Sunday, March 29, 2009

braxtothon '08: session 004 (+)

- what can i say? not only did this session take a full year to yield any (written) fruit, it got neglected in my memory to the extent that i remembered it being rather less interesting than it is; well... even then, i can see how that happened, but... in any case, the bremen boot turned up just in time to give me a boot up the behind and here i am, belatedly making amends.

still seems like a very understated way to wave bye-bye to kenny wheeler though...

session 004: the montreux concert
date: 20th july 1975

restructures link

- long slow calls over darkened waters, an atmosphere of controlled uncertainty... this already seems familiar in itself, just altschul's soft, slow-time solar explosions flashing in the background recall any number of earlier pieces for this group; dark mystery, curiosity - edge, tension; then the unutterable beauty of two fragile (yet inwardly strong) voices crying out together from beyond the dark... yes, we've been to these parts before, but each distant seashore has its own scents and sights, even those from the same stretch of coastline; spookily, this particular soundscape begins almost identically to comp. 23e before branching out to reveal itself as a "mirror twin", non-identical, of similarly solemn and spectral apparel but not, this time, schizophrenic: comp. 40n is built on a drone, and though the dynamics are toyed with expertly by holland in due course, it's 99% implied: one continuous mood is sustained throughout the explication of the theme.

the key difference - the detail which remained tugging at the composer's sleeve even as 23e was perfecting itself and getting ready for the group ritual to come in new york - is that of a monophonic line which, this time, bifurcates into a simple counterpoint; just this one subtle detail, combined with the unreleaseable tension of the static drone, provides a completely different set of outcomes (from those explored by 23e) from almost the same set of musical basics. and, like its twin, it generates a very rich and wide-ranging cluster of exploratory spaces for the players (and lucky observers) to visit.

holland, who maintains the drone so steadily during the theme statement that he is easily overlooked in the mix after a short while, is so far on top of this part of his game by now that he is able to suggest with a tiny gesture the vast dynamic and structural wreckage his bow could wreak: having wavered the drone ever so slightly just once, he eventually turns up the dynamics just the tiniest notch, reminding us of that mad, astral-travelling twin (locked away upstairs for the time being) before releasing the spell altogether and depositing us at the first free space, where all sounds are possible. and on into another, which holland then proceeds to fill himself as reward for getting us here; his unselfconscious swipes with the bow then seem at once charming and (suddenly, dangerously) lifeless - yet in the most natural way this opens in turn into a star-field for all the players to inhabit, calling out to each other as birds at dusk or dawn; as with other "deep exploration" pieces, this template offers great potential variety and freedom, thus tending to create individual performances which are experienced as a succession of (un)related scenes or areas; but this journey is more or less haunted by our solemn, spectral guide, the overall effect lasting as long as that lonely clarinet abides. by the time the counter hits 8.00 and the alto is out, we know we are already hurrying along to a date with another guide altogether, to visit somewhere completely different through a totally different type of piece. what we've just heard has been full of close, close listening and is quite demanding of a concert audience (esp. if this actually was an opener, as seems likely), yet the point where it becomes most abstract is also where a distant vehicle begins approaching at speed: now without any forced or awkward trickery, all the scenery is being changed piece by piece until a treat is soon ready to be served, another of the leader's neo-bop lines.

comp. 23j, then - yep, trumpet and sax going at it, again... hammering along, holding back the pace a bit midway through, "hanging time" to get some of that descending-steps stuff b. does so well (comp. 52 springs to mind) - this one is more edgy than (the now dog-tired) 23b, it's a real edges-and-corners tension vehicle, intelligent entertainment if ever there was any... and like previous such stuff, this one contains a not-so-cunningly-concealed alto solo space within it. b. is so assured at this point, so happy to take his time in setting up a complex and sectional narrative - altschul for some reason plays harder on this than on (the similarly-paced) 23b as well, so there's plenty of grist for the mill; b. really toys with the time and pulse in his solo, not just chopping it up but somehow seeming to approach always from a different direction - overall he treats it like a bop solo (at first) but fucks all that shit up as only he can, takes all manner of liberties; and one would say it's a classic studio solo if it weren't being laid out live, there onstage, with no safety net... but of course, already we have been here before - and after minutes elapse and elapse, a little devil coughs and taps me on the shoulder, reminding me that the quiet guy with the beard and the terrible sweater is still standing there forlornly, holding a soundless trumpet. poor kenny, yet more standing around for him after all this faithful service... still, the bird must sing, and besides the audience will want to see, hear that too; the inevitable peaks in b's solo are very hot and intense when they do, finally, arrive; but lo and behold, he's instantly refreshed and is off again, firing off his own improvised, elasticated version of the theme's switchback contours then taking yet further flights of his limitless imagination... and another peak; until, at last, a short and potent series of burrs and pecks signals the end of the song.

