Tuesday, April 28, 2009

boston 2005 emendations

time is tight at the moment, but - with the help of a correspondent, who kindly provided an mp3 version of the original flacs (see comments) - i have just today downloaded this concert and wanted to clarify some details which are incorrect in the accompanying post. let me say first that these corrections are NOT intended to make the original poster look stupid, nor offered by way of a "slapped wrist": rather, i am concerned that accurate information should be given out wherever possible, hence i try and correct such mistakes when i can. there is nothing personal in this whatsoever.

firstly, this is not the "diamond curtain wall sextet", since the music itself is not dcw, but rather gtm. the opening themes of both pieces make this abundantly clear. [in saying this i am also belatedly answering a challenge which one user of that website threw down last year, when he asked whether any listeners could tell the difference between the two; i didn't bother to give a detailed answer at the time, as i did not recognise it as a genuine question..!] to be more specific, both pieces are third species, accelerator class gtm. (fwiw, i have never personally come across any dcw recordings by groups larger than a quartet; often they are trios. also, as we know, dcw pieces always make much use of digital electronics.)

the first set may indeed be comp. 345, since it certainly does resemble the victoriaville recording from earlier in the same year; the opening themes are not identical, but small differences in the performance may easily account for this. the second set is not, however, comp. 39 (which is, according to restructures, an unrecorded creative orch. piece dating from 1974 - in any case, the opus number predates gtm by a good couple of decades) - and it cannot be comp. 399 (as the file itself is titled) either: that one has yet to be recorded, and may not even have been written yet! perhaps it is comp. 349? who knows...

finally, the personnel/instrumentation: bynum will presumably have been playing trumpbone rather than trombone (this is why i myself prefer the general designation "brass" for thb), and pavone usually plays both violin and viola; more importantly - as b's announcements at the end of each set confirm - the bassist on this date was carl testa, not chris dahlgren. (the paras regarding the 2005 philadelphia and victoriaville concerts are a little confusing, as is the partial list of performances: in talking of the "first" date, or the "only one officially documented", the poster presumably is referring to this specific sextet line-up, but of course the personnel often varies a little from concert to concert.)

that's it for the corrections... hope everyone enjoyed the music!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

garden(s) of myriad delights

last night* i did something i've never (properly) done before: sat down and took in an entire gtm performance without doing anything else at the same time... probably i have avoided doing this before, certainly that is the way it works out. the single gtm performance with which i am most "familiar", and therefore the one i chose for this, is the 2004 london quintet - and of course technically i did sit through that one the first time around without any distractions, since i was in the audience! but although back then i sat perched on the front of my chair pretty much throughout, eyes and ears wide open, i didn't yet have any idea of how to hear the music - and therefore didn't, though it vastly increased my own appreciation of b's genius anyway; but the music's genius, the shape and character of the music itself, was not revealed to me at that time; and in listening recently to the horn solos in particular, i have become very keenly aware of just how much my hearing has sharpened up in certain respects, over the last few action-packed (in armchair mileage terms!) years. to put it another way, i am now in a position to appreciate just how dense these soundscapes are in terms of actual musical events and detail - not that i am claiming to pick up every one of those details myself, far from it.

and, well... what more can i say than... it is incredible, incredible music, so simple and so complex all at once; simple because the freedom allowed to each player in terms of personal expression is total, hence at times it actually sounds (for seconds at a time, and only to the focussed ear) as loose as a jam session... and complex, well, one need hardly elaborate on how complex it is: a detailed map or verbal explication would be very long and complex indeed. growing out of the opening theme, the music never thereafter repeats at all, though the theme (of course) comes and goes - generally changing its voicings each time, in the manner of the great repetition series, comps. 6f and 40(o); but the sheer density of musical events was dizzying, now that i had finally taken the plunge and tried to take in the whole damn thing. and of course i didn't succeed... at times my excitement boiled over into internal monologue, rather than my being distracted as such - the music was far too fulfilling and too thrilling for that... what surprised me somewhat was how physical my own response to the music became: i found myself moving really quite strangely under the summons of several different (explicit/implicit) pulses! but after a while i realised that i was also mirroring the movements thb in particular made, while performing the actual music... bobbing and darting at times, like a sparring boxer...

