Monday, March 31, 2008

**@dvert break

the first edition of eartrip is out now and available here:

eartrip is edited by david grundy, who has spent months painstakingly assembling this project. i am pleased to add my best wishes at its inception... congratulations to david on getting this out there :)

keep the faith - spread the word

braxtothon '08: session 001 (take one)

i am a great procras - no, wait, i've done that one. still, it would bear repeating, because even this morning, once i have stretched myself mentally and physically and have assimilated the fact that mine are finally the only (human) ears in the house, it takes me a good while to get down to business... meantime, all manner of dithering, fart-arsing around and general tomfoolery takes place before i finally say to myself: right, i'm ready, let's get on with it then.

even then, downstairs with the reclining braxtothon chair set up and remote in hand, i can see right off that there's going to be shenanigans: it's sunny outside, which means the dogs will want to be sunbathing on a blanket, but it's still bloody nippy... which means i'm buggered if i'm having the door open. up, down, i can see it now... well, this is the day i'm stuck with, them's the breaks etc - luckily, i say to myself, this is an album which i know so well by now that i can absorb the odd distraction or two; indeed in the case of the "set pieces" on the first side, there's really no point in even pretending to listen as if for the first time, forget it, it's impossible... (in hindsight: "impossible", so i don't even try. there - that's how easy it is to be lazy about it. not good...)

just a reminder, then, of where my conclusions have reached by this point, regarding this side one: the short programme comprises two creative jazz compositions (a fast bebop number, partly in stop-time; and a modern ballad, in a style designed to recall ornette coleman's classic quartet - itself the obvious blueprint for the braxton quartet in this period), the two separated by an interlude, a musical whimsy in which a six-note descending and ascending phrase begins a series of repetition structures, the sequence being additive so that each repetition finds a new section added to the theme, each new development being (of course) unpredictable; this agglutination also becomes more protracted and more complex, so that each cycle is appreciably longer than its predecessor. can i get away with calling this a jazz composition at all? well... yes, in that it's following a tradition of game/puzzle pieces within that group of idioms (such as waldron's "thirteen", from the quest with dolphy and booker ervin - or any number of brubeck pieces) - on the other hand this is not open-ended, designed not as a vehicle for improvisation but specifically as a link piece, a palate-cleanser between courses. this is true both for the listener and for the players, who for once just have to keep their minds on the written line, otherwise can take a little creative breather, in all probability... finally, the piece has been trimmed down for this studio "posterity" version - a live version from 1973 was longer, i'm pretty sure of it.

oh yeah and finally finally - gotta stop thinking it's altschul on the drum stool!! dunno where he was, but this beloved quartet album (it's not really that anyway, of course) was not made by that beloved quartet... jerome cooper (himself the dedicatee of a braxton piece) is on drums. one thing b. did not starve for, and we can all be thankful for this, was good drummers.

that's it, that's basically the last of what i've been carrying around with me up to this point... now, at long last, are we rolling? action.

* * *

session 001: new york, fall 1974
date: 27th september '74 (main session)
- 16th october '74 (duo session)

so i sit down and reach my ears out towards the music - and as is usually the case when i hear the beginning of (the studio) comp. 23b*, i find myself surprised all over again at how weak the sound is on my rip, this being the very first impression (each time it's as if i forgot, then it's brought home to me again straight away): let's remember for starters that this album, tailor-made for vinyl, has in fact never been available on cd - ? (what, not even in japan? that's extraordinary)... the copy which found its way in through the back door at c#9 was a slightly rough-round-the-edges mp3 compression, presumably ripped by mcclintic sphere from his own vinyl - but how old was the vinyl, how well loved; how many owners, miles on the clock? the sound is a little muffled and distant, and the mp3 compression will also compromise the percussion tracks in particular - BUT... lo and behold, by the time i'm settled in the chair, the miracle has occurred - my ears have accommodated, adjusted for the various "deficiencies" of the recording source, i am just hearing the music. (funny how little effort this actually takes, if one gives freely of oneself to begin with - one little investment of faith, repaid so immediately and so bountifully!)

"freed" (in my overcautious mind) from trying to hear the piece as if for the first time, i have decided on just drifting with it and seeing how long it takes for something to happen which will seize all my attention and jerk the pen to life in my hand... the answer - and i bet most people would not have seen this one coming - is the end of the stop-time salvos, and the beginning of the accompanied section of the theme, because right from the gun good old dave holland is tearing the place up, sounding at once like the ideal bassist for the piece (easy at speed, endless stamina, no need to play diatonic patterns as such... i can tend to forget that holland had been in & out of miles's band long since, having been talent-spotted in the first place... the way things turned out is far more influential on my thinking these days, as we all know). still, the theme itself somehow passes in a bit of a blur (this is the consequence of lazy, pre-selective decision making), albeit a blur which engages my "dancey bits" in the chair... i was distracted there by a thought of how this time, they really nailed the tricky theme, however many takes that took - and then we're back where it always seems we belong, an alto saxophone solo from mr anthony braxton, holland really flying now.

first new thought: the gear-shifts in braxton's solos are close to perfected now - if they weren't before! each tiny element of the solo has its own logic and its own place within the larger structure - there's not time for me to think that right then, i just write gear shifts really, because as well as variation in attack, dynamics, tonguing, breathing, etc etc for each separate "cell" or outgrowth, each one above all has its own rhythm - and with a bassist and drummer as tight and as loose as these two, and at this tempo, that rhythm is infinitely flexible, can be broken down and reconstructed in any number of ways. this aspect of the playing sounds so easily controlled now that it strikes me with startling clarity within seconds of the solo commencing. at the same time, the beauty of the man's tone when he chooses to sing... hooks right into the centre of my ear and won't let me go. above all, unifying all phrases, cells or whatever they are is the extraordinary confidence and authority which the man now exhibits in his playing. related to this: b's habit, common to very many jazz musicians, of quoting (himself and others) is becoming extremely precise, very thoroughly thought-out also.

my attention is hijacked at 3.25 ish by a sort of sucking attack, producing a very strained (partial) tone, highly effective used where it is in the solo, a climax of sorts but not what one might expect! still, it is near the end as it turns out: wheeler is on before 4 mins on the clock, the leader's opening statement (or transmission from source, more like it) kept to a shorter length this time than has sometimes been the case previously; wheeler, unhurried as he usually is, takes off in a manner quite linear, yet still totally unfettered, this man who apparently surprised himself by discovering a love of flying free - perhaps, though, he is satisfied to do relatively little with his freedom... i tend to hear less variation in wheeler's solos than the leader's (but since i switched my head from jazz to free jazz i hear trumpets and pianos less clearly than reeds and bass and drums, less even than trombone... so it could be just me). still, the more relaxed style of the soloist gives us a chance to check out cooper in close-up, flashing away back there, whipping the pace along - this piece flagged at moers festival, no chance of that here, the momentum never slackens...

