Saturday, May 9, 2009

{[("work in progress")]} - part one

see comments for explanation..!

DISCLAIMER: i do not submit these thoughts as in any way summing up anthony braxton's style as a musician (player/soloist) or even fully analysing or anatomising it. (i am as yet unqualified to form an opinion as to how exactly braxton was influenced by warne marsh, for example.) rather i am attempting to clarify my own ideas about the path of exploration taken by parker-dolphy-braxton as this, to my ears, is the purest line of development taken by the basic solo voice as it was formed.

1. the first need is to deal with charlie (or charles, as george lewis decided after his own private deconstruction) parker, the alto saxophone's original architect of amazement, doctor mirabilis, the one musician who is the subject of gushing praise in miles' autiobiog: the guy who played so good that in the early days, leaders had to get used to their rhythm sections constantly fucking up because they got totally distracted by what bird had just blown... later on, as miles says, you just had to try and ignore it on the bandstand or you would never stop going "what?? no!! how?!".

1 a) the aacm seems to have been very much built on the idea of new beginnings, and therefore of redefinition, perhaps specifically of restoring honest pride in oneself to a race which the leadership of america had deliberately (and quite successfully) cowed through incarceration, social isolation and/or disenfranchisement - naturally the aacm was far from being the only development along these lines, rather it was able to ride the wave of several other very powerful and cogent ideas, and add its energies in turn; BUT this imperative is all-too-frequently misunderstood as implying some sort of "scorched earth" policy with regard to the jazz tradition.

[in actual fact this misunderstanding is a terrible insult - it strongly suggests to me that those who espouse it (as received/accepted opinion) have just never bothered even to entertain the idea of trying to understand the aacm on its own terms; this is consistent with the prevailing (anglo-american) view of a critic as one who is expert in having entrenched opinions; a good critic in these countries is often thought to be one who has successfully mastered the sneer of contempt, in order to be able to say each time to an interlocutor: "of course you are welcome to your opinion, but let's be clear at the outset that mine is superior to yours..." critics, then - at least those writing in english (which has laughably become the de facto language of culture as well as of commerce, the latter of which suits it far better than the former, it must be said) - tend to characterise the aacm as levelling all that had come before them, in order to start from ground zero; but this makes a complete mockery of the considerable respect and affection which the founding chicagoans had for their own forebears and pioneers.]

- as an alto saxophonist, braxton must first deal with parker, then. of course - who else? it's true that there were those such as paul desmond or lee konitz who were broadly coeval with parker and therefore were able to establish their own styles, which owed little or nothing to him; but anyone following parker in linear time must also follow him musically if only for a while, long enough to discover, at least, which areas he left untouched for his successors.

2. one might expect the next stop to be ornette... but that would be a red herring or dead end. ornette plays ornette, and there is no need for anyone else to do it. (the inspiration provided continuously by ornette is precisely of this nature: see and hear me do my thing, now feel empowered to go and do your own.) ornette's technical quirks are also peculiar to him: like monk's they crop up only because it is necessary to play like that in order to say what needs to be said: borrowing the techniques oneself is only useful in the hands of a very confident and mature master (so mengelberg is able to make use of monk, for example). braxton will feel the inspiration of ornette's example and will be able also to pay homage to him in due course, but in terms of development of his own style there is no similarity really; no, the torch of the thaumaturge was passed to dolphy... and (to mix my metaphors) that's the well at which the young mr braxton must drink next.

eric dolphy... who practised along to parker solos when others around him were partying; knowing early in his life that his way was radically different from that of most others, he must have known also that he was doomed to be scorned and rejected more often than embraced, and was left with a straight choice between turning away from music or just being the best he could be (we know b. had to make a similar choice in his own life); we may be thankful that dolphy selflessly chose the latter (and so condemned himself, though bright and creative, to poverty and isolation), practising ridiculously hard to develop complete facility with a solo voice startlingly different from anyone else's at that time, and with the same power to astonish as bird's.

