B-Xo/ N-O-1-47A - which they aren't, as you can see for yourselves - it would be no more "right" to call the album that than it is to call it anthony braxton, the other popular misnomer. (in cases where an album - in whatever genre - is released without a title, people inevitably say it's "self-titled".)
- the trouble is, in his urgent need to establish a reputation for doing things his own way, b. had probably not yet had the opportunity to discover the various disadvantages of naming your works in a way which can be neither conventionally written, nor pronounced aloud. but the title of the album is also the title of the piece which occupies the whole of the vinyl side two, the braxton original now known to us as comp. 6g. (no, it would not really be accurate to refer to the album as composition 6g either..!)
this important (if relatively short-lived) quartet is not properly represented in the braxtothon for the simple reason that when i started eleven months ago, i didn't have either of the albums by this group (or even any bootlegs of it). as with for alto previously, i am now catching up in "next best" fashion: having lost the chance to cover the material with (as near as poss) naïve ears and in "actual time" chronologically, i didn't feel the need to listen under braxtothon conditions... as usual, the music frequently distracted me from whatever else i was doing - on this occasion, sorting through photos, a fairly distracting task in itself given that each of them has memories attached... but the musicians (and in some cases the music) were often able to demand my full attention.
* * *
"the light on the dalta" (sic) - one of leo smith's. the piece opens full-on, albeit briefly, everyone playing with some force; but for the first few seconds my ears groped towards the centre of the sound, trying and failing to identify those four voices. it seemed to take a long time, but there they all are. still, it's an odd experience after all this time: a braxton album which doesn't sound immediately like a braxton album. (to me. on this occasion...)
oh god it's that thing again... several minutes in, b's gorgeous playing is puked on by the appalling harmonica. i'd forgotten all about that - these guys, for some reason the mouth organ was part of the setup for quite some time and it was apparently essential that it be played badly. i say that without sarcasm, because i find it impossible to assume that these men would not have heard good blues harp players at some point. but regardless of what the damn thing is supposed to represent in these contexts, the effect for me as a listener is that b's gorgeous playing is puked on by the appalling harmonica.
all of the other notes from this piece relate to a more general conclusion/prejudice which i will relate in the third section of the article. i still have little or no understanding of smith as a composer.
"simple like" is by leroy jenkins and, fittingly, most of my notes seem to consist of the sort of hysterical oohs and ahhs which normally are reserved for the braxbird, here directed at the violinist. it's probably been a little while since i heard jenkins close up like this, and each time he cuts loose on this track, my attention is sucked right out of the memory-laced photos and into the speakers within a fraction of a second. unbelievable command he has in his playing, total ownership not only of his instrument, but of his own voice, rightful ownership of his own means of expression, with all the responsibility that that implies.
right from the beginning of the jenkins piece, before its composer takes it by the scruff of the neck, it's already a joy to hear him and i wonder fleetingly where he was in the first piece that i "missed" him. the music early on is "courtly" and rather delicate, knowingly archaic, mccall playing some sort of tambour to enhance the effect... but it does sound a little bit weedy until jenkins suddenly lights the place up. that, in turn, quickly brings the monster out to play; but, damn it, any momentum which might have been gained is quickly blown when smith's next entries don't seem to relate to what's already happening, and before you know it there's another wheezy noisemaker on the go, either the harp again or perhaps an accordion played equally crudely: either way, it tries to become a sort of analogue synth but this doesn't really come off. the tension slackens again.
as much as all the players have their moments here, the best reason for listening to the track must surely be jenkins, and it makes me feel sad for a moment than in his case, i left it too late to discover him in life and can only celebrate him dead. this blog, above all, is about celebrating the living.
which brings me to comp. 6g, and right away (again, see below) i find it impossible not to think "ah, the real meat has arrived." this despite the fact that the piece opens with the sound of partially inflated balloons being let down. (one of these days i must try and find time to look into the relationship between this piece and comp. 25.) the thing is - and i don't really care how pretentious this might sound - even with inflated rubber as a source, here it works: there is conviction at once and cohesion to the presentation of the sound. it's a completely subjective, qualitative reaction but i can just feel it. at this point the photos are down on the floor forgotten because the sound has demanded my attention. stockhausen? wouldn't really know (yet!). but i did see a piece of his performed once, a shortish piece for solo saxophone and shortwave receiver which came to mind in the opening section here.