... until, in fact, cooper himself is given the floor, at which point his solo quickly turns out to be a rather disappointing series of patterns and exercises, a routine jazz drum solo rather than something freer... suddenly we're in danger of losing the whole thing, but luckily the band are too on the ball to let that happen, and just as it comes close to crisis point, holland kicks in again and the theme is being cued up for the restatement. again, they pull this off superbly: not just the restatement but the coda, absent in '73, toured through europe this year: after the final stop-time ascending run, the two horns will commence a series of such runs, varying from time to time, dropping down, going back up, according to a pattern too complex surely to memorise, yet they both (more or less) follow each other - and here is one crucial detail regarding more or less: this series of stop-time arpeggios (or whatever they are) is not especially difficult for a player of a keyed reed instrument, but must surely be a major pain for a player of valve brass! and sure enough wheeler fudges it left, right and centre but it doesn't matter. this is free jazz. he tries his best - and sometimes pulls off a superb one, simply ripping the notes out in one stream, other times barely able to hit two notes cleanly - but the effect is not diminished.

just as one is starting to wonder if it'll ever finish... it does.

phew... not the most concise of starts. luckily the "pre-selection" combines with canine distractions to limit my notes on the second piece (comp. 23c*) practically to nothing - only that the leader's flute is used to evoke playfulness, not frailty for a change; that's it... not that this is anything to be proud of, but it will help us get a bit nearer the end of the side..! for a while i follow untroubled, the music so pretty and so delightful in its surprises and twists, i can never remember quite where it's going and in any case repetition is not an excuse, here, for mere rote playing... every attack must be real, still. but by halfway through, my attention is totally shot and that's all there is to it - before i know it, the pause comes which heralds the most gorgeous ballad which never caught on... and i'm suddenly right back with the music.

again, mercifully, the number of things that grab my attention here is fairly small: freed from the need to summarise comp. 23d* beyond what i've said above, i just listen to it and glory in its thoughtful beauty - this a complex quality perfectly miniaturised in one entry of the leader, back on alto for this jazz number: at around 0.30 he plays just a few notes, a little "extra" breath in there too which creates somehow the most spellbinding sound, all beauty with no hint of sentimentality, and gone before one can fully grasp it - gone into the wonderful "falling" cadences which are written into the theme, a carefree part of a careworn tune, both qualities reflecting the various ways in which ornette led by example and set free those who might hear... those falling steps are picked up again by the leader in his solo, which itself is slower than usual, more inclined to lament and reflect than to burn and twist; whether this change of intensity lulls holland and cooper into somnolence, who knows, but for a moment at the changeover to wheeler (before 3.30), the bass and drums are not really doing anything, just sort of hanging in "jazz space" - but within 30 secs it's rescued, cooper finding a double-sticked, "staggered echo" effect which adds the element of unpredictability which was temporarily missing.

there's a bass solo then... which my notes have discreetly omitted altogether, but the truth is that to my ears at least, nothing really happens in it. holland winds round and round, demonstrating nothing more than the skills we already know he has in abundance. (or is just me? it could always be just me.)

as with the first piece, so again, the restatement puts all thought of a disappointing solo out of my mind, this time not with virtuoso skill and brio, so much as with pure beauty (that word again)... and with that knowing, sidelong glance which now generates an entire aside, in the form of a snaking series of phrases which make their way slowly down, repeat, then - the icing on the cake - give way to the unison squeal (6.37ish) which starts off the nod to "hat and beard", thrown in as a last surprise and over by 6.45, the piece now fading to a close, the first predictable moment of the entire side, but in a good and satisfying way!

- a natural set closer or last encore, how this piece never caught on better is beyond me... no it's not: the failure of this (really quite accessible) album to sell bucketloads tells us all we need to know about the music business, the listening public and the jazz establishment... let's move on before suicidal depression takes hold.

* * *

side two basically has nothing to do with jazz at all - this is where b. really stretches out, sheds any limitations applied (like sets of shackles) by terms such as jazz and just expresses his individual mind as a composer. as a result, the pieces have far more depth to them and do not end, with the end of the performance; each one carries implications way beyond its own running time, establishes a whole dimension of territories which might yet be explored by brave souls.

so the second, freer programme opens with comp. 38a*, a duet for clarinet and analog synth, the performance here being the first of many duo explorations with another non-identical twin, richard teitelbaum... and the piece opens with what seems to be some sort of alarm call, on a space station somewhere, by the sound of it - within a few moments we are aware that we are deep, deep in the void somewhere, out in the realms beyond, where few have ventured except the mighty visionary sun ra: yes, in deep, yawning darkness, where sporadic flashes of light reveal partial glimpses of a huge and alien machine... hovering about, suspended in the dark before this vast and incomprehensible structure is a spotlight, a beam which traces the most vibrant and flowing arabesques on the canopy of the dark, shapes which hang in the air and then fade, shapes entirely unrelated to the enormity behind and beneath but which somehow seem to belong naturally in the same space. the tracer beam of light is warm and draws a pleasingly fat stroke, yet is capable of delicacy and finesse also; the flashes of illumination from behind seem at first random, as unreadable as lightning, yet as the two voices continue to share the space, the level of communication between the two seems to deepen so clearly that the flashes themselves are revealed as the expressions of a living mind, albeit one of a nature alien to our human understanding... yet the human and the machine mind continue to talk...

... by 2.45 in the piece a development both unexpected and inevitable occurs, that of synchronicity, both voices seeming to become one for a few brief moments before shifting back out of phase [this is an extraordinary moment which sounds as if it must surely be an effect applied to the clarinet itself, rather than a line keyed in real time on the synth - but who knows; the effect is remarkable at any rate]. again, the sudden activity around the five-min mark is unexpected and quite exciting - soon enough, the alarm call is heard again (perhaps the timer on an oxygen supply, dictating now a return to the safety of his ship for the owner of the light beam)... and this conversation, which might have gone on indefinitely, is over.

back to earth a minute, b's mixing up of very fast and sloooooow attacks demonstrates once more his advanced mastery of the reed family. and those shapes in the dark are very evocative :)

- next up, after a brief shake/wipe of the slate, is comp. 37*, for four saxophones; indeed, it's specified "for saxophone quartet", and of course the three collaborators b. has chosen for this will, we know now, take to this set-up so well that they go on soon enough to form the world saxophone quartet (a while later, with the addition of a young gun named david murray, not yet on the scene) in order to explore the format in a great deal of breadth and depth. for now, they are three like minds in that they are serious students and masters of reed instruments, dedicated to the exploration of sound - and close listening to this piece is to prove slightly maddening, though i eventually get over that!

maddening, because at first - the piece begins with one voice (braxton) and others enter one by one (as with the multitracked comp. 22*, three and a half years previous to this) - i am sucked into the trap of trying to work out who plays what at any one time, and since i haven't checked the discog beforehand for clarification, i keep changing my mind about that - soon enough i force myself to try and forget this, just listen to the music! well, ok - we're in another experimental space, an open territory for exploration - except that some, at any rate, of the individual utterances are prescribed; yet here is the apparent paradox, so germane to the later musics and at the same time, perfectly reflected even at this formative stage: alhough the limits are closely defined and the requirements demanding of the players, the freedom set aside for individual expression is almost total. the players are encouraged, even required to bring themselves to the music. needless to add, they all converse within it, too.

