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


centrifuge said...

* - actually the evening of 19th april, a sunday. i wrote all this on monday night but then couldn't post the damn thing...

... and no, it's nothing (directly) related to the braxtothon, except in so far as everything on this "bildungsblog" relates to everything else on it... those dortmund details still require a good few hours on this goddamn torture chair, and despite a couple of attempts to buy a better one, we still haven't managed it... where do the days go when you're (still adjusting to becoming) a parent?? but don't worry, i haven't stalled as such ;-)

McClintic Sphere said...

I was thinking this morning about some of the issues you raise in your last paragraph -- I hadn't seen the post yet, but I was thinking about Dortmund.

I was thinking in terms of the '76 quartet vs. the Classic Quartet (probably, in my mind, more 1991 than 1985).

I hadn't pinned it on the rhythm section, specifically. But some of the things that make Dortmund so accessible -- like the fact that there's a march tune, and a post-bop tune -- represent the parts of Braxton's oeuvre that are the most closely related to familiar genres. Dortmund is an easy way in for that reason.

But Braxton was "cutting edge" from the get-go -- For Alto is still an astounding recording -- and the "catchy" bits of Dortmund are an oddity.

But look at something like the Creative Orchestra Music recordings, also from the mid-70s. There, I think, you have some similar "genre" bits -- the marches, for a start -- but the players respond more in the manner you encountered sunday night. At least, to my ears they do.

Maybe it's just a matter of Braxton nodding toward the tradition, and the rhythm section taking off in that direction at full speed.

I'm not familiar with the London 2004 recording... but it sounds like I should be! Thanks as always for the discussion.
McC. S.

centrifuge said...

... and thanks as always to you too, my man, for the thoughts and responses...

yes - that creative orch album is fabulous, i have a sneaking feeling that the 1978 all-star rerun may turn out to be a comparative letdown (but i'll be delighted if i'm proven wrong!) - the two duets with lewis from '76 also, the album with muhal... the meeting with parker and bailey... of course you're right about *for alto* and there was plenty of cutting-edgery going down in '76 for sure, it just seems odd that the working quartet was not it... but i'm basically saving any further thoughts on this subject for the recap which will (eventually!) follow *berlin* ...

2004... what, you didn't read my recommendation at d:o then ;-) didn't turn out to be a working group as such, not quite anyway, but it's a fantastic recording, and what a great atmosphere most (not actually quite all) of us experienced - c.t. was not impressed at being expected to follow it either (lazy/disrespectful programming to have them on the same bill at all - very probably, but of course it was a boon to the ticket buyer... at least in theory!)

McClintic Sphere said...

I'd seen your comment at d:o -- but noted it more for your (semi-)capitulation to "the Dortmunders"!

I love THB and Halvorson, though; that 2004 disc is on my list now. Thanks for bringing it up again, since I obviously didn't catch on at first.

centrifuge said...

me, capitulate? :)

dortmund had been my original choice, but i changed my mind shortly before i had to send them the submission - obviously the 2004 recording is far less exoteric than the 1976 one, but there's SO much in it... i suppose i figured at the time that anyone who heard the later recording and couldn't get into at all would be better off staying clear altogether; there's not much use at this present time in new listeners thinking that b. is a "jazz musician", a misunderstanding which could be perpetuated if newcomers are always directed to the seventies as a starting point... also i realised that it didn't make a lot of difference one way or the other WHAT i said, so long as *i* was happy with it ;-)