Thursday, December 23, 2010

seasonal greetings :)

so much for recent half-arsed promises of further imminent "posts of substance" - mmm, stop me if you've read this here before; more computer troubles, on top of all the usual predictable stuff, and the heightened stress and hassle which accompanies the approach of a toddler's christmas... oh yes, and then there's always the "arctic" weather currently strangling the united kingdom, weather which of course is not arctic in the least, temperatures of zero to minus six-to-ten celsius being standard at present in my region; all of which is hardly unheard of in britain and would never merit a mention in many other parts of the world. but, bizarrely... it has brought the entire british isles to a near-standstill anyway, and for some reason it feels a great deal colder than the thermometer says it is. the cold just seems to have seized the landscape, right down into its very substance and texture.

anyway... the cold severely messed up the postal system for the best part of a week, and prolonged our wait for a replacement laptop charger (i expect i will have a rant about this whole business in a comment)... but on the other hand it did provide my daughter with a rare white christmas for her first memorable winter... it's an ill wind, and all that... i didn't manage to sort out my own xmas present in time for the weekend, but there is a fat package of cds on its way, more than half of them by mr b, so i expect to report on those in partial detail in due course... and by now anyone who is reading will surely know the long rhythms which govern my posting habits, and will therefore not be surprised to hear that the promised live review and longer-promised next braxtothon post are on their way also... no, really... "some time soon"... 

... meantime, best festive wishes of the season to anyone who is out there, whatever that means to you. go well in the world :)

c x

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

progress report/ comp. 40q

"progress"... not much at the moment, unfortunately. i was working on the john tchicai gig review; but that one didn't want to be written yet. so i gave up for the time being and concentrated on getting braxtothon phase five kicked off... and apparently that one just didn't feel ready to greet the world yet either. it's all quite frustrating: for once i have actually had a bit of time to play with, but the writing just didn't come. sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn't... not that i would want to be, but i couldn't be a professional critic.

ok, so... i am still hoping to get both of those posts up within the next few weeks (fingers crossed). in the meantime - i listened again recently to the album currently under consideration and found myself thinking again about comp. 40q, the crazy march tune which opens the second side of that record... as i've mentioned before (last para of this post), james carter covered the piece a couple of decades later with his regular band of the time, plus guest hamiet bluiett. if anyone is curious to hear what that sounded like, check it out. as regards other recordings by braxton, however... well, a live version of the piece turned up recently, played in concert by the same two masters that originally waxed it; but, this being a third songbook number, in theory there is no reason why it should not have been played by the quartet at some point. if anyone knows of any live concert recordings including this extraordinary piece, do please let me know! for the time being... that's all i'm saying...

Friday, November 19, 2010

braxtothon phase five: prologue

1976... is not yet quite over. yes, the old rhythm section has gone, and with its passing a major chapter of the quartet's history has closed. but that action-packed year (the thought of which so daunted me back in may 2008... dear oh dear, was it really that long ago?!) is still where i find myself, just about: there is one more station stop to deal with before moving into 1977.

rather neatly, the transition into the new year is marked with an  "overlap" of sorts. over a month after the old quartet gave its last concert, our man is in a toronto studio with his old friend/aacm colleague/supposed rival roscoe mitchell, cutting an album of duets under the latter's name; that is actually the last discog entry for 1976, and the first for 1977 sees the pair back in the studio, this time in their home town of chicago, laying down one more duet as part of the sessions for mitchell's famous nonaah. not surprisingly, i worked both of these recordings into one session, the first for this new phase of the continuing journey.