- soon enough, there's a pause and a complete left turn, into a classic early b-theme: fast, tricky to say the least, impossible to predict with any certainty. flashes of the repetition series (6f, 40(o)) are glimpsed. needless (i hope) to say, it's not regimentally tight, not at all overrehearsed, messy round the edges... yet still tight enough to say with conviction what, you think the sound was all meaningless? here, suck on that! - so that when the breath returns in its various forms, we can know for sure that an architect is behind it. and this time... well, the braxton solo which follows in due course just left me marvelling, frantically trying to remember (with the reduced portion of my consciousness not busily glorying in the music) whether or not i'd ever said that b. was still not a finished master in '69. i don't think i have said that. but if i did, i was wrong. he already was a master, and this solo is all the evidence one would need to cite.
jenkins gets in on the act again too here - another amazing solo, which has me shaking my head in disbelief at how compelling this man's playing really was. and when the music returns to noises, as it does, it never loses cohesion. (i think that this is exclusive to the braxton piece here. the others wander badly at times, it's not just me i reckon. again, read on...) listen to the noises as free improv - it works, it coheres, there is clear focus and shared spontaneous intent strung out continuously like filigree. it never snaps, merely twists and winds on and on.
and once more, ladies and gents - before the theme restatement, one last re-entry from the leader, which takes my head off. (notes reduced to expletives yet again...) and that sounds like a very good and decisive ending..? no, it's not, they're still - ah, ok, that is actually that. clever at the end there, even. clever and effective, more to the point.
* * *
this band... at this stage, by the looks of it, there were two main continuing concerns being driven within the ranks of the aacm: the art ensemble of chicago and these guys. (more can be read about all this in lewis.) of course, smith and jenkins had teamed up with b. before, had indeed been there right at the birth, recording the very first braxton original composition on wax. what's more, after starting out under his name, then changing (?) to all three names listed equally, they had settled back under b's leadership as a working quartet, an engine room. but with the best will in the world, i can't see how this was going to work. easy to say in hindsight; but these important players can only be squeezed into the same space if the roles are clearly understood, or the territory is completely neutral: here the first pertains on the long third piece, neither truly pertains on the other two. this is because the leader is still trying to be democratic and use his friends' compositions, not unreasonable since his friends are (like him) advanced and serious musicians, but it's not gonna work here, it just can't. he has to lead. and evidently all of them know this, which is why he's the nominal leader of this quartet; but they can't work out how to share the power. b. is not able to impose himself completely on the ensemble by dictating all the repertoire; yet without his focus and direction, the other two pieces just don't sound anything like as convincing. this doesn't necessarily mean that i think smith and jenkins were inferior composers even: just means their pieces won't work properly under b's leadership. (silence was the only braxtothon album so far to get a mere CC recommendation from me... and neither of the pieces was by braxton.) these men could work as equals, but it's not fitting for the other three to be mere "sidemen" for braxton, since after all they are not his students. (none of this will be clear to the leader at this point, presumably.) hence, whilst the idea of their playing whole programmes of b's music is tantalising, at this point it can't happen... and without that, something just doesn't seem right. on side one, moments of individual brilliance are there, but collectively there is perhaps too much avoidance of treading on toes for anything very meaningful to happen. this, at least, is my impression...
... and how far that is simply a prejudiced, overinformed opinion which i failed to shake off before playing the album, is something i can't quite decide.
in any case, the band did pull off an all-braxton programme next time round... but next time was also in a way the last time, since from then on the name reverted (? i think) to creative construction company and, to underscore that, the only recording we have in the discog is a full programme of jenkins. leader no more even in name, our man went off looking for his destiny as a mentor, which - in the first instance -would soon turn out to mean relieving chick corea of his high-class rhythm section, via a curious sidetrack into scientology, and another doomed collaboration called circle... meanwhile, next time will be this time as far as gap-filling goes.
(?s - see comments)
Posted by centrifuge at 2:52 AM