- and even then it's more bass, first... holland twangs away, all just sounding very familiar to my ears by now, this stuff; though the crowd is very generous in due course, but it's not one of his more inspired efforts and - if the truth be known - the momentum is now lost. this particular mix is not yet quite volatile enough, once the teacher has finished up and let the class in... but that's kind of nit-picking: when wheeler finally does get a word in, he does play both prettily and expressively (just as well...), it is a good solo and (shame on me) i hadn't really retained that from the original session at all. when braxton reappears, they hover in midair for a moment or two, again recalling 23b - or 6i (or "see-saw", for that matter), and then there is a bizarre, rare miscommunication, confusion over the beginning of the restatement, which recovers quickly of course and takes us out. [i do like that spiky theme, to my ears so much more him than 23b.]

* * *

as (vinyl) side two begins, we are fading in on the tail end of a percussion solo, and claps for whatever it was we just missed - a clarinet now begins drawing those eerie lines in the dark (beautiful every time) - this a perfect example (if i may) of why the set-lister's task is such a nightmare, because from the mapless explorer's pov, where are we? the sleeve insists comp. 40(o) but i've been there before, loads of times in fact, we're nowhere near there, wha - ohhh, actually there it is, coming up now. eventually you get there - these long, spacious link-phases have so many alluring details just in themselves that one can (often) no longer tell what is territory and what freely improvised. well, that's a pretty good achievement for this band i reckon (albeit of course others did the same thing too - hey, this isn't a competition, we're all in this together, remember..?)...

- just before the actual 40(o) turnoff, wheeler's few phrases would serve as his international musical passport. - then we're together on the approach road as such, all the attacks getting synchronised before the actual theme hoves into view. then the leader is off, up and down the sequence like lightning, everyone with him at once the next time round; he and (muted) wheeler seem somehow to be occupying entirely different, immiscible tonalities which never merge; the mute dropped, ringing bell-tones now lose that (pure-contrapuntal) effect, yet it's a thrilling sound and offers (yet again) an entirely different facet of this very familiar scene. bass alone, then the contrabass monster is among us, and that's what i'm talking about - right there - yeah, i love this version of this piece, i must admit. (varies so much, from night to night... to night.) this never stands still, at all - everyone is busy hunting for new angles on it, right up until the restatement.

* * *

pretty good stuff, then... so, what else was played? what have we lost? and yes - this the final farewell to the long-serving brassman, as it appears in the discog - bit subdued, isn't it? one and a half sides of vinyl, and we didn't even get to hear much of him... yes, and to be fair it's right there in my original notes: wheeler's (eventual) solo on 23j "a cracker", "full of energy and imagination"... but i forgot all about it - that's because already then (right there in the session, last spring, my mind already halfway there on the cliffs, over at my friend's place...) those same notes wonder how long they could have run with this - i was by now finding it hard not to hear the band as "crying out for change, to keep the music fluid and creative".

yet when i got back to the music again (last night! and yes, about a year to the day since the original session 004) there was nothing wrong with wheeler's playing at all, just that there is not really enough room for him in there. look, it happened again, as always in the recorded canon - the leader plays him totally out of sight in terms of airtime. and yet we know it wasn't always like this; but then those were the times (bremen again) when the leader himself wasn't quite so fired up and, good as they are in their own way, they would never be the dates which made it to cuscuna's "magic desk". meantime... 23j - this is where my (already) dortmund-contaminated ear just cannot help missing lewis's sheer muscle. it's a firecracker of a piece, and the quartet with wheeler simply doesn't have the power for it... they could build up huge amounts of power a different way, of course - let's not forget those magical incantations, mercurial 23e, and saturnine 40n... but the time for that band is done; wheeler will take the ballad obsession away with him and rock with it (as it rather seems to me... i know others greatly cherish this man), and meanwhile... the rest of us have places to be, and the braxtothon needs to get its lazy arse back to '76 sharpish.