within a couple of minutes of this remarkable reed summit, i'm distracted back towards picking out the four voices - but this time there's less confusion: for a start, hamiett bluiett is of course filling out the bottom end, as would be normal for him later; and the very reason i'm being pulled back into hearing the separate voices is because i am constantly being made aware of two master scientists, two doctors subtilis who know (already) manifold ways to split hairs with a reed - and these, inevitably, are braxton and julius hemphill. bluiett and oliver lake are on a similar level of technical excellence, but two of these voices are really doing unique things and two of them aren't.

bluiett, nevertheless, listens very closely to the leader and even, at one point, picks up a phrase from him and tosses it right back; essentially, this is a nurturing space, a territory which facilitates (and rewards) trying one's hardest... by several minutes in, everyone is so thoroughly warmed up and so well established within the space that when a unison passage begins, it seems quite natural that the four voices retain their unique characters even while playing written notes. and look what else occurs: as a steady, nagging line is maintained, sound attacks start up to offset it, and the last few minutes of this piece, in their very carefully contained "bottled tensions", not only leap ahead to the collage structures, they leap even further to gtm surely - is this, right here, the first gtm prototype? it could be, couldn't it - so it's tempting to go ahead and plant that flag, but you know what? chances are there have been others already, i just didn't recognise them... so let's forget it. still, this piece really looks to the future; with hindsight, that's clear in various ways, none of which could never have been foreseen at the time.

- so, that leaves just one piece to address, and where does it belong? i've been happy to cut this album neatly in half, and designate this an outer exploration rather than a formal set-piece; and in terms of the performance as such, i'm satisfied with that. as for the map itself, the composition: who knows? history has classified it as comp. 23a*, belonging in the same series (short compositions for creative ensemble, second book, 1971-4) as the three pieces on the first side; and in essence, maybe it is just another simple idea-given-form, like them (* see comments)... BUT: again, one of the key factors about this man, seemingly so ordered and regimented, is unpredictability, and the beauty of the open-ended composition is that even those which are straightforward in principle may contain spaces for total freedom - and in any given instance, that freedom might entail the dissolution of the known universe - sorry, what was that? message from beyond there, i didn't catch it...

back to the matter in hand then - i love this piece, especially this version of it (* comments again)... i mean love it. and in this instance you can forget about naive listening for certain, because months ago now, listening to it intently as it began, i was instantly transported to a battered and disreputable old tavern, near a harbour somewhere (down a back alley, no doubt): a rough part of town, and on a rough old night, but everyone snug and drunk within the weather-beaten walls as the seaside storms do their worst outside; as the walls shake, the old seadogs do too, swaying together as they rattle out an old shanty, a catchy number about a night when things got really hairy, out in the middle of god only knows where, how they escaped with their lives is a total mystery... yet here they are to tell the tale, embellished as always... this image, fully-formed as if clipped from a movie, appeared before my inner eye within a few seconds of the piece beginning, on that occasion some weeks or months ago... oh yes, and it sort of goes without saying that all this is taking place in a harbour on mars, or neptune maybe, somewhere with boiling red sunsets and stormy seas much like earth can provide, but where the ship herself can join in the drunken singing.

'cos the contrabass clarinet does double duty here: in the first half, it plays the part of one of the voyagers, holding down the bottom end of the monophonic line (a temporary obsession from this time - more examples coming up iminently) as two sailors (muted trumpet, violin) add the human fragility at the top end, this while the story is set up - and then ... and then what? the written section finishes, the free space opens up and a miracle occurs at once: suddenly we are out there with them, lost in the fog and feeling the bellowing breath of a monster somewhere very close, seeing nothing else for guidance but for the occasional flash of muted light as an oar catches water... danger is so close... yet is it really danger? was it really going to catch us and eat us? somehow by the end of the ordeal, the monster has communicated its friendliness... can't help its shape, its size... maybe that wasn't the ship after all, maybe it was the monster singing, having long since joined the crew... in any case, by 4 mins the crew is pulling together again, seeing the way out and rowing confidently away... the monster is still there though, so it really can't have been that scary after all. night, fog, tricks of the light... one thing this piece really helps to achieve is the de-monsterisation of the contrabass clarinet!

again... back to earth for a sec! - leroy jenkins, the wild card on this piece, third voice in the monophonic line, does some incredible stuff here... he produces creaks and groans which irresistibly recreate masts and rigging, adds just one more voice, and one which never threatens to dominate or overwhelm the ensemble, but which totally changes the nature of the group (from the basic quartet). in the abstract soundfield that is the second half of this amazing piece, everyone plays their part admirably, but jenkins is just a magician. and so, of course, is the leader: the super-high-pitched "dog whistle" effect towards the very end can only be him, and he hasn't switched instrument... which means he's somehow talking to bats on a horn the size of a house.

the ending of this piece shocks me every time, cos it just suddenly seems to have been yanked away - and i don't know if it's a fault of the rip, or what... but that's it, that at last is the end of this shibboleth of an album...

... and i stagger away.

(grading? really? look, hyperbole aside, nothing is possible other than CCCC... this is a really, really good album whichever way you look at it. also, it's so neatly divided up, so much to offer to any open-minded listener, and such a good place to start - so, is it the best? what i said before still holds for me, that the more utilitarian nature of the side one material lowers the level of the album as a whole - how can it stand alongside the later edifices? it can't... but it's still really good. and yes, listening closely at last i found moments where the momentum flags, two in particular which i see no need to mention again, and it's still really good. any braxton fan who hasn't heard this, can only enjoy it - new converts could not start anywhere better. what else could we ask, at this stage?)

Saturday, March 29, 2008

braxtothon '08: session -1

so... as previously explained (pretty much passim) i tried to squeeze new york, fall 1974 into braxtothon phase two. didn't work... i then swung to the other extreme, figuring that if i hadn't managed to cram it in at the last minute, that left me as long as it might take - to spar with this potentially-intimidating partner: i had already heard the recording more often (in a short space of time) than i had any other braxton album (with the exception of the first one i bought, the monk set), so the side one pieces, at least, were well burrowed into my ear memory, and in any case i had got used to hearing them in the live sets of that period, some of which i had now done as actual braxtothon sessions. somewhere along the line (as "semi-listens" to the album as a whole, or to tracks on playlists, stacked up), i reached the conclusion that i would probably now not bother to write about the side one pieces at any great length, happy to sum them up as being basically "jazz experiments" and not attempting to treat them in much more detail than that (pretty cowardly, and a cop-out given that i had deliberately avoided discussing these pieces from a formal p.o.v. when i heard them live!).

the album does split very neatly into two halves, is actually a rather beautifully presented album (inasmuch as the format's limitations are exploited very artfully): the first side, i figured some time ago, is a subjunctive, a sort of alternative present, the answer to the hypothetical question "what would jazz sound like right now, if we'd all been a bit more open-minded in our listening?" - and the second was very much the future, at least braxton's future..! the pieces on the second side are all way more adventurous, and consequently explore regions much farther out - yet still manage to report back.