dolphy's specialities include incredible speed - this is just as it had been for parker, of course; but in dolphy's case the basic harmonic language has been put through a mangle, permanently pulled out of shape so that within it, lines run differently and sounds interrelate in hitherto-unimagined ways... the melted clock image so often derided (as lazy packaging) by jazz writers is nevertheless very apt for this man, whose bass clarinet in particular seems to belong to another world, another set of dimensions entirely from what most of us are accustomed to.

to be more pragmatic and less fanciful: one of the key devices dolphy employs is that of surprising intervals; leaps and swoops in the horizontal continuation of the line which do not so much "extend" the harmony (as critics must conceive of it) as do away with it altogether: what dolphy does above all is suggest - to the ready ear - that the relationship of one utterance to the next need not be (primarily) harmonic. this is crucial to all of the aacm masterminds, not just to braxton; and it would be of great inspiration to many of the europeans also (e.g. brötzmann, who developed parallel with ayler, not after him, but who was greatly inspired as a young man by a night spent talking with dolphy).

3. not unique to braxton: no, many of the key chicago figures had picked up on the implications of what dolphy had done; well, dolphy and probably cecil taylor who was presumably the first musician to approach sound-making in this way, a discourse comprising apparently discrete and uniquely-identifiable instants which together concatenate and generate more instants, which blossom forth in all sorts of directions, but which are not necessarily expressible on the page as standard (solfeggio) notation - dolphy was actually nowhere near this stage himself at the time of his death; he had not yet even glimpsed the perimeters of the territory he was opening up for his eventual successors; or at any rate he had not yet had the time to develop a fully-expanded syllabic vocabulary. perhaps it was not so much time he lacked (we know he practised unbelievably hard, for hours at a stretch, day after day, honing the technique which would give him the command to back up his weirdness, his otherness) as encouragement: the reason he had so much time to devote to his private practice was because he rarely got work between 1950-59 and found far too few opportunities to meet likeminded souls. the desperation to communicate that comes across in the amazing urgency and power of dolphy's tone and in his many repetitions during 1961-63 (like monk, he must keep repeating the message until they get to hear it)... one disadvantage for us of dolphy's having died so young is that his discog has cried out to be expanded, and thus fills up with mediocre recordings on which our hero strives vainly to find the support he needs from those around him (of course there are happy exceptions), and settles instead for saying what he already knows he can say; that desperation suggests it was not just time which was missing. in any case, by 1964 dolphy was moving beyond the limitations his fascination with parker and bop had forced upon him: he was really starting to think in terms of breaking out of western music altogether, by the sound of it (and so much the better).


centrifuge said...

1.obviously the whole blog is a work in progress, as is the (self-directed) education in (b's) music which it reflects; and more specifically, the braxtothon as such is very much a work in progress too, as i have always tried to make clear. on the other hand, this unfinished essay, which i began in an unexpected burst of enthusiasm more than a year ago, has effectively ceased to be "in progress" at all: i have alluded to it on occasions, usually saying that it was "coming soon" or some such hopeful/self-deluding nonsense - but without ever actually showing it to anyone until now. rather shockingly (even by my standards), before today it had not even been touched since march 16th 2008.

last night, on one of those "special" evenings over at my friend's place, it occurred to me that i really needed to make public what i've already done, and perhaps THAT will eventually shame me into finishing it - ! don't hold your breath, but... anyway, here it is. very little has been changed since it was first written (most of the alterations i made tonight concerned the punctuation), and some of it is by now a little outdated: that is, attentive readers may perhaps recall my having made some of these points already, especially in the months since the essay was started. also, having re-read the relevant portions of lock a while ago, i now do have a fairly good idea of what inspiration b. drew from warne marsh, contrary to what i say in that first para... but that's how it came out at the time, and that's how i want to run it now.

no, really, don't hold your breath... well, of course regular readers will long since have stopped doing this anyway, otherwise they would have asphyxiated waiting for me to pull my finger out ;-) the dortmund details, fwiw, are so ready to be written it's getting silly, but i never quite seem to get the chunk of uninterrupted keyboard time necessary for me to do this.