... and the three ideas i want to repeat here are: organic (out)growth, infinite potential and the examination of the shocking. [repeat: i've touched on all these things before in previous posts... but the most obvious disadvantage of my stream-of-consciousness writing "style" is that not even i can always remember what i did or didn't write in a given post... that applies especially to much of last year's output, so this all bears repeating..!]

so, organic growth: i've talked this up before with reference particularly to the improvised events which the music generates, but in truth it refers more properly to the very foundations of the music itself. it breathes and has a (complex) pulse, has its own composite identity: this not so much an example of what b. "learned" from euro free improv, more an explanation of how he was able to bring so much to the table himself, when he met the european masters on their own turf; the aacm wizards were already performing these group rituals, creating shared spaces for interaction and exploration. when the two b.s met, it really was a true meeting of minds... and i (now) hear that same "auric glue" connecting the five players on the festival hall date (and in much gtm). this in turn leads to:

- the infinite variety of possibilities which the templates hold (barely!) within themselves, variety which is made possible by the organic, many-minded genius of the group voice; no revisit would see the same events witnessed, hence the territories are infinitely explorable. [yes... the same is true of the "jazz" approach to music in general, but no, not on this scale..!]

- and the single most important point may yet turn out to be the examination of the shocking, since this above all is where braxton shows how far he has travelled along (personal) spiritual paths: within b's musical spaces, all manner of violent atrocity is permitted, because in here it is safe: all that is human must be acknowledged at this time, and within these nurturing environments even grotesque and brutal images may be examined in close detail, given full and free expression - but in a space within which they can be received neutrally and with equanimity. the value of this service, to the human race as a whole... cannot yet be told. (but then we don't yet know how we are gonna end up...) again, it is not unique to braxton: other great minds from the aacm have birthed similar systems...

... but in 2004, this music was really chewing away at the coalface, acting as that much-discussed, seldom-encountered cutting edge we all hear so much nonsense about; here, boundaries actually were being flung back. and that's above all what i took from last night's contest of pleasures: this is truly the sound of fully-involved, informed and committed collaborators, grappling joyously with b's music; it is present in 1985 too, and in between, and it is to be found earlier also; but not always in 1976, when a section of the working band was still locked into the groove of free jazz rhythm section... far from "peaking" in the seventies, this man was barely getting started. and yes, you can call gtm avant-garde if you so desire, and with impunity: music in general is still, surely, a long way from catching up.

* comments

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

braxtothon '08: session 010 - context/summary

so what happened to dortmund? or, the facts in the case of grandma's apple crumble

[hallowe'en, 1976 - the penultimate date for this version of the band (and the penultimate station for braxtothon phase three) resulted in what would eventually be regarded as a classic recording: dortmund 1976, first released in 1991, long after the final date for the band had joined the latter days of wheeler in a few record collections (in the form of the montreux/berlin concerts). dortmund is considered a peak recording by many people, and i used to think of it in those terms myself; writing about it turned out to be problematic. here's how i eventually decided to solve this particular problem: put all the asides and preamble regarding dortmund in one place, appending a brief track-by-track at the end; the detailed account from the actual braxtothon session will then follow separately. those who just want the summary, skip down to the last section..!]

i've been thinking a lot about gourmets lately... yes, gourmets, because surely they are among the very harshest and most demanding of critics: every last tiny detail must be just so, just so... and of course it is never quite is, not in practice. there is an ideal standard fixed in the memory, against which all other offerings must be measured in the here-and-now... ineluctably, there will always be a little something found wanting. this is not to say that critics of the performing arts do not have the same tendencies, the same desire for an ideal/ imaginary perfection: some respected film critics have been terrible for this, and we all know that music critics can go the same way too..! no, but there is a difference, and i'll tell you why:

- the food critic's ideal standard exists only in memory and can never be verified. that first life-changing experience, still so vivid in his* mind, sitting in his grandmother's kitchen as tastes and sensations explode in his mouth... still vivid, yes, the whole tableau remains engraved on the memory in fine detail. but are the details accurate? the experiencer was a child, the rememberer is an adult... and of course the answer is no. we may intuit what the critic must hide from himself: that if he were somehow, magically, able to revisit his beloved grandma's heavenly pudding, which melted in his mouth and transformed his world, could sample it with his professional, educated palate... he would be shocked to find the fruit slightly overcooked, the seasoning a little imbalanced; the topping itself rather disappoints with its textures and lacks flavour... not really bad, of course - but awful nonetheless: the sheer lack of perfection, itself, would topple an edifice which has been already a short lifetime in construction. not that this will actually come about... small wonder, then, that the passing years simply enshrine the original moment ever more in the memory.

unfortunately, critics of the arts do not generally have the same excuse (if that's what it is). in many cases their formative experiences are (partially) repeatable, their ideal standards can be verified; they just usually won't be, or not with honesty. our severe movie critic, who insists that nothing made in these last few godless decades can ever hope to match the cinematic marvels he was privileged to witness as a boy, has revisited those same marvels on many cherished occasions; and of course each time he does so, his face becomes that of a child again, lit up with innocent wonder and rapt fascination. we all know what his face looks like the rest of the time, since this is the only way most critics will ever suffer themselves to be photographed: head tilted back slightly, chin rested on one hand, index finger pointing upwards to the cranium... one eyebrow is cocked, the whole saying clearly i have seen it all before... now impress me if you can! but would he ever dare to bring this lofty attitude to the hallowed shrine of his youthful joys?

in the case of music... well, the experience of a live concert can never fully be recaptured by listening to a recording of it, for sure, but in many critics' cases the first formative experiences seem to involve recorded, not live music - and i would bet that in all cases there are cherished recordings which fall into the same category as the film critic's monochrome masterworks: again, it need hardly be added that the revisiting of those recordings is only ever permitted under the right circumstances, and with all the associated memories, all the emotional scaffolding put back in place beforehand. a strong element of self-deception will always be entailed, because at all costs the shrine must never be desecrated. the implications are unthinkable.

of course, it also follows that with unchecked, idealised standards... poor reality never can quite match up.

* * *

all this above, which brings up to date some of my thoughts on the business of criticism, does and doesn't apply to me and my old mate dortmund. when i say old, we only go back four years or so; i didn't have a shrine erected to it. (and i'm unlikely to have done, since i desecrated most of my own shrines over the course of the last few years.) but there were echoes of that tendency, shall we say. when i wrote above that the album is considered a peak recording by many people, that is to say, almost everyone that's heard it, apparently. i've yet to read a bad word about it, and i myself used to get very excited sometimes when talking or even just thinking about this album - ! furthermore, it was my usual suggestion for a beginner's point of entry: everything the newcomer might have expected and everything they wouldn't expect - warmth, humour, excitement, jazziness etc etc - can pretty much be found here, in one neat package.

even the circumstances under which i got the album seemed charged with significance: i knew from reading about it (some while before i had fixated upon braxton as a special interest) that i definitely wanted this one, and i eventually snapped it up at the royal festival hall in 2004, waiting for b's quintet set to start (they had a music shop in the foyer back then). that performance, already semi-legendary, really fired my interest and enthusiasm... and so on: back home, played the album, loved it; played it again the following june when someone pointed out it was b's birthday, loved it again, etc. (considered reviewing it for an online retailer, never got round to it...!)

...and here's where i was guilty of behaving like our critic(s), above: during the period oct/nov '06-summer '07, when my ears became properly attuned to the sound of my music within this stuff, which they hadn't been (countless hours wasted before that on hard bop etc - these were not languages i spoke, so had few messages for me), i was hearing so much "new" music on a daily basis that i had no time to revisit my own collection; didn't update my impressions of dortmund, simply "ported over" my previous crystalised opinion(s) of it and rattled the same lines off whenever the subject came up. at c#9, even after i joined the "priesthood", i was happy to talk of the album as a classic, a necessary addition to any braxton collection etc - without bothering to check whether i still thought that, whether the album still sounded as good to my newly-reattuned ears.