my feeling - as i neared the time to resume the journey - was that i would address the old, cherished issue of the album's "desert island" status, draw the ultimate conclusion that the (self-imposed) limitations of side one's programme are such as to render the album incapable of standing properly alongside some of the later work (much of it, probably) - yet would still be unreserved in my recommending the album, and would pick it as the ideal starting point for a new "friendly experiencer" (making its print status all the more annoying), or as one of two such, at the very least. and yes, that's right, i wasn't planning to write about side one much at all, except for the odd sentence of summing up - unless of course individual details from the performances leapt out at me, while the magnifying glass was in effect.

this, then, pretty much brings the reader up to speed with where i was when it all went down... where my thinking was at, by the time i got my sleeves rolled up for the start of phase three... oh yes, and what i frequently remembered, then forgot again, was one key point about the composer: even though the side one pieces are formal experiments - as opposed to open-ended maps for advanced exploration, which are basically what this man deals in - because they are his formal experiments, they are never predictable, indeed essentially unpredictable: at no point can the first-time (or fifth-time?!*) listener say with certainty, "ah, yes, i can see where this is heading, where it will end up". twist after twist occurs in the narratives - none foreseeable, yet each sounding inevitable once it has shown itself... in fact, just like the man's solos (i come to decide later). but i'm getting ahead of myself there... this is merely the backstory for the first session.

*opinions will differ wildly on this!

Friday, March 28, 2008

braxtothon '08: preface

i am a great procrastinator. that is, i am a terrible procrastinator, which in turn means that over the years i have become excellent at it. these days excuses just seem to come along naturally, pretexts for putting off those things which i could do now but probably won't want to - it's a self-sustaining pattern, which i'm only just now starting to think about trying to disrupt. anyway, seeing as the pattern still holds sway for the time being, it was no surprise to me (in retrospect, or even at the time) that when the october '07 braxtothon ground to a halt, it was in 1974, at the point of approaching an intimidating peak. new york, fall 1974 is frequently name-dropped as an outstanding braxton album, indeed often considered the "best" one... though reviews (as usual for this musician) tend not to say very much, in terms of actual detail. that, if i stop to think about it, just makes matters worse, puts pressure on me to supply at least some of the detail which is missing.

so it doesn't surprise me at all that i needed a longish break... a break during which: i lost faith in all sorts of things, lost (apparently) my regular readers, lost interest in my own projects and lost patience with my typing (the charles gayle whinge-fest relates what turned out to be "ground zero" for this general malaise); then rediscovered some faith, out of nowhere, seemingly, and carried on blogging - despite an overwhelming feeling (at that time) of calling into a void and hearing only my own distant echo; i began the new year with a refined plan, of sorts (see january's manifesto), also received enough encouragement to sustain my renewed enthusiasm; finally, with signs of spring and growth and unpredictable weather, a bolt of lightning struck, changing at once and forever the nature of the project.

now i had to get going again, in the knowledge this time that at least one person is likely to be reading what i write, and that being a person whose opinion i value above any other on this subject; that, too, could be intimidating, so much so as to shut me down altogether! i might never resume... but i always intended to, and for the same reason as i started in the first place: i want to get closer to the music, to be able to understand it (a bit) better.

when i stopped the sessions at the end of october, there was a question mark hanging over how much of braxton's music i would permit myself to hear (before i started again). as it worked out, i've listened to a lot - with varying degrees of attention and focus (though i find now that b's solo voice in particular is so compelling that it takes precedence over any distractions in claiming my attention; nothing much is going to get done while he's playing). all the various impressions from this listening are in there somewhere, floating around in the tank, mingling and coalescing, and doubtless many of them will surface in the coming months. it all helps - there was no question of my beginning braxtothon phase three as a total ingenu anyway.

the playlists in particular have really helped in some ways; some albums coming up in the nearish future will lean heavily on those playlists, meaning that pieces which appear on them will (probably) be dealt with in far more detail than the ones which don't - although the phase begins with an exception to that rule, and there may well be others! in any case the conditions are a lot more flexible now: every entry will include at least one "proper session" (with, as before, my full attention given to the music - as far as that's possible for me), but some entries will have a lot more filling-in than others. there is no time limit from now on, it will take as long as it takes, and i shan't know when a phase ends until i reach the end - meanwhile, the beginning of phase three sees me trying an experiment, during which several listening sessions - of successive recordings - are squeezed into a two-day period, leaving me three days after that to write all of them up, or as much as i can: this, in theory, will whisk me not just out of 1974 but right through '75 as well... let's see how that works out.

Monday, March 24, 2008

building stacks (3)

see also playlist one

and playlist two

third and last in the series - a quick glance below may reveal why i wanted it up before braxtothon phase three gets underway.

playlist three

1. comp. 114 (+108a) - studio, 1984 (tr.1)
2. comp. 23g - studio, 1975 (tr.3)
3. comp. 6(o) - studio, 1993 (tr.3)
4. comp. 34 - studio, 1981 (tr.3)
5. "comp. -2" - live, 1973
6. comp. 69m - studio, 1979 (tr.3)
7. comp. 131 - studio, 1986 (tr.1)
8. comp. 26b - live, 1974 (tr.1)
9. comp. 58 - studio, 1976 (tr.3)
10. circle: comp. 6f - live, 1971
see below for details
11. comp. 23a - studio, 1974 (tr.6)

- the last set opens with one of two "near-misses" for the great quartet: this earlier one features the "final prototype" (sorry, john lindberg - this is inevitably how this version of the band will be regarded). this is the only selection on all three lists to include an actual pulse track as such...

- ...which makes it pure serendipity that the next cut, 23g, is the original epicentre of that particular pulsation... yep, this is the track which kicked it off, set up a burrowing obsession in the man's mind which demanded thorough and detailed examination later, when the implications could really be understood. serendipity because - as detailed in the previous post on 23m - at the time i assembled the playlists i wasn't even quite sure what a pulse track was, nor was i familiar with the album from which this cut is taken.

- 6(o), played in 1972 and mentioned briefly in the braxtothon, then turned up again after a two-decade gap (as mentioned in a detour). it's the later version which has been haunting me ever since... probably due for detailed examination at some point.

"comp. -2" is a silly name, one concocted purely for the purpose of the compilation on which it was used: the duet between braxton and holland which opened the town hall concert, yet was clipped from the album commemorating it, might as well be called "-1" since it didn't belong to a series (?) and had missed out when the numbers were handed round; -1 in regard to the concert makes sense, but that does not make the next unknown piece -2..! well, yes, apparently it does... but it's so closely related to some of the 23 series in particular, as well as being contemporary with them; why they didn't just call it comp. 23q is beyond me. still, again, i suppose it didn't answer its name when the roll was called...