(grading? that one is for the album, so i don't even know yet... anyone who's curious has to wait for berlin..!)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

braxtothon '08 live update

er, yes... you read that correctly: as far as the braxtothon is concerned, it is still technically 2008... well, look, it's long established (and was pointed out by my old mate pete marsh) that the space-time continuum gets seriously bent around these parts anyway, and besides... in the case of braxtothon '08, it didn't start until the last third of march... so i reckon i've only just overrun, myself ;-)

- really, why '08? because that was that phase and the next one has a different aspect to it, already lined up... what i managed to squeeze out of the tube last year was phase 3a i suppose, and the mopping-up job which is underway at the moment therefore constitutes phase 3b... much to my frustration, dortmund just stuck there and refused to clear itself, and the attempt to sort that out in november was ludicrously unrealistic (with a child a few weeks old...); and thereafter, the time to do it never did seem to present itself... until my next chunk of holiday (if one can call it that... mind you, the weather was great, all very life-affirming). and even then, how would it pan out?

but what happened in the end was that the bremen gig turned up, just at the right time... and the unblocking took a different form altogether. hustled back into the swing of it by that interesting item, i used the impetus to fill the gaping montreux-shaped hole in last year's entries; that was really the one which needed to be sorted out first, after all, and with a head full of 1975 (suddenly!), it was the most natural thing in the world to go straight from posting the bremen write-up to a final follow-up session* for montreux, which then got written up the very next day. now, it's true that other tasks came to the top of the pile, later in the week... and dortmund is still stacked and waiting, as a consequence... but not for long, i promise..! it's on the way, to be presented in two separate parts (context then detail) soon, and then this whole overlong 2008 business can finally be put to bed with berlin... meanwhile, following on from bremen, montreux '75 is the next station stop: look for it over the weekend (when some of us lose an hour of precious sleep. ah, but more light in the evenings, so good...).

* comments

Monday, March 16, 2009

(braxtothon fill-in) bremen, 1975

well, and what have we here..? another missing puzzle piece, is what - more material from a period i've already covered in some detail, in chronological order; and if this one didn't necessarily answer any burning questions, it did remind me, if i needed reminding (i probably did by this point), that the quartet with wheeler still cooked at a late stage, it did not always sound as if wheeler's reluctance to go much further out into the unknown was holding the band back... these the kind of "crystallised conceptions" someone like a critic - or like me, since i am not a critic (...) - ! - can easily get caught up in repeating and repeating: very often what may have begun as a valid, even sharp observation will end up as a grotesque overgeneralisation, obscuring the facts rather than casting any light on them whatsoever. so it's good to have these things overturned regularly... in this case, i already had one surprise last year when the "special quintet" recording turned up (wheeler gone from the working group and on his way as a leader/writer of wistful ballads, so soon back sharing a stage with our man, with george lewis on show as the main surprise, admittedly) - and now this '75 date arrives (no precise date or venue yet unfortunately), wheeler already effectively with one foot out the door... yet he plays as well as i've ever heard him in a live set with this band, i swear.