- and after that? however it worked out at the time, for us here and now dealing with the official discography the first few dates following the dissolution of the "first classic quartet" (as one might call it, bearing in mind that there were - at least - two versions of that group anyway) all feature b. as sideman, not leader. well... sideman or collaborator: those duets are not really sideman dates (not at all, in fact), even if they do appear under mitchell's name; and the company week performances are not that sort of deal either. actually, only woody shaw's the iron men has b. playing a genuine sideman's role around this time. but the fact remains that this clutch of recordings does not include any of b's compositions, nor are any of them under his leadership. it is known (confirmed in the composition notes) that there was a regular working group during 1977, but the only official recording from this period which fits the bill is this one - and i've always had trouble believing that abrams would have been a regular sideman in anyone's band by this time... then again, we know that he did play at least one other gig with this group, though that one is apparently something of a one-off (two standards, no originals? and bluiett clearly there as a guest - chances are the bootleg does not contain the entire performance; maybe the band was joined by the guest just for the two standards, and only these have made it into circulation..?). in any event, abrams obviously was in europe at the time, and played at least two concerts as part of b's group; even if he was not a regular member, it's entirely feasible that the rest of the line-up - lewis, helias, shaw - comprises the working unit at this time. needless to say, i have not yet been able to confirm any of this.

i'm getting slightly ahead of myself anyway... for the time being, i have not made up my mind which of the above-mentioned recordings will be covered in phase five. not completely, that is: the company week recordings will definitely be dealt with (at least the ones featuring b - i have no intention of covering all three albums in their entirety), and of course the basel quintet set is also a certainty, as if that needed to be said. the woody shaw album... i'm unlikely to include that one, i think. (though as a matter of fact, i did start writing something about it ages ago now, and one of these days i will probably finish it..! chances are it will end up as a detour, rather than an actual station stop... that seems rather more appropriate.) as for the "covers" sextet boot, i'm not about to make a decision on that one until nearer the time... but two standards? maybe not, eh... again, perhaps it'll end up getting discussed in some other format. or perhaps, by the time i get there, i shall have changed my mind...

first up, then, will be the mitchell duet sessions, and we'll take it from there. it's a strange accident that the discog has a lack of "canon" recordings at this time, but there are other gaps in the chronology, this is hardly the first. in any case, 1977 has its share of important recordings: as well as the basel set (only released in 2000), there is always this to look forward to, continuing the arista offerings. as we're going to see, b's career as a leader has by no means been derailed by the loss of his two longtime companions.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

comp. 23j (re-)revisited

so... before saying anything about the trio version of this piece recently unearthed from the archives of bobby naughton, i read through the composition notes (which in this case are also available online at restructures). it's a piece i'm reasonably familiar with, having analysed two live versions of it and having recently heard another one - and indeed one in the studio, not that i mentioned that one on the blog yet... but apparently there was at least one basic mistake in my memory's version of the theme: in the footnotes to that dortmund write-up, i described the theme's initial phrase as comprising ten notes, when the composition notes say nine, and when i went to that duet version to check, no-one will be surprised to learn that it was the composer who had it correctly..! with only the two instruments playing, it's perfectly clear; probably it is in the quartets as well (i'm not about to check right now), and just my ear memory which is at fault... it's nowhere near as reliable as i would like.

- and with that rather trivial confession (*1) out of the way, let's just have another look at those composition notes... yes, i also find them quite hard to understand at times, just like most readers: our man uses language in his own special way and it's not always evident to the rest of us what precisely he has in mind; he's entitled to do that, he's a genius... anyway... a few salient points to bear in mind when assessing any given version of it (and before i go into those, even - dedicated to t.s. eliot! curious... not the most obvious dedicatee for a "medium fast (to fast) tempo structure designed for extended improvisation... in the post-be-bop tradition"; i wonder which eliot work/s the maestro had in mind?): first, the piece is designed to highlight individual solo styles (one might therefore compare it with "three bags full" by herbie hancock, which was at least intended to point out the different styles of the three soloists on that recording); second, it "was constructed without any applied harmonic basis or preconceived rhythmic structure"; third, a given performance "emphasizes the nature of its material repositioning more than the actual notes used to create that positioning". this last point is made again earlier in the notes, phrased in a different (but similarly abstruse) way, and i take it to mean that the piece was intended to encourage solo improvisations which build on the patterns and accent displacements of the written material, rather than the harmonic structure of the theme. (in any case it's pretty much axiomatic that b's music, even the relatively simple examples of it, doesn't tend to foster straightforward "playing the changes" soloing... nor are those kinds of players likely to be attracted to his work in the first place..!)