2. the picture: i found it in a search last april, almost used it for the "take two" reading of *new york, fall 1974* - but didn't; now of course i can't remember where i got it. rather than crop the writing out, as i could very easily have done, i have preferred to leave it in so that at least it will be seen that i have made no effort to hide the photographer's name, or pass his work off as my own. i use it now with no disrespect intended and in the hope that no offence will be taken, in the (surely unlikely) event of said photographer reading this blog..!

3. as for that reference to (the young) brötzmann spending a night talking to dolphy... i know that i was not just making this up, but (again) i've long since forgotten exactly where i read it. (lazy scholar! always was... little by little i try to change that, gaining inches and then backsliding...)

- more, it need hardly be added, will follow AT SOME POINT.

other stuff will undoubtedly follow sooner :)

Lucky said...

the subject matter drew me in - and kept me there the whole article! i have to admit, i haven't read your recent posts, rarely ever glimpsed over them, the themes were too specific for me, i had the idea that if i hadn't heard a certain composition a million times, i couldn't understand a word what you wrote. s'thing like this.

now - i still might mis-understand your intentions in THIS article here (braxton is the reference, i hope), but the simplification of parker-dolphy-braxton made sense to me ever since i heard (and loved) all three of them. all 3 are tremendous technicians on their chosen instruments. for me it's no coincidence, that seeing it historically, the amount of instruments they played grew tremendously: parker mostly sticked to his alto, dolphy enriched it with flute and bass clarinet and later braxton played the whole saxophone and clarinet families. but all 3 of them were high masters on the alto - and it's a direct alto line, alright. but it's also a construct, and it denies that braxton possibly was more attracted by someone like warne marsh than by dolphy... (possibly, i say!)

damn - i just wanted to say hi, now i already made a complete fool out of myself again. :S


centrifuge said...

heh heh... thanks lucky, and no - you haven't made a fool of yourself! i do understand what you mean about a "construct"; that is why i needed the disclaimer. none of these thoughts are intended to be taken as "set in stone"... we know that by 1985, braxton considered his most important influences to be marsh, desmond and coltrane (he even tells lock, around that time, that the dolphy connection is greatly exaggerated by critics). however... b's OWN thoughts on the subject must surely have already evolved a great deal by that stage; earlier in his career, he was happy to mention dolphy as a key influence (among others - some of whom, like jackie maclean, never get mentioned any more).

because dolphy represented (as i've said many times before) my route into "jazz"/creative music in the first place, i have spent far more time thinking about the possible nature of the connection(s) between him and b. than i have most other connections; and yes, the multi-instrumentalism is a crucial part of it... well, now i have to try and finish what i started i guess ;-)

ubu xxiii said...

Yes, cent, a very considered response to this lineage. His fullest re-examination of Parker's music was the 'CP project' & highly stimulating it is. I did think Brian Morton (on Braxton 'Jazz library') overplayed the Parker connection & Braxton's supposed need to go back periodically & refresh himself musically with Parker- no more than many other thinking 'jazz' musicians, surely.
One element of Dolphy's project Braxton developed was his multi-instrumentalism, taking it to new extremes. (Wadada Leo Smith, interestingly, says a multi-instrumentalist should really think of all his/her instruments as
one i.e. a continuum.)
Braxton says in 'Forces in motion'- "I learned a great deal from Mr.Giuffre" & some people may think I exaggerate, but Giuffre's careful rethinking of 'solo' versus 'accompanying' roles within the ensemble, the gradual stripping away of so many received assumptions of how the music should sound, reached its culmination in the trio with Paul Bley & Steve Swallow; the wide interval leaps, the liberation of pulse, & the completely solo clarinet improvisations, complete with multiphonics, all right he wasn't an alto player...
Also that bizarre (for mid 1950s) line-up of reeds, trombone & guitar is revisited on 'Composition 94' (1980)
I can hear an influence, anyway.