- and yet it can't be any earlier than '75, because that version of (the mighty) comp. 23e in the second file is so close to the studio version waxed in july of that year - the band has the spellbinding buildup of this piece absolutely down by now, and is also ve-e-ry comfortable with those fall '74 side one pieces - again, all from the 23 series, indeed comps. 23a-f inclusive very neatly make up the bulk of what we have here, (alas) incomplete as it is - i am guessing that this was from later the same month, i.e. july 1975 - which would make sense, they were in europe anyway round about then, after recording in new york right at the beginning of the month. we know they were in montreux on the 20th. yes, of course - but that's the missing one, isn't it - and it's not as if i came out of that session thinking the montreux sessions were bad, just that it didn't really quite catch fire for me, and besides, it ended up as the one (braxtothon) piece i never did write up... hence the decision to postpone it until berlin time - and bend/warp time during the actual journey thereby - quickly became too tempting and, well, just unavoidable really. the point is, they were around at the time, this must surely be from roughly the same time is what i'm saying. i knew they were around, i just didn't know that the group at that point still sounded this good. (yes, of course they were coming off the back of that - but my lasting impression of that landmark recording is that not all of it sounds as awe-inspiring as comp. 23e... besides, which vibe would the band carry with it on the road? and how will that ebb and flow, day by day..? etc)

on this occasion i want to try and keep observations about the music to a minimum (this is already turning out to be longer than i thought); i'm more concerned here with thinking about that ever-mutating set-list. but there will, of course, be the odd musical sidetrack along the way. (as if...)

what we've got: two different sound files, with two slightly different sounds (though this is a guerilla recording and sound quality varies somewhat throughout anyway, basically good enough though) - but a very similar stereo image; however, the end of the first file is actually tacked on from elsewhere, it being an incomplete number which fades in at probably two-thirds of the way through - and this fragment has the stereo image reversed, so that braxton and wheeler appear to have swapped sides onstage. or it's a freak occurrence during the various transfer processes which led to the mp3s... whatever, it sounds different straight away though the vibe seems to be the same... but it may or may not be from the same concert, who knows... of course, if anyone can help with clarification of these pesky details then please contact me..!

first file: my first feelings here were actually amused familiarity and then mild disappointment - i've already greeted comp. 23a as if as an old friend when i covered the '76 graz concert ("the piece comes full circle", etc etc) - and here it actually is being re-used as a set opener more than a year earlier. trouble with that is: resurrecting it for lewis is one thing, the switch of trumpet for trombone offering a very, very different sound for the monophonic line - with wheeler, it's only a second or two before i go looking for leroy jenkins and miss him. holland then also seems to fluff his very first entry (which comes late in the written line, don't forget). but already the sound of the band is good. naturally, choosing a monster number as opener dictates a monstrous first solo, and b. is quickly off and away. yet there again, he sounds somewhat restrained to me at first, or uninspired: he resorts to dropping back into paired notes from the theme, puffing them along in his own rhythm, but it seems unlike him...

... but then the backing drops out suddenly, instantly the freedom multiplies and the sounds become more eldritch. before long it's fascinating, and that's basically it for the disappointments, because (like in graz later) it's as if with certain limitations established early on, the band stretches out quickly and proceeds to play really, really well. holland's first note was a red herring, he sounds great more or less all set (by the end it almost felt as if i'd spent the whole time listening just to him); and wheeler, well - as i said above - i can't remember the last time i heard him sound so consistently inspired and liberated. altschul sometimes needs a bit of a kick to get him woken up, on the other hand, and the leader sometimes almost seems to be a ghost of himself - or something like it; but we'll get to that.