as a "post-be-bop" piece, 23j is rather more advanced than, say, comp. 23b (which is doubtless extremely tough to play, but is not especially unorthodox in its tonalities) - but not as skewed as comp. 69g which would come along a little later. played live by b's quartets, it has a pretty irresistible propulsive drive; but let's not forget that there was no preconceived rhythmic structure and it's up to the interpreter to set the pace and the rhythm. mr naughton chooses to slow the tempo down a bit, introduce a few actual (unison) pauses into the written line, and restore an overtly "swung" rhythm to what had sometimes in concert become a bit of a headlong dash. by utilising clearly using this particular rhythmic template (which i believe is basically triplets, with only the first and third of each group voiced, the second being a rest - but i have no formal training remember, so don't just take my word for it!), naughton links the piece to other well-known modern compositions as "skippy" (monk *2) and "gazzelloni" (dolphy) - dolphy especially was very fond of this "skipping" rhythm and frequently fell into it in his solos. besides - fairly or otherwise, any vibraphonist playing in this sort of context post-1964 is almost inevitably going to draw mental comparisons with bobby hutcherson on out to lunch; and that isn't such a terrible thing, bearing in mind what a great album that was for the instrument... the trio does seem to have it at least somewhat in mind during this reading, drummer randy kaye copping a few tricks from tony williams along the way (around 4.30 for instance... see if that passage doesn't remind you of lunch..!).

once the theme is completed, naughton embarks on a solo which does indeed seem to hinge on the material's linear exposition rather than anything else; a key element is the modulation of fairly short, repeated phrases, exploring what happens to these when subtle changes or displacements are made. you can pretty much forget what i said in my earlier post - about how naughton "seems to be concerned with exploring the ways in which b's tonalities open up complex dissonances when voiced by the vibes": let's face it, that's probably true of any number of themes (it is possible to make the vibes sound straightforwardly pretty when they're given something very, very simple to play; anything more elaborate and they at once open up a very complex tonal palette, it's just the nature of the beast)... quite often, naughton "speeds up" by playing complete triplets, and the drums never fail to respond to this gear-shift (fonda sticks for the most part to the walking bass specified in the rubric, though he does pick up from the leader at times too). use is also made of the half-step tonal modulations in the written theme, mirrored at times in naughton's improvised lines. at 3.14, a ringing attack introduces a short passage in which naughton pulls away from the stated pulse, playing completely outside the rhythm section for about fifteen seconds, most obviously between 3.23 and 3.28 when he delivers two different variants of an ascending chromatic run; by 3.30 the three players are back in step, fonda the next to break away briefly around 3.45. again, from 4.08 to about 4.27 naughton escapes completely from the phrase-structures of the written line and this time the freedom is co-opted by kaye, collapsing the rhythm completely and leaving it to fonda to maintain it.

in kaye's solo which follows, fonda first drops the pulse and then lays out altogether, as the drums play without any reference to the theme at all, eventually lapsing into space just before the restatement is picked up. the ending is as neatly abrupt as any of the braxton versions; it apparently comes as a surprise to the audience, who are silent for a few beats before an appreciative "yeah!" kicks off the clapping. (not many in the crowd, by the sound of it - this of course is the curse of the modern-day creative musician, the big audiences mainly reserved for those who put far less work into their music...)


i tend to have mixed feelings about "covers" of b's compositions: on the one hand, i seldom enjoy them as much as i do his own renditions, but on the other i am always interested to hear what other musicians do with them, how they rise to the various challenges they present. it's always good to see anyone taking them on, pretty much; for all his is now a trendy name to drop in certain circles, there still aren't too many people treating the braxton canon as modern standards. (obviously there are some exceptions to this generalisation... james carter rather bravely asserted braxton's continuance with the tradition by including comp. 40q on his album conversin' with the elders; actually, that's one braxton cover i particularly like, and coincidentally, the original version is next up under the braxtothon microscope, when i get round to that..!) mr naughton came up with a worthwhile and interesting reading here, one which situates b. within the tradition without sacrificing the greater freedoms he represents. i've enjoyed listening to it :)