I don't know if you've ever considered isolating some part of this blog that you thought could be made 'autonomous' & publishing somewhere else ('Eartrip' is nearest to home, I suppose). One advantage would be a change of context.
(Just a thought.)

Lucky said...

in interviews with graham lock (issued on "coventry (quartet) 1985") braxton speaks about some influences, and the interview topics given at the included file card reads like this:

a) Frankie Lymon
b) Evolution
c) John Coltrane
d) Paul Desmond)
e) Warne Marsh
f) Solo saxophone music
g) Chess/'Jazz'
h) Definitions
i) Beethoven


P.S.: Never heard of Frankie Lymon before - but now I do love his Doo-Wop with The Teenagers... ;)

centrifuge said...

thanks lucky - that interview is basically transcribed in *forces in motion*... this is what i had in mind when i wrote my previous reply to you above.


hello ubu xxiii - and thanks as always for sharing your thoughts here.

the multi-instrumentalism was one of the aspects i held back from discussing publicly (for reasons which may eventually become clear), but it's a key part of the connection i wanted to examine... when i get round to finishing the article it will be addressed.

the charlie parker project birthed some delightful recordings - the album itself is one which i've long intended to write something about, but as to exactly when... well, you all know about my slow workrate by now ;-) as for morton's comments on jazz library... you may recall i agree with you on this; indeed i went rather further in my criticism of his "views", if one can call them that (when so little thought seems to have gone into them) - one of our fellow "boredees" never forgave me for this, i think... certainly morton is a sacred cow of the british jazz fraternity, regarded with tremendous affection and therefore (apparently) held to be beyond reproach... sorry, doesn't wash with me.

at the time i began writing this essay i had probably never heard more than a snippet or two of jimmy giuffre, nor yet read lock's book; now i know b. holds giuffre in great regard, and i can see why. (giuffre also provides both inspiration and a cautionary tale for all creative instrumentalists: there was absolutely no commercial potential in his most visionary work, and accordingly it met with very little success - not even being white can save the player who refuses to pander to the marketplace at all!) i must admit that i hadn't thought about comp.94 referring back to jg's group with brookmeyer and hall, but of course you're right; this refers more to the recorded performance than it does the actual composition, though, which itself was originally specified "for any three single-lined instruments" - so, not a guitar, then! but i find b's willingness to ignore his own specifications when it suits him rather reassuring :)

as regards your (last) suggestion: it's interesting, but i actually did make a conscious decision a while back to try and concentrate ALL my writing in one place, at least for the time being... quite apart from anything else, that makes it far easier for *me* to remember what i have or haven't already said (not always easy!). one of the reasons why i was happy to abandon the r3 bored is that i gradually realised i was "wasting" ideas on it - ideas which in some cases were worth holding onto, but which quickly slipped away into oblivion as soon as the threads were no longer active. the main reason, of course, was having far less time on my hands, time which i was now reluctant to waste getting into pointless arguments (as i so often did) - and that, again, is another reason why i currently have no plans to publish elsewhere, i.e. at present it is as much as i can manage to write for my own blog on a (semi-)regular basis. in principle, if i find myself becoming quicker and more productive, i would be interested in doing as you propose. certainly, when i wrote the john zorn piece for eartrip #2, i imagined it might be the first of several such articles (probably on non-braxtonian subject matter)... time will tell, but until it does, not much point in making promises i then cannot keep..!

thanks again - you always provoke me to detailed responses :)

centrifuge said...

... of course, november's john carter piece could have been published elsewhere, but at the time i didn't have anwhere else to put it..!

i do still want to consider (at some point) the work holland and altschul continued to do with sam rivers after they left b's band... having already admonished the reader not to hold his or her breath, i shan't repeat myself ;-)