several minutes into what's still theoretically 23a i find myself wondering where the hell we are, the leader on sopranino and everyone cooking - have we switched materials? i never did know the answer to this one, it was the same at châteauvallon in '73 - this fast line extension more or less comes from nowhere and just rockets along, so that the opening theme never gets another look in once the ship has departed. (we're following that same map actually, as eventually becomes clear - of course, wheeler is the only one of this band who's followed it before... as far as i know..! probably not) - the landscape shifts shape several times as the leader slips different mouthpieces on and off - the contrabass monster again, then alto (short bursts of primary solo language, at once), then flute, sounding great on each at this point, lovely breathy playing on flute, real density to it (the recording captures this just fine). then: - we're presented with the palate-cleanser, comp. 23c - the additive repetition series, something i certainly didn't expect to hear... of course fall '74 was presumably on sale by now; still, very possibly some of the audience would have heard these pieces before, at some festival or other during the previous couple of years... anyway, altschul here gets to do his own thing, not restricted to the written sequence as the others are (ish - wheeler eventually takes a cheeky breather, not for the last time in this set as we shall see) - the freedom given to the drummer is used well, his textural explorations subtle and shaded so that in time he comes to remind me of his own eventual successors: hemingway, norton, siegel... the other three bang through the piece without any fuss, and when it ends it's immediately gone, an empty space taking over which the drums alone may explore. short, isolated attacks are each given their time to decay back into the void before others take their place - wheeler is in soon enough, joined then by b. on alto, playing - ? ah, simple enough, playing comp. 23b as it turns out, and there was i thinking that one had been permanently put to bed in the studio... well, to be fair, it sounds totally fresh here, making me wonder if i wasn't a bit harsh on it in the end - hmm, now i think of it, to be honest with you all (inc. myself) it's a very good vehicle for the leader, of course it is, containing the most natural high-energy expressive space a soloist could wish; albeit he is having to sneak in under cover, as it were - in that respect it still seems as if it's unrepresentative... i can still see what i meant. but i no longer fully agree with it because of that expressive space - now, the trouble with that is that in the studio, he really did nail that one for all time, a terrific, multiple-play-demanding blackbird song which is now emblazoned almost bar-for-bar in my ear memory - and what, he is now gonna try and top it? how? and if not, why is he back here... well, maybe sometimes you have to give the sidemen what they know best in order to encourage them, i dunno... again thinking of graz...

... but it does sound like a crowd-pleaser [the political debate concerning the desirability or otherwise of such a thing as a crowd-pleaser is one for elsewhere, i see nothing wrong with "treating" your audience - so long as it's not all the time, natch]. BUT the solo, we're into the solo and back to the question, what more can he do with this number? why would he personally want to keep playing it when he's completed the process of honing and refining it which was simmering away through '73, '74...? and it's off the boil, there's no doubt about it - he doesn't really really get going and no wonder, listen to that weak lack of support from the engine room: altschul especially is half asleep at the wheel, swinging away in a perpetual groove which takes me back to moers this time, not somewhere i particularly want to be since that was really my least favourite rendition of this number. holland, well - i said last year that he seemed the perfect bassist for the piece, yet in a live context that hasn't necessarily been the case either... and in terms of the mini-set we're (re)hearing, i'd actually take j-f jenny-clark any day. the thing about holland and altschul is that they are so finely attuned to each other as well as having their relationship(s) to the music, the leader etc - maybe, somehow, this piece isn't quite fast enough for them, they rock-n-roll it into a bit of a lull whenever i hear them play it. yes, in the studio holland cooked his (and my) head off - ah, but that was with jerome cooper wasn't it? just to keep reminding everyone of that discographical anomaly.

the solo goes up a bit, then down again, finally UP as b. hits the required intensity to boot altschul up the arse and get him cooking - then we're suddenly in business, but of course the master is more or less done by then. (it never struck me as being a "rote" solo, i don't think he's capable of it, but... this was one of those "ghost of himself" moments... ladiezngennelmen, tonight due to unforeseen absence the part of anthony braxton will be played by... anthony braxton) - and there's a funny thing, when he lays out there is no applause audible at all, that's highly unusual for this sort of deal. [maybe not a festival, not enough beer taken on board (...)] - still, here comes another surprise: wheeler's solo is one of the best i can remember him taking with this band. for once his initial exuberance at finding himself free doesn't peter out, rather it inspires him to essay a series of unusual bends and presses, toy with his timbre a little more than at other times towards the end of his tenure... anyway, it kept me paying attention which is always a good sign. nonetheless, during the restatement (which does arrive bang on cue, now - the exact same map as wheeler was navigating (at least) two years ago was used as the template for this three (...)- piece suite) wheeler gets to miss out an entire short section of the theme, leaving his leader well and truly high and dry for a while there - but going into the coda he's more or less there, never misses a note when he's actually playing one... from the pov of the other three it's flawless (is how i remember it).

ok - that's that miniature set out the way, there is a pause and some applause and then something nasty happens in our source recording, an edit, and within the same file a new piece arrives, already underway as it fades in with wheeler soloing over compelling drums and driving bass. as previously mentioned, there is suddenly the effect of the two horns having swapped sides - well, same date, not same date, doesn't really matter, this is not from moers wherever else it is, at least not in '74, the broken accents are (still-imperfectly) rounded off but the piece reveals itself soon enough to be none other than comp. 23f, the first encore which almost redeemed the uneven main set at moers - and which does not appear anywhere else in the official catalogue. soon enough, because rather irritatingly, we have already missed the leader's entire clarinet solo, but still, it's an interesting jigsaw detail just to know for sure that the band did still revisit the piece.