* see comments

Saturday, October 30, 2010

milan quartet '79

it's way ahead of time as regards the braxtothon - so i'm avoiding going into too much detail, and didn't necessarily give the music my full attention - but the other day i (belatedly) saw this post, the latest in riccardo's continuing series of italian concert boots... i try and provide tracklists for this sort of thing whenever i can, that being part of my contribution, such as it is; in this case (as so often) i can't identify every territory explored, so there follows a bit of explication. the recording in this instance is perfectly serviceable without being brilliant - reeds, trombone and bass are always clearly audible, drums suffer at times... the actual start of both sets is missing... and the occasional presence of two people talking, close enough to the mic to be heard, is a bit of an unwanted distraction (makes me glad i don't speak italian, or it would be even more distracting!). but none of this is carping - as i've said before, i would choose an imperfect recording over no recording any day of the week, so long as it's listenable.

braxton/anderson/lindberg/barker - 22/4/79, milan

first set 
comp. 69m
comp. 69c

- the recording starts just after the beginning of comp. 69m, one of several superb circus-style pieces b. had written in the late seventies, presumably with this line-up in mind. (by the sound of it, only a few seconds are missing.) at this stage in his career, b. had found various ways in which to get his non-jazz material played and recorded, so the quartet is mainly playing high-energy free jazz, bearing in mind that this is still "jazz a la braxton" (the reader must adjust his or her expectations accordingly); the fourth (and final) creative ensemble book, like the three preceding it, contains a lot of jazzy pieces (and some not so jazzy)... anyway... the concert still proceeds according to a template of theme-then-solos, the leader going first, as usual.

at around 14.15 (*1), the theme restatement finishes, but instead of any pause taking place the band slows down the pace and moves straight into a transition phase. and here's the first time i got stumped, because for the next ten minutes i didn't recognise anything that was played; whatever it is, it's not the longest link phase in b's history (apart from anything else, it bears no relation to the subsequent territory) - either it's an open space for group improvisation, or it's some piece i can't identify. i'm leaning towards the former... in any case, we end up with a bass solo, a small forced pause to allow some generous applause, then the shortest link phase i've heard in a while before comp. 40f begins at 24.20. this wonderful piece, of course, will be familiar to any braxtothon followers already thanks to its inclusion on the dortmund setlist; at the time this concert was played, it was still seven months away from being waxed for the first time. (dortmund was not actually released until 1991.)

this version of the piece seems rather less anchored than the dortmund rendition, goes much farther out from the score and never really returns, so it's hard to say when it ends and the next transition begins; but by 34.45 anderson is firing off repeated stabs of brass which are briefly picked up by b. on sopranino, short repetitive attacks which clearly foreshadow the next territory, though we then drift away again briefly before comp. 69c begins definitively around 35.15. this piece is characterised by its distinctive, menacing "war march" pulse; it nagged at me for a while when listening to this, reminded me of something which i couldn't quite place... eventually i figured out that it was, ahem, "thank your lucky stars" by whitehouse (and if anyone doesn't know what i'm talking about there, i'm really not sure i want to be the one to explain... in any event it's gotta be a coincidence, william bennett was surely unlikely to number anthony braxton among his influences..!). moving swiftly on... that takes us up to the close of the set.

second set
comp. 23j
comp. 69n (i think!) 
comp. 40i

set two begins very much in media res, with what appears to be a high-intensity double solo, the two hornmen improvising over a furious backing, and at first it sounds as if we may have missed something crucial; but this is all just buildup to the first territory (unless of course we really HAVE missed something crucial, like ten minutes or more of music, in which case this is a transition phase, the band gathering speed for what comes next; it would be very interesting to know how the set actually began, since it's pretty unusual for the quartet to open up with an approach phase, as opposed to a clearly defined theme). from around 1.20, b. and anderson both indulge in riffing on the comp. 23j theme (*2), throwing out snatches of it (usually the first phrase) without actually joining the theme as such, and for several minutes things continue in this vein until finally the theme is initiated in earnest, almost surrepitiously in the end, at about 3.50. this time it's anderson who takes first solo, the others following in due course, and the ensuing restatement of the very fast theme takes us up to the 21 minute mark. when the piece finishes, with the usual clean ending, there is the tiniest of pauses before the horns begin tossing phrases back and forth, smothering the applause which threatens to break out.