- the same piece also completes a miniature series, third of three similar pieces misidentified by me, some time ago, as proto-pulse tracks... the others are, remember, 6a and (of course) 23m. let's get these damn numbers memorised folks ;-)

- 131 represents the second "ringer" date for the great quartet (which is not actually included on any of the lists): crispell absent, david rosenboom filling in well.

- 26b, dedicated to kalaparush... a player for whom the young braxton had very high regard. this is the solo which begins as if blowing bubbles underwater. it does a lot more besides, an amazing piece..!

- there will be plenty to say about 58 when the braxtothon reaches 1976. not far off actually... (for that matter, there will be plenty to say about 34, when i get that far)

- the original repetition series, later dubbed 6f, exists in all sorts of different versions but for some reason, none of them quite seemed right for the playlists except this one, never released, from circle's hamburg concert in '71. [this number is included in the short set posted on huppes & hyalites months ago, but i later found a much longer, still incomplete version of the same set, better sound also - good enough to slip in here and ten minutes long, a bit of everything thrown in but the kitchen sink (han bennink not involved!)]

- always planned to finish vol 3 with 23a, just as it was obvious to begin vol 1 with 23b. the closer of closers, in this ultra-evocative rendition (review of this album coming very soon, at last...)

* * *

next post: braxtothon phase three

Sunday, March 23, 2008

braxtothon redux (1) - comp. 23m

dedicated to warne marsh

appearances in official discog: three
this version: 11th jan 1973

original braxtothon entry here (inc. discog link)

listening to this back in october was what triggered one particular fascination in me, namely the desire to track the progress of b's use of two separate linear progressions forced to inhabit the same space... round about then i began to think of these experiments as proto-pulse tracks, i.e. forerunners of the full-blown pulse track structures employed with the "forces in motion" band... and having decided that this was (a key part of) what was going on with the piece, i subsequently found others (which i had previously heard, but poorly understood) - this stuff is all detailed (somewhat) in the functional stack post, and is being gradually followed up with the playlists...

... anyway, the point: in retrospect i can see that my understanding of what is going on in these experiments was a little confused - i was onto something, but was not yet quite sure what. firstly, it's not exactly two different rhythms - but see below. secondly, at least as regards the use of the term "proto-pulse track", i was simply wrong about this, not having properly understood what b. meant when he used this term. recently, listening to playlist three, i was powerfully impressed by (the '75) comp. 23g, another piece from this same fertile period (as evidenced by the retrospective numbering) - the very next day, when i opened forces in motion to look for whatever i was looking for, it fell nicely open at p.195: pulse tracks, and 23g as their direct "ancestor". (i daresay i am not the only one who has noticed how beloved books can be "tamed" in this way..!) of course i read this passage last year but, not having stopped to listen to the referenced works as i was reading (the book was far too much of a page-turner for that), i didn't understand what was being talked about here. 23g... well, who knows, i may examine that one in due course but for now i'll just sum up: the "rhythm" track in this piece consists rather of isolated, synchronised "sound attacks", and this embryonic concept is what eventually led to the composition of the pulse tracks themselves in the eighties.

of course, it may yet be the case that the sound attacks of 23g are simply a very refined (or very abstract) version of what i had misidentified as proto-pulse tracks myself. in these earlier pieces, then, braxton seems concerned with the implications of setting up two parallel horizontal progressions which are held in an unstable balance; the mood generated is always basically one of tension, not of ease - it's not a question of two rhythms which are counted differently but which nevertheless dovetail in some pleasing and surprising way. no, the immediate effect of any of these juxtapositions is to create an edge, an atmosphere of uncertainty but also of great potentiality, and above all of excitement. one can just hear right away: something is surely going to happen here!

this is as far as i had got when i first started rattling on about proto-pulse tracks... i knew that the "forced" juxtaposition of the two lines was crucial, but hadn't yet explored closely enough to unpack the details. coming back to examine the device more closely, i realise that it's not a question of two different rhythms, or meters: in the case of (the tokyo) 23m in particular, the bass more or less plucks one beat to every two notes played by the sax and the piano; but this is nonetheless not a very helpful way of looking at it, because the two lines are attuned to different internal clocks. they just sound different, as a result: and the friction between the two is what allows for the spontaneous inflorescence of individual expression that comes later in the beautiful solos; excuse my imagery becoming literally flowery for a minute here, but that is above all how these moments strike me, and not just in this piece - the image of blossoming forth captures the essentially-organic nature of the solos, expressions which are also outgrowths; and of course it captures the sense of beauty... which is never far from me in listening to this man's recordings.

so: what is the difference? (am i ever actually going to address that?!) here's how it seems to me: the bass line, regular as it is, is nonetheless straightforwardly organic (that word again... can't say it too often). it breathes - the pulse it represents is natural, internalised, and the occasional skips-and-jumps which bassist keiki midorikawa executes are themselves evidence of this internalisation (i.e. they occur within their own natural context, as outgrowths - albeit very small ones!); the written melody, on the other hand, seems to be a line whose natural rhythm, phrasing, spacing etc may never be known, because it has been instead conjured to spell itself one note at a time with equal weight (almost) to all, and through further artifice divided into sections of more or less equal length. (ghost trance music beckons already, plucks at the composer's sleeve...)

natural pulse versus artificially regulated line, the latter contained and constrained in a tight space yet yearning to break free - what might result, what may burst like a jack-in-the-box from that packed, bound nutshell of tension? well, before we get to that, it's worth noting that the piece is not quite the simmering inferno that some might be imagining on reading the above - though tension is indeed surely the desired aim, the effect at least of breaking the written line up into segments is to make the cruelly-even spacing of the notes come to sound more natural, the bass continuing its own path in between sections so that each time a little anticipation is built up for the next, and when we get to the successive sets of cascades, juddering attacks down a chromatic scale, it all sounds as if it's making sense; thus, by the time the tension actually gets released, there is no explosion as such, for the simple reason that the tough schooling has taught a valuable lesson, the written line's horizontal reorganisation having brought about an entirely new way of displaying and examining the ideas which make it up.

finally through, the line returning to a point suspended in midair, the bass interjects little skips or "catches", vibrating the string very quickly and violently (at the start of a "grouped" attack, two notes, the first so hard up against the second that it might be considered some sort of "grace note" except that the opposite applies as is usual - in this case, the first note is played with exceptional force)... this tiny variation is enough to supply the bit of fire needed at the very start of the alto solo (no question but that we're straight into one of those, on a piece dedicated to one of our man's touchstones) - from there, it can fly its own course. the piano maintains a respectful distance whilst cunningly stabbing in with tight little chords, groups of notes which serve only to reinforce the total absence (as usual, but it's worth saying) of regular tonality in the piece; so masahiko sato is doing a sort of elegant free-jazz comping, here, adding little spikes and angles for the soloist to bounce off if he so chooses...