* * *

ok, so the second file sounds a little different from both the first set and the "mystery edit", but the original stereo image is back and it's very likely the same concert, i think. on with the (by now familiar/unexpected) show, we're kicking off again with comp. 23d, one of the great neglected jazz ballads (as i'm always saying). ok, so what else can we say about that one? - cos again, that piece, that alto solo - both really nailed to the wall in the studio the previous year. (i really didn't imagine b. "promoting" an album in this way, assumed that the material, having been worked up on the road, got put to bed pretty much once it had been nailed - obviously there are exceptions, but still... anyway, promoting the album may or may not have been the idea, though with a major label album finally (presumably) out, getting people talking about it wouldn't have been a bad plan... how well did it work for our man? on the whole, it seems to agree with his band.)

- the answer on this occasion is that the alto solo is both quite intense and episodic, but fairly laconic (sensibly enough, since no transportation is likely to take place)... but again, wheeler sounds terrific and never runs out of ideas (i didn't mention this earlier, but his first trademark squeal - while not that long in arriving - doesn't come until a few minutes into the set, no hurry today, no shortage of ideas for once, and good for him (good for us too!). with altschul onto brushes behind holland, then a lovely restatement, we can remember again how good these guys all sounded together, and the two horns especially, perhaps - wheeler (like corea) drawn in surely by b's skill as a teller of (hallucinatory) ballads: by this point, his own ballads were calling him, tugging him away, yet this "watershed period" finds him today both relaxed and continuously inspired. what, more applause? was that an encore or what? and then argh, the german announcer back to remind us who we've been hearing, and fuckin' "stolen moments" fades in behind him and hangs around like an inappropriate fragrance for at least the next minute... [well, the joys of unofficial recordings are well known; for myself, given the choice between this or nothing i would take this every time, yes and crappy equipment too... i'm not really complaining, just passing on what it was like for this friendly experiencer...]

- now suddenly we're (did we but know it) at the start of another longish set (and all within the second file still). and what do we begin with, once the applause has died away (mercifully taking mr nelson's audible chestnut with it... no offence btw*1) but the barrier-bending masterpiece that is comp. 23e. now... this one has been waxed by the time of the concert (surely) but the results had not yet been released, though then again - there wasn't much delay either... anyway, the audience may well have heard this piece before too, but they won't have heard it quite like this before. this band has taken part in that unforgettable group ritual which was the studio version (may as well say now that i think you could consider that to be holland's finest moment with the band*2 - incredible playing by him on that very demanding piece) - really, they must have it still fresh in their minds by the sound of it, and what's more it's now been decided that the long, drawn-out transition sequence heard in full on the studio version (and in earlier live workups) can be short-circuited, with the right kind of collective effort the quartet can get us right up close to the energy portal much more quickly than before - holland now understands his role so fully, and is so confident in his vibrating arco attack that the doorway is scarcely shown to us before we're moving towards it; and yet it's so close in precision to the studio recording that i find myself suddenly wondering what the hell, are they now broadcasting the fucken album or what (all bets about details now off as far as this recording and broadcast are concerned) - when in point of fact i know they aren't - it's just uncannily close to it for a while there. yet - as soon as the moment of transition is reached, the climax of that electrifying crescendo, it's instantly very different from the studio rendition: b. hops playfully back and forth over the divide, now on the other side, now back on this one, in, out, easy as that once you know how, that's how close the two planes are i suppose (did we but know it). conjure aside the veil, and - it's right there...