- again, for a while after this i have no idea what's being played. at first it sounds like another open space, and although at times during the next few minutes there are lines played which could be part of a written score, nothing quite coalesces which sounds like a definite composition. by 28 minutes, b. has the seamonster out, but this doesn't actually clarify the situation... hence the ??s. ok, so by 31 minutes it sounds as if something is definitely taking shape, but the insistent drum pattern turns out to be a complete red herring as abruptly, around 31.45, (what is almost certainly) comp. 69n begins, this being a very restrained and contemplative piece with plenty of b's haunting "birdcall" lines (the presence of which makes this a hard piece to identify at first, since so many of b's compositions contain similar phrases; i had to compare it with a studio version and another live one before deciding). by 36.30 we're clearly in transition again, drifting between territories, and from 37 minutes barker is getting up a fair head of steam behind the kit; just before 37.30 b. signs off on alto, and when he re-enters on sopranino a few seconds later, we are fast approaching comp. 40i which begins suddenly around 37.55. this is another great fun-filled piece, perfectly tailored to the strengths of this particular band (although, being a third songbook number, it must predate this version of the group). and that concludes the main body of the concert.

comp. 69j

- this, at any rate, is straightforward enough, a brisk run-through in less than four minutes to close proceedings. (b. has always preferred to keep his encores short and sweet.)

that's all folks... may i just add quickly that this was a great pleasure to listen to, the band never flagging as far as i could tell, always engaging strongly with the music... the point being that, several years on, there need be no doubt that the change of personnel at the tail-end of 1976 was fully justified... new blood and all that... there are a couple of dodgy moments here when barker whips out a tambourine, but basically it's attack from the word go. more details... when i "get there"..!

* see comments

Friday, October 15, 2010

moments captured or missed

something which happened during the last week or so, unnoticed by anyone - even me: this blog turned three years old. ok, so in my case there were other things to claim my attention, such as the second birthday of my daughter... and besides, exactly when this blog was "born" is hard to say. mcclintic sphere had drawn up the draft version some time before it went live; i got involved during the second week of october, first posted here on the 10th, launched the braxtothon on the 11th (and genuinely had no idea of how major an undertaking that would turn out to be)... mcc's first post actually went up on the 9th, but basically it's not possible to pinpoint precisely when things began. not that it really matters that much: after all, it's not as if i'd been planning to buy the blog presents or bake it a cake. still, it seems appropriate to mark the anniversary, in passing.

i was in london recently, for the first time in almost three years; the last such return visit was to see charles gayle and sonny simmons on successive nights, and it certainly took me a long time to write those up... this time i was actually there for a wedding, but stayed on an extra night to catch john tchicai. i'm rather hoping to be a bit more prompt about getting down my impressions of that one... so, that's on the way at some point. also coming up, a closer look at that version of comp. 23j by bobby naughton (with some tangential thoughts about "covers" of b's pieces in general)... and at some point i will actually be getting braxtothon phase five underway in earnest, as promised. there's a couple of other little things which may or may not get written up any time soonish... you know the way i operate by now ;-)

more on the way... stay tuned and keep the faith...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

previous encounter

(a fairly brief update to my john carter article, as promised)

when i last wrote about "encounter", i had four versions of the piece to draw on - and a conspicuous (eighteen-year!) gap between the first and second of them. since then i have rather assumed that the piece must surely have been revived before '88 - and it turns out that such is indeed the case. this 1979 performance was posted online some months ago now, but i only came across it quite recently... the published track listing is incomplete with the last two pieces played listed as unknown, but the final number is, in fact, my old friend "encounter"... and that discovery, at any rate, splits the gap neatly in half ;-)