... what b. chooses to do with his newfound freedom is soar, sing his heart out above all - finding much airspace out there he fills it with a ringing tone, using his sweetest, most seductive call, startling when projected with such power, yet with a very subtle and thoughtful edge to it (inevitably!); and of course before long he has to reveal his other side, the side which loves to do surprising things, to make sounds which do not fall easily into the ear: this is just another aspect of the way he sings, but it also begins the slow, very controlled release of the various tensions which have been building during the longish theme, a release which will maintain its own pace within the greater logic of the solo song as a whole... the attacks slide along through the available time, showing that time to be infinitely pliable and versatile: one note pushes another into a slide, which sparks off another burst as it comes to a halt; rhythm is toyed with in the subtlest of ways, within a song so sensuous... he dominates the air-space at stage left, filling the ears with his mixture of sweet and spiky sounds - 4.35ish he quotes the descending cadences of the second part of the theme, demonstrating (as he does when playing standards) his approach of occasional tangential returns to coincide with the curve represented by the "source" material - "source" as in starting point, only, always. by 5.15 he is in the middle of the most marvellous series of swooping, joyous fast runs which herald the climax of his song.

at 5.45 the piano is in, taking its time to find space but quickly comfortable with its own voice and its own ideas: this is a nurturing space which has been co-created. as usual, i find myself utterly at a loss to describe the piano solo except to paraphrase what i said before, that it's filled with miniature delights, each as surprising and as inevitable as braxton's own phrases, indeed, this being a solo which i can thoroughly enjoy - and follow, yet cannot relate any of it afterwards as if i've been granted temporary comprehension of a foreign tongue.

the bass does not solo; they return to the theme and we get a second chance to hear the whole sequence. all the pieces i misidentified as proto-pulse tracks use the bass in this way, to lay down an unwavering pulse against which another will be offset, and the voices playing the other will always get to have more fun; and similar things will be required of later bassists, also. using the bass in this way might seem "typically jazz"; or typically more-than-just-jazz (think of how little the bass guitarist has to do in most commercial rock! ok, that's an extreme example) - but it isn't like that here, the bass is an integral part not just of the sound palette, but of the three-way ritual which raises the energy for two voices to sing and soar; the bass, in fact, is the only voice which gets to play all the time, and since each note must be felt from the heart and in the guts and in the fingers, not just fired off by rote, the playing is thus freed up, even within the tight strictures placed upon it.

* * *

so, i'm about to wrap this article up when i find myself embarking on one more listen, just to check a little detail - and straight away i notice something which i must have registered subliminally any number of times, yet apparently have never remembered: the written line begins with a pause. the first note played by the sax and the piano is allowed to hang for a beat or two, then the eighth-note sequence begins! and this one tiny detail seems suddenly crucial, as if i've been barking up the wrong tree the whole time. the fact that the melody begins in such a way suggests rather that any constraints are self-imposed, voluntary, not forced at all... and there are, of course, occasional breaks from the fast march along the line, skips and jumps in the rhythm during one section or another. this is how easy it is to formulate an idea, run away with it and end up somewhere in the middle of nowhere declaring "i am planting my flag on this mountain!" is there anything of value in what i have written? that's not for me to judge... but it doesn't really matter: self-imposed or handed down from on high, the constraints are there, and they do have a particular effect on the behaviour of the line, an effect which (in some way i can't quite seem to pinpoint) is essential to the ethos of the piece.

as with my previous attempted reading, in october, i find that the restatement of the theme, while offering us merely another chance to hear what we have heard once already, casts the melody in a different light, as if the conjuror is showing us the mechanism in repeating the trick. it's as if we are listening to a portion of a solo, transcribed and locked down into (nearly) even rhythm, rather than a written line as such... naturally, the temptation is to guess that it's not just a solo but a warne marsh solo... well, let's just hang that one out there, not likely to be able to verify it any time soon.

in any case we know (from lock) that what braxton cherished above all in marsh was his approach to contour - and how differences between the contour of an improvised line, and the meter(s) of the accompaniment, can generate tensions of the subtlest sort... that in turn is what the young braxton seized and ran away with, looking for somewhere to plant it later. the difference between me (or any other writer on music) and the (older) braxton who called out "i am planting my flag on this mountain!" is that he was actually standing on one at the time. and there are many, many of them, as yet unmarked on the desert maps in most cases... and i suppose that drawing maps of the desert is what i've been trying to do.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

pearls before swine

charles gayle trio
(plus support)
baltica, london ec4
sunday 18th november (london jazz festival)

the scene
: back in london for the second time this year, i emerged from the tube (newish train, still grotty-looking) into a station which possibly wasn't even built when my wife and i moved away: blackfriars, on the (extended) jubilee line... the long staircase and escalator climb up out of the tunnels beneath imposing slabs of bare stone, clean-lined blocks forming an impressive but rather unwelcoming vault above our insignificant heads... we are in metropolis... this is an area of london steeped in history; also one which (despite the "east end" connotations) is steeped in money. and which of the two would you guess is more apparent to me, as i step outside to be slapped in the face by the wet chill of a london november night?

atanase arrives promptly and the venue is right there. it's a restaurant, i knew that already. it's just round the corner, not quite opposite but the awning is within sight of the tube. no tickets, atanase just gives his name and they check us off a printout, issue a piece of paper and someone shows us to a table very close to the "stage". thus far it really isn't looking like my kind of place but, y'know, we came here for the music not the ambience.

in my naivete i was yet to experience the horror of being in a place where most patrons have the exact opposite intention. (yes, my experience of live jazz is that limited - the last time i saw it in this sort of environment, i was nineteen going on twenty, a student, and the band were friends of mine.)

* * *

we're treated to a little speech in celebration of the owner (delighted to be involved with the london jazz festival, as no doubt he might be with a room full of people) before we even get to the music. and the irritating m.c. - introduced as richard strange, as if he were the one and only of that name and surely well known to us all - makes the first of several references to how much of a true giant mr gayle is, giant being an overused word, and all that. but no-one in this yuppie place (do excuse my outdated social slur, i have no idea what one would say nowadays, thankfully) looks as if they are likely to have sat through a charles gayle album ever. in fact, as regards the (highly visible) patrons and staff, and also most of the other diners, you must be kidding. mike figgis is sitting motionless and expressionless with a friend at another table. he, one presumes, is here for the music; but it's impossible to tell what he thinks, as he literally scarcely moves a (facial) muscle throughout.

richard strange is long and thin with a hooked nose and black hat... just to make sure we all know he's a bona fide jazz eccentric. he slickly introduces the first set, a piano trio whose names are, regrettably, lost in my memory somewhere; a young japanese woman leading from the piano stool, two serious-looking black dudes on bass and traps, none of them looking like london trendies; this set, little did i know it, was to prove the high-point of my evening, in terms of unspoiled enjoyment: atanase and i both thought it was pretty good, it not being the sort of thing either of us would usually choose to listen to. the pianist writes her own music (drummer spent 90% of the time with his eyes rivetted to the score, occasionally glancing across at the piano - can't recall now if the bassist was reading or not), but she finished with a playfully reharmonised "take five", looking up with an inviting smile on her face as she introduced the theme, yet not actually making eye contact with any of her audience, so that the smile had time to grow vague before she plunged back to the keyboard... she played hard, which is probably what both atanase and i liked about her - surprisingly powerful, which is just as well since, whoever she is, she's bound to end up getting compared with satoko fujii and/or aki takase.

