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.

7 comments:

centrifuge said...

this is for pablo (folly ftsw). as usual, it grew and grew in the telling... but this time (cf. the special quintet) only a 48-hr turnaround, quite pleased with that. thanks p! and thanks to lc for sorting him out with the actual recording, regardless of the rather mangled state it was in...

oh yeah...

*1: i actually quite like *blues and the abstract truth*... or i did last time i heard it. i don't even have anything against "stolen moments" - i just didn't want to be hearing that in the middle of a fucking braxton concert! wtf??

*2: and possibly altschul's too (though there are earlier competitors, and besides altschul always did a great job on this number, it's dave h. who really excelled himself in the studio)

folly for to see what said...

Bravo, Cent!!

WOW!
Oh! Oh! I again am in the same "tessitura"…
I told you my registry… must be between B3 and C4…
Je, je…

Cent, MANY, many thanks for this terrific "concert story". What a precise and detailed description!
And one thing I like about your "dissections" is that "you haven't got hair on the tongue" (this is an spanish phrase, maybe without good translation). That means, more or less, if something doesn't work you are objetive, you aren't eclipsed by the genious of these masters.

Now… After your words… I have to go again to the concert, and catch more… This always happens when come here to read your texts (and if I've got the recording), I inevitably feel I've lost this or that moment…

I'm very happy to know you liked the concert, and that came in a good moment, also for me. When lc sent to it to me: ZASHHHH! was like a slap on the face, —hey wake up man! pay attention to your ears! put your head in action!—. Nice, very nice a thirty five years old recording can put us in the way! Music is…

Only want to add, we are lucky to have your refuge for words. In the middle of, each time bigger, impro-free-avant–blogland, with all the music we now can find and listen (thankfully), we have a place to enjoy reading and learning. IYNWIS is essential. Now more than ever!

I'll link the Braxton concert to your terrific text… I also would like to add the text to the pdf, with a "nice design" to make a "real booklet". What do you think?

Thanks again, and long life to the Braxtohon!
Best wishes!
See you soon!

centrifuge said...

thanks p :) - and sorry for the delay there; i ended up having a few days totally free of the computer..!

no hair on my tongue eh... sounds like a good thing ;-) it's important for me (as evidenced by another date coming up soon...)

(did you put the text in the booklet? i fear it may be rather too long for most readers... but of course i'm honoured, so please do that if you want to)

talk soon! thanks again for your VERY kind comments.

centrifuge said...

incidentally - the thirteenth comment on folly's braxton post... perfect example of the stuff i was talking about in the middle of my first para. what did i say? oh yes, "grotesque overgeneralisation" :-S

MusicWoman said...

Excse me, Which is the tracklist of Anthony Brexton Live in bremen, 1975? thanks

centrifuge said...

hello MusicWoman, and thanks for stopping by - well, you're right, i don't normally deal in simple things like basic track lists..! i am more of a stream-of-consciousness writer ;-) BUT in this case it's hard to give a straightforward track list anyway, because the source recording is broken up into several parts and not all of it is complete. the tracks which i was able to identify are listed in the article, in bold type, beginning with the paragraph which starts "first file". and if you really want to know *exactly* how the bootleg recording breaks down, i'm afraid you will just have to struggle through my text, as it is difficult to summarise..! but to give a very simplified answer, these are the opus numbers i was able to identify (parts of the concert may or may not include other compositions which i did not recognise at the time):

1. comp. 23a
2. comp. 23c
3. comp. 23b
(set break)
4. comp. 23f (incomplete, cuts in)

5. comp. 23d
(set break)
6. comp. 23e
7. comp. 40(o) (incomplete, fades out)

- hope this helps. i see from your blogger page that you like metal (among other things)! well, me too... and there do not seem to be very many of us who like metal as well as jazz and creative music... it's nice to know that i am not completely alone :)

centrifuge said...

oops, hadn't yet added the link/s to the official boot of this, or not here at any rate - soz folks, i'm a fuckin waster, far too much of the time {sigh} but you know this, right?