5. john carter quintet, live in rome, 16th august 1979.
carter - clarinet; bobby bradford - trumpet*;  james newton - flute; bob stewart - tuba; phillip wilson - drums

- the poster refers to a studio album, recorded the previous day by the same remarkable line-up (four aerophones plus drums! off the top of my head i can't think of another quintet with that instrumentation); i don't know this album, but an online search brought up this handy discography: "encounter" wasn't on the date. given its appearance here, though, it seems reasonable to suppose that it might have been used previously, either as a last number or as an encore. here, it doesn't particularly look to go anywhere, just generates some happy excitement so as to send the audience home on a buoyant high. it is very tempting indeed to assume that carter used it regularly to that effect (and that what he did with the '88 band was reinvent the piece, not merely revive it).

this version does not begin with the familiar bassline; that doesn't enter until about the 1.00 mark, which is possibly why such an easily-identifiable piece was missed by the poster (? or maybe he just didn't know the number). still, just wilson's skittering cymbals are enough of a clue as to what's coming, and bradford's improvised flights during the first minute sketch out the basic tessitura pretty well - so that it came as no surprise to me, at least, when the brass bass kicked in with the ascending "perpetual motion" line. soon after, the other horns conjure up the melody; and what ensues is really something of a free-for-all, joyous in its playful energy, newton and carter in particular sparking off each other to great effect. the sense of freedom is infectious, stewart by no means limiting himself to the confines of the written line but departing from it as he feels, never losing the pulse but letting wilson take care of the propulsion. newton, carter and bradford all play delightfully on this closing number, and it's safe to say that the mission will have been accomplished: surely no-one will have walked away from this concert without an ear-to-ear smile and a light heart.

(the recording is fairly ropey in this case; nevertheless the concert itself is well worth hearing for any fans of the horn players in particular. those who are not fully committed to the cause of the audiophile may even use this as an exercise in how to listen past recording limitations and engage directly with the music. as background noise... no, it's not going to work that well. but the quality of the performance is the reward just waiting for the ear which opens to seek it.)

i'm always on the hunt for other versions of this piece... till the next update, then..!

* bradford is of course better known as a cornet specialist, not a trumpeter as such... but carter does clearly say "bobby bradford on trumpet" both at the beginning of the set and at the end (as heard on this cut) - so presumably that's what he was playing on this occasion.

Monday, September 20, 2010

quick newsflash

the blog was contacted over the weekend by the renowned and acclaimed vibraphonist - and sometime braxton collaborator - bobby naughton, advertising the new (online) release of a trio recording of b's comp. 23j. the piece, which dates from 1985, features randy kaye on drums and another important braxton sideman, joe fonda, on bass. (naughton played with the creative orchestra in 1978 and afterwards, and continued his involvement with b's music at least until 1988; fonda's own association with b. was almost a decade in the future at this point, but he would eventually become bassist of choice for five years during the 90s, playing in a wide variety of contexts including duets, a quartet playing standards, and the first recorded gtm compositions.)

naughton's interpretation of the piece is rather more sedate in pace and mood than the dortmund version, and seems to be concerned with exploring the ways in which b's tonalities open up complex dissonances when voiced by the vibes. the recording can be downloaded from naughton's website (as linked above). support active musicians!


don't forget: in case anyone missed them, august's posts include a couple of articles which contain links to concert recordings. regular readers will know that i don't post music files very often... get 'em while they're hot :)

state of the braxtothon address

so... here i am again.

believe me, there were times last year when i began to think i would never get here, when the thread seemed irretrievably lost... but with a change of focus at the beginning of this year and some patient work, i managed to squeeze out the four remaining phase 4 entries without too much procrastination. (a quick glance at the list of posts for 2010 will show that i didn't get a lot else done, at least in terms of writing... but hey, you can't have everything. the main thing is that i got the core work back on track..!)