so far so good... things took a downturn (for us... i know that at least one person enjoyed the next lot) with the second group, led by the young russian expat zheniya strigalyev, who plays alto sax and writes, and is evidently the darling and/or discovery of the (expat) proprietors. this group, at least, had direct links to the media-fêted london jazz scene in the shape of (f-ire collective) keyboardist nick ramm. and what a motley crew the others were: basically a sextet (inc. a tenor player who took no solos and looked as if he'd been dragged off a park bench somewhere to make the gig), the group became a quartet for the second (?) number and a septet for two, with the addition of an immaculately-dressed hepcat who played pretty good trombone but uttered the most platitude-ridden, by-the-numbers vocals (either scatting ridiculously or spouting the sort of "hey everybody, things are bad, we gotta love each other and be nice" nonsense which is supposed to get the crowd going... and, depressingly, it did, partly no doubt because the guy was black and therefore cool and beyond reproach - oops, did i say that out loud? sorry, we don't talk about that sort of thing in polite britain, it might lead liberals to uncomfortable self-discoveries)... atanase went so far as to use the word "disgrace" about halfway through this set, and it would have been hard to disagree. everything about it was smug, easy, thrown together to please a brainless, air-kissing crowd and make them all feel good about themselves. the most depressing aspect of the whole performance is that the leader himself blows a pretty fair, dolphyish alto, with a powerful sound and the germ of his own style, yet his writing (for this band at least) is simply the same post-post-modern chucked-together genre-hopping crap that the capital's media types are pimping week in, week out at the moment... the only trace of strigalyev's own heritage was the "standard" (my companion recognised this as a russian folk tune), which was also, far from coincidentally, the most convincing number in the set. and apart from that, it's difficult to be sure which of the following left the worst taste in my mouth: the blandness, the smug, self-congratulatory feel of the whole thing... or the way in which the audience lapped it up.

still, who cares about any of that, we still had charles gayle to come, both of us pretty excited about this since neither of us had seen him before... this was gayle's own trio, not the ad-hoc group which had toured the uk, a matter of weeks previously; and that in turn led to hopes that the leader might have brought his tenor with him on this occasion... unfortunately not. still, the fact that the man himself took the stage with his white alto was not a major disappointment: gayle in the flesh, just a few feet away from me, was very striking and visually quite magnetic, though his sly-eyed drummer michael wimberley gives him plenty of competition in that regard; bassist gerald benson (? i think) remains diffident and unassuming throughout, but in any case it's the leader to whom the eye keeps returning. knowing inevitably some key details of gayle's life story, i find it impossible not to look at him as if the years of homelessness, or perhaps the years since, or maybe both, have somehow burned away all that was impure within him, leaving only that which is true and essential, a most remarkable appearance which brought the word "saint" irresistibly to mind - seriously. this is the first time that has ever happened to me upon encountering another human being. [the full resonance of this "saint" business will not be clear until i run the sonny simmons piece!]

i felt suddenly privileged to be in the same room as this man. (i was stone cold sober for this concert btw.) and never mind m.c. strange with his unctuous and empty-sounding homily ("charles gayle truly is a giant of jazz")... never mind that the owners and management would probably be happy with another set from the "local" boy... beyond the restaurant area, plenty of people are up against the mezzanine balcony, clearly here for the gig not the food - surely the audience would see this remarkable man and want to listen to him? but that's the problem... though some of us did, we were in the minority, at least down the front; and the chit-chat started so soon and so loudly, there was no getting away from it, and it totally ruined the performance for me.

or rather, it ruined my experience of it: in theory i might yet remove some of my own negative associations, and thus re-experience the performance... trouble is, it wasn't just me who noticed. gayle did too - could tell very early on that although there were listeners out there, the venue itself, the occasion, was simply too caught up in its own beauty and smugness to notice he was even there, never mind hear his music. as a result, he made no direct effort to communicate at all; atanase, after watching him very closely for the first couple of numbers (i was terribly distracted, he less so), murmured to me that gayle was disappearing entirely inside himself as he played... and one could hardly blame him.

somehow he did manage to play, without really being fully present among us: the alto playing was frequently beautiful (when i could force myself to concentrate for a while), the piano playing knotty yet strangely beautiful too; and there was no faulting the band: benson had the nervous, sensitive look of a horse almost, fine-featured and with a string-player's delicate fingers - he seemed at times embarrassed to be there, so shy was his manner but there was certainly nothing wrong with his playing, which was supple and supportive throughout; wimberley seemed to be having a whale of a time, enjoying the playing, whipping the music along - and casting frequent sidelong glances at his leader. this, though, was showmanship, playing to the gallery: wimberley, in a sort of african pyjama suit (best guess!), was very comfortable indeed, alone among the players in that respect, and his sly glances were really just photo-ops, since one imagines he must have seen the disappearing act any number of times in places such as this, and would know by now that that's the last we'd see of mr gayle until the music stopped.

by midway through the set i was fantasising about ordering a jug of water, then stepping a few paces over to our right and throwing it in the faces of the two young women behind my companion's shoulder: "beautiful people" both, one blonde and english, one eurasian, both female, chattily engrossed in each other's radiant company in a manner which (in retrospect) seems to me to sum up perfectly the whole place: completely shallow, completely hollow, obsessed entirely with the paper-thin veneer that is its own glossy being. i really was so carried away at times with this fantasy that i had to force myself to think about the consequences, to realise that if i did what i really, really wanted to do, the resulting disruption would scarcely improve the ambience and would simply result in my own ejection forthwith... it was maddening, sickening, ultimately just depressing (in a way i could never have foreseen: looking back, the whole experience cast a long shadow over the next month or so).

well, the set ended after maybe an hour..? who knows, i was hardly a reliable judge of anything at that point. and the players vanished behind the white wall at the end of the room; and the audience duly remembered their required roles as sea-lions (the two women "multi-tasking" by not interrupting their fascinating conversation), so that when m.c. strange stepped back up and reminded us that it was our decision whether or not to have more music, everyone was unanimous that they wanted more of what they hadn't been listening to. so the band reappeared; gayle sat at the piano and played his version of "naima", locked away in himself all the while; then, as the question hovered of whether or not to play the alto again, he looked briefly out at no-one in particular, with a look that said the same as his face had said all evening, on the rare occasions (between songs) that he deigned to be among us: and the look said anything i might tell you would be wasted, and it left me feeling sad and angry and ashamed.

and so charles gayle stood up, and the band left, to more vacuous applause... wimberley, leaving the "stage", was greeted ostentatiously by our hostess (either the manageress, proprietor, who knows or cares), kissed on both cheeks in such a way as to ensure that the whole room saw it - it has to be said he didn't look too discomfited. and that is about all i remember; the experience of leaving a place which i hope never to revisit has been mercifully erased from my memory.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

*** more music here!***


ok, this is the promised moers ('74 quartet) encore that everyone's given up waiting for ;-)