and what happened next? by october '07, c#9 was wound up and i'd thought about starting a braxton blog, joined forces with mcclintic sphere instead... and then the braxtothon voyage began, with the sort of fireworks i had never expected, and my hearing was reattuned again. after that first week i pretty much put on hold any listening to recordings i had which were obviously now in a braxtothon queue (a few exceptions as previously discussed), but then something else unexpected happened last spring, just as another phase of the voyage was kicking off: i played some braxton to a friend and he loved it (as described here). hence, the next time i saw this same friend (again, the evening of a day which took in several sessions) it seemed natural enough, in this instance, to play dortmund, even though it meant skipping forward slightly, bending my own guidelines: i already had numerous impressions of the album from before - though as to when i myself had last listened to the whole thing..? - and we were not going to be sitting in solemn silence now, so it didn't really count as cheating...

... but the trouble was, i still heard enough to pick up the first hints that something vital was missing. when it came to the actual session, this was made that much clearer... by this time, it now seemed to me, braxton and lewis were both playing the music at such an advanced level that holland and altschul could no longer really keep up, the overall effect being that the two horns were dragged backwards, down to the level at which the whole band could play together. all those same exciting qualities and great moments that i remembered were still there: but as to the album itself, the entire performance... surely nowhere near as elevated as i had previously thought.

that's ok with me... as i've said before, i am committed in principle to honesty and rigorous self-examination, to challenging my own prejudices (maybe one at a time!) and to updating my opinions where necessary... and as i've said before, if i'm doomed to discover that many things i once loved are not quite the apotheoses i once took them for, i also sometimes find new reasons to appreciate certain old favourites even more. besides, the deeper and more wide-ranging pleasures and satisfactions i find in the music which doesn't leave me feeling that something is missing... these make it all worthwhile.

- and that, in case you had been wondering, is what happened to dortmund.

* * *

just to get any possible anticipation/anticlimax out of the way now, here is the condensed run-down (and this is a one-off, not something i plan to do routinely from now on): 40f is a wonderful new piece to being with, childlike in its simplicity and yet also inherently complex, bursting with possibility - most of which seems to go unexplored in what turns out to be a shortish, rather meandering rendition; it mutates seamlessly into 23j, which is far stronger here than the underfuelled version from montreux eighteen months earlier; music stops, applause (surprises me every time); the repetition series 40(o) - like its predecessor 6f (aka "73 kelvin", etc) - never did become a mere routine piece, and here it disintegrates before coalescing again, then breaking up again, an enjoyable recital; 6c is of course a deservedly famous(ish) piece, another superb circus march in miniature: playful, evocative, and hauntingly memorable, it supports many of lewis' strengths without pointing up the rhythm section's limitations; but it does actually take a while to get going, even so. finally, 40b begins cold as the march dies away - and this odd little moment of bathos prefigures (what is now) my lasting impression of the concert. the "old shoe" quality to the (collective) holland-altschul sound by this stage can become most apparent on this sort of mid-tempo number, which perhaps partly explains why i always now seem to emerge from the album with a slight feeling of deflation, something i certainly did not experience during those few years when i told anyone who'd listen that the album was an all-time classic. but - and here is the punchline which i didn't mention in any of the above - those previous times when i "listened" to it, i was treating it as ambient or background music, while doing other things. and as i know all too well by now, that really isn't the same as listening... not at all.

- again, let's just get the grading out of the way now: CCC. it's too good to be anything less, there are many excellent qualities to it and it could still represent one good point of entry for a newcomer, in principle; at the same time, i really feel it suffers by comparison with what's already been achieved earlier in the year... to give the jazz library guys their due, they picked one of the two obvious highlights from this album, namely 23j, surely the best version we have of this composition so far; yet it adds nothing to our understanding of the band to know that they play extremely well on this sort of piece. as for 40b, this tune suffered more than any other from the defenestration of my own "rulebook": a later version, with piano, ruined me for any version without one, before i could get this far in the journey. also... but that's enough, for now..! next time out will be the details ;-)

* comments