in the event, the close of phase four overlapped with the opening of phase five. with the quartet autopsy nearly finished, i found myself with enough free time to do the listening session for the roscoe mitchell album duets with anthony braxton (long since earmarked as the beginning of phase five), and for the follow-up duet which appears on mitchell's nonaah. (these astounding recordings will take some time to write up.) with this done, i still had to complete the article i was working on, and - miracle of miracles - i got that done the following evening. hence, braxtothon volume two is now officially underway.

as i've mentioned before, this next phase will be characterised by more research into the composition notes. i don't plan to consult many other sources, however, and this is not just a matter of arrogance (though there is probably an element of that): the whole point of this undertaking is to document my responses to the music, my journey through b's career, and i don't want to get distracted by reading too many other opinions. another reason is that i remain (alas) a piss-poor scholar and have only so much time and attention to devote to what has long since become a pretty demanding project; it would take me too long to work through lots of reviews and articles, and that would take time away from the writing. and besides... again, it's not the first time i've said this: i am firmly of the opinion that many (most) professional critics have never seriously attempted to understand b's music on its own terms, so i have pretty limited faith/interest in what they have to say about it. [of course there are exceptions to this gross generalisation, and i'm not just thinking of graham lock and mike heffley - both of whom b. himself considers to possess genuine insight into his music; art lange and stuart broomer both seem to me to have made the necessary effort to get inside the music, and anything they have to say is therefore worth reading. i am doubtless leaving some names out here, and no disrespect is intended: i don't read widely and have probably missed some very good stuff. on the other hand, there are a few well-regarded critics (and i'm not about to name names) who don't get the music at all as far as i'm concerned, who seem content to treat b. as a "jazz eccentric" and write about him accordingly, making much use of platitudes and preconceptions... well, if one is a professional reviewer there can only be so much time one can spend on any given recording, i suppose - but that isn't actually an excuse for turning out summaries which sound good (to the uninitiated) but don't stand up to close scrutiny.]

- but the composition notes are another matter. since i began this project almost three years ago, i have followed the development of b's groups and (to an extent) his own playing, as well as that of his collaborators; but although my familiarity with some of the material has increased, i'm not convinced that my understanding of b's composing has really grown much. partly this is due to my own lack of formal tuition; and partly it's because i haven't yet found the time to take advantage of the composer's own thoughts on the subject. having been sent b's complete writings back in 2008, i panicked a bit when i received them, balking at the idea of getting to grips with such a detailed (and lengthy!) body of work. at the time, remember, i was fast approaching parenthood and knew that i could not really afford to devote myself completely to something which would necessarily dominate my time and attention. so, i put the notes pretty much to one side, to be dealt with as and when. (an attempt, the following year, to get stuck into the tri-axium writings proved sadly abortive: again, i just didn't have the time to engage properly with the material, which is extremely dense and by no means easy to read - that's not a criticism: philosophy is not supposed to be easy to read.) anyway, i feel now that the time has come: if i am to get any further with learning about the composer's ideas, aims and methods, i have to go right to the source. what i am able to learn from this deeper research, you will soon enough be able to judge for yourselves.


something else i am trying to do now is relisten to some of the material i've already covered in the braxtothon. when i first started, i was very reluctant to do this, for two reasons. first, i wanted to use the time available to move forward, as quickly as i could (just as wood must move rapidly in one direction and not look back, lest it revert to water); second, i was afraid that in relistening, i might end up completely overturning my original impressions and have to start all over again. to an extent, this tunnel-vision approach was discontinued after the end of phase two, when i began assembling playlists (and indeed these jumped forwards as well as back, since in some cases i was using tracks from albums which i had not yet covered). but i didn't relisten to whole albums, and i missed out some pieces which were too long to use; so some compositions just got forgotten, and i wasn't able to recognise these when they cropped up again. when i hear live recordings, it's very rare for me to be able to identify all the pieces played; in the case of solo concerts, this is extraordinarily difficult anyway, but performances by the working group(s) are far less problematic since they mainly tend to incorporate pieces from the four creative ensemble books. (true of the 70s groups, fairly true also during the 80s - from the mid-90s onwards, the focus is mainly on gtm of course.) several times i have found myself hearing something naggingly familiar which i couldn't place... in relistening now to some of the earlier recordings, i am hoping to be able to fill in more gaps in live track-listings. (i have already realised that comp. 6n crops up once or twice, post-1972; the town hall concert version has a five-minute buildup to the main theme, which i did not remember afterwards... i'll know it next time i hear it!)