- scroll down for the braxtothon entry (day seven (2)).

now known as comp. 23f, this unusual piece ("medium tempo line with broken time accents") is not represented anywhere else in the discography, though i daresay it was performed more than once around this time... i offer it here as a teaser really (will very likely put up the whole album at some point). mp3 was compressed from a lossless vinyl rip, so the substandard sound is the responsibility of whoever recorded/mixed/mastered it! with headphones on, i was amused to notice that the stereo image seems to locate the two horn players in more or less the same space, as if one were sitting on the other's shoulders... those of you who like your sounds as hi-fi as possible may struggle! bear in mind also that this is as good as the sound gets for the album: a long portion of it is considerably worse.

it's still fascinating stuff, both because of the irregular rhythm track and because it's unusual to hear b. play a whole number on (what i presume is) bass clarinet. hope people enjoy it... let me know what you think!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

october 07 braxtothon... bailey day

{note: this is the last of the original braxtothon (phase one and two) entries from october 2007. as some of you may remember, i was stranded in 1974 at the end of that month... phase three will eventually begin with new york, fall 1974 - which i tried and failed to shoehorn into phase two! this will be coming soonish, there's a couple of other things on the way first... stay tuned.}

* * *

this is sort of a side excursion - it's not listed on the tour itinerary at all, loose though that is... at the outset, upon realising how many hours of material i was dealing with, i made the tough decision to eliminate all those recordings which did not include b's composing. that way there was at least a chance of making some sort of progress "through the years"... so when brent mentioned in a comment that he was curious to hear what i made of royal volume 1 my first thought was that he was destined to be disappointed on that score; but the idea wouldn't quite be dismissed: no sooner had i considered it than i knew i had to make an exception for bailey of all people, these two being the strangest-looking twins one might hope to see. both utterly committed to giving freely and honestly of themselves with every last utterance, both completely serious and absorbed in their music... seemingly very different in their musical aims (one building language types out of thousands of separable and identifiable idioms, the other attempting the impossible task of constructing a language with no idioms at all), they are nevertheless more similar than dissimilar and it's easy to imagine they both recognised this very quickly. braxton, we know from lock and elsewhere, felt at once that this was a natural playing partner for him; i have not read bailey's thoughts on the matter but his respect for braxton is certainly on record (v. improvisation, "jazz (2)" for example).

so... in this case it will be very interesting to see not only what sparks flew, but what traces are left in the music to follow... i thought i would probably listen to royal when the time came, since that was the one which had come up - and because it consists of two extended pieces instead of shorter ones; but of course when i really thought about it, i couldn't resist hearing some of their first public meeting as well.

first session: first duo concert (first set only)
date: 30th june 1974

restructures link

time is limited today so i picked the first, shorter set... actually this was going to be semi-background music, i wasn't planning to approach it like a strict session, just absorb whatever i could ... but in the event the music was so rivetting that i couldn't do anything else at all while it was on. made for each other...

in point of fact this is a continuous set as well, it's just indexed very helpfully into the separate "areas" of the set - i am not sure who defined these areas, or what parameters were set for them by the musicians; in some cases a particular idea or set of ideas seems to be under examination (eg area 2 which begins with forceful, plosive entries from both and continues to explore sudden, fast attacks) but maybe not in all. in any case b. makes it easy for us by switching instruments each time, so perhaps that was the parameter, or one of them... for area 4, he lays out altogether and lets bailey play solo for a few minutes (the reverse happens in the second set). area 3, which is designated "open", begins with b. charging out on fully fired-up alto sax, embarking quickly on what sounds suspiciously like one of his own solo pieces, bailey having no trouble keeping up with him but seemingly forced into the role of accompanist for a while; yet this, too, settles down into a patient co-operation over time, and this co-operation, really, is what characterises the whole set right from the start, the two musicians reaching out for each other in the soundspace and connecting frequently. the bell-like euphonies of the first area, the chopping and pecking attacks of the second... the approaches vary and mutate, but the two (contrary to what some writers have rather bizarrely suggested) are clearly playing together throughout, one might even say this is the case while only one is audible (somehow...) - the playful (yet still serious) sixth and last area perfectly sums this up, bailey noisily toying with his tuning heads and pushing the resonances of neighbouring strings in and out of synch, braxton supplying the reed's own version of the resulting harmonics, even hinting at feedback.

short and sweet this (for a change)... and now:

second session: royal volume 1
date: 2nd july 1974

restructures link

is it just because there are no handy index markings this time, i find myself noticing more the (famous) stubbornness of both players? and i remember now why some people don't hear much communication going on, because they don't hear a great deal of dialogue as such... some improvisers didn't like working with bailey, on the grounds that he just did his thing regardless of whatever else was happening... i am sure that quite the same thing has been said of braxton also, this being yet another thing they have in common, then... but there's the key to it: their similarities, above all their complete commitment, enable them to play together in parallel as well as in conversation - so that they just sound good together and hence enjoy playing together, which in turn makes it sound good... etc. once the ear is open to this sort of music, this is the sort of sound one can live inside, rather than just listen to - and besides, communication and dialogue are not the same thing anyway, and they do communicate, they do in fact demonstrate a sensitivity to each other's utterance which is as subtle as their separate drives are single-minded. if, y'know, that makes any sense.

the first piece (* comments) begins with a perfect illustration of this, because braxton is out of the gate very quickly, immediately inspired, and it's hard to believe that he's not thinking ahead (in that desmond-influenced way) and either playing one of his precomposed solo structures or at least knocking one up on the spot - it doesn't sound second-by-second improvised, and of course this leaves bailey with little to do but fit in around and behind, his response being simply to keep doing what he does, refusing to be a mere accompanist here... and again, instead of a clash, what results is somehow harmonious. well, maybe congruent would be a better word (but maybe not)... anyway, with 21 mins on the clock a similar pattern has emerged, a braxton solo taking off (he just can't help himself) - this time bailey's response is to force his way in, and b. acknowledges him, accommodates him. in between, either it wanders at times or it's me, but if it does, it's not very often, and even when b. starts up with a flurry of tags (16.45ish) - which could indicate that the two have drifted apart - it actually sparks another burst of conversation.

bailey makes some wonderful sounds during the course of these two pieces (and b. sounds, oddly, almost zornesque - before zorn was even on the scene - at the beginning of the second) and even threatens at one point, about 5.30 into the first piece, to make a melody out of a series of sparse, clangorous chords (i say chords - two or more notes at a time, those are chords right?!) - of course he does no such thing. and there's a very exciting fast section (from about 7.15), and a delightful moment around 11.45 where it seems both players are simply tossing handfuls of sound into the air; by the end of the second piece i was flagging a little, i confess (under pressure of severe canine distraction), but basically i really enjoyed these recordings and would have loved to see the two men play together.

did i learn anything? maybe not much - apart from the surprising "zorn noises" (shall be keeping an ear out for recurrences), b. did little i haven't heard him do before, but the satisfaction which one imagines must surely have been engendered by these encounters may yet spill over into what was to come..?