... for the next twenty-odd mins, once again, god knows where this piece eventually takes us; all sorts of seemingly-unrelated spaces open for temporary visitation; as usual i am left wondering whether the territory has changed long before it finally, definitively does (after we're finally done with all those 23s, the repetition series comp. 40(o) sees us to the fade at the end of the second file). but it certainly appears to be a feature of this extraordinary tour de force that performances of it, while allowing/encouraging some of the most closely-controlled, inspired utterances, exist only in my mind as i am hearing them and leave little or no recollection behind. also, the transition itself, the "ayler moment", remains so damn impressive that i always just find myself returning to that. besides, the wondering, when that kicks in - have we switched? are we still on the same score? etc etc. well, who cares... finally b. leads us into 40(o) and for a good long while, it is the closest thing to a rote run-through that i've yet heard; none of the usual timbral filtering, radically different colourations from sequence to sequence, just repetition in stacks, on one horn; eventually a switch back to alto cues uop a sort of solo, quite effective - holland then in the spotlight with just spectral shading from b. at first and then others, everyone out in the deep darkness again; some truly delightful touches from holland now, things i've never heard him do before; and as it relapses out into total freedom, it's regrettable that we approach fade-out and that's our lot.

* * *

maybe the thing about comp. 23b is that although a surefire crowd-pleaser, it's not necessarily a popular one for the players - ? for a brass player it's not quite the equivalent of ploughing through an assault course with a backpack full of canned beans, but it's hardly an afternoon stroll either - small wonder that after all this time, wheeler sometimes just takes a breather and misses a chunk out (b. could probably play it in his sleep by now). in any case, that's now at least two instances on this number of subdued backing from guys counted on to cook; and then, with exceptions, there's this whole larger question regarding the leader, how he is supposed to keep himself alert when the maps are rather old and familiar - he struggles at times, by the sound of it. yet the band, given mostly old-shoe-comfy material to play with, really does play with it. comp. 23e is a different matter, but that would only have been "perfected" recently and the thrill of witnessing the trick pulled off live, with such focus and control... lucky for those who witnessed it, all i can say...

- so an excellent feast for the ears, this time almost despite the leader rather than because of him; and that no slight on his playing either, more that he's there as backup rather than leading from the front for once... but there's no way it could have been otherwise, he himself having finished saying what he wanted to say with (much of) this stuff. it's still hugely enjoyable and instructive, and it arrived at just the right time to get me kick-started again... more (real) braxtothon stuff is now on the way.

Monday, March 2, 2009

blink and you missed it

back in the day (i.e. two years ago) at c#9, one album being hunted by several readers was QB by paul smoker. no-one could help with that one... until last month when it turned up here. (canadian) pablo's new blog has already been mentioned in a recent comment, and i doubt that there are too many readers here who haven't come across it by now... but it's worth mentioning anyway, there's an excellent selection of material on offer with the promise of more to come... i myself haven't downloaded this much stuff in quite a while ;-)

besides, a quick word about the smoker album, which was well worth the wait i thought: get past the dodgy "disco tonite" graphics on the front cover, and the music sounds totally fresh and alive. the date is basically known for its (partial) presence in the braxton sessionography, but there is plenty of reason to listen to the trio even without the master, who only plays on three cuts. smoker, a wonderfully expressive and fast-thinking player, has a big presence which makes his horn sound at times almost like a trombone; and the crackling energy from ron rohovit and phil haynes had me recalling no-one so much as greg cohen and joey baron, from the next decade: indeed masada came to mind a few times during my listens to this recording - and of course with the addition of the alto, the group becomes a de facto "ornette quartet" so the lineage is certainly there. this particular generation of that lineage has not, in all likelihood, been fully appreciated due to the record's notorious scarcity. (some online "discographies" i found don't even list it.)

needless to say, but i will anyway, b. contributes some superb playing to the date. [a few years later, he was to recruit smoker for an all-star septet extravaganza. meanwhile rohovit and haynes, young acquaintances of smoker's at the time of the '84 session, remained for some time his first-choice rhythm section and cut the better-known genuine fables with him for hat, also in 1988.]

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... and speaking of that last label: according to their front page, this one is out again, just in time for its twentieth anniversary... good news!