so... that's where i'm at. please bear with me for the next instalment of the core work: more research has to be done before i even start writing it. but in the meantime, i shall continue trying to post more often than once or twice a month, and occasionally i will even be writing about other composers... next up, all being well, is an update to my john carter article from november 2008.

thanks for listening :)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

*** braxtothon master-list, part two ***

with braxtothon phase four now finally complete, it seems a good time to provide a second index*, detailing all the phase three/four articles. newer readers may not be aware that certain recordings have been covered, and even older readers may have difficulty finding them (this being a drawback of the blog format, and doubtless not helped by my own approach to naming the posts - shit, even i have trouble sometimes in finding a particular article..!)

now, just to clarify one little thing: the second wave of braxtothon posts began in march 2008, and these were (naturally enough) listed as braxtothon '08, to distinguish them from the original clutch of sessions (all of which took place in october 2007, though some of the articles were posted rather later). as the 2008 summer wore on, an awful paralysis seemed to overtake me, preventing me from writing up some of the later sessions; i was also expecting the birth of my daughter, and although that could have spurred me on (to make use of my time while i still had it), in practice it just didn't work out that way. and then, in october of that year, my daughter was actually born and of course that was that, as far as free time went - ! heading into 2009, it didn't bother me that i was still posting articles billed as braxtothon '08 (as evidenced by a post from march of that year, talking about phase 3a and 3b - this is not linked below since i didn't follow through on it anyway); but then something else happened midway through last year, and the core work got put completely on hold (indeed my attention got pushed away from music altogether for the most part). hence, i didn't get back to the project until earlier this year, and at that point it finally seemed ludicrous to be talking about 2008 when it was actually 2010. (in some ways i still feel as if i'm stuck in that summer two years ago, watching my precious time elapse day by day, yet powerless to make proper use of it; but then my daughter's imminent second birthday reminds me that time has in fact moved on!) hence, the posts from this year were listed as braxtothon phase four. in retrospect, it is easy enough to determine where phase three ended... anyway, below are links to the articles which make up the second half of (what i recently decided was) braxtothon volume one. confused? nah... :)

braxtothon phase three:


session 001 preamble

session 001, take one: new york, fall 1974

session 001, take two

session 001, take three

session 002: comp. 23e (news from the 70s)

session 003
: five pieces 1975

conclusions so far

how week one happened
(- an experiment that was not repeated)

1976 introduction

session 005
: creative orchestra music 1976

session 006
: comp. 6f (wildflowers)/elements of surprise

extra session: the '76 "special quintet"

session 007
: duets 1976 (w/abrams)

: time zones/company 2


session 008: donaueschingen (duo) 1976

session 009: graz '76 (bootleg - NB music files are long dead)

braxtothon phase four:

fill-in: bremen, 1975 (bootleg)

session 004
: montreux (out-of-sequence)

session 010, context: dortmund

session 010, details (1): quartet (dortmund) 1976

session 010, details (2)
: more dortmund

session 011a
: berlin (quartets)

session 011b
: berlin (creative orch.)

final conclusions on volume one

there was also this:

gap filling, part two: (first byg album)
(- fills a hole in phase one, but was written rather later)


the next post will (probably!) be the introduction to volume two, the first session of phase five having already taken place... stay tuned...

* the first index can be found here, not that it's needed so much since the same list is now in the blog sidebar... the phase three and four links will appear there in due course (thanks again to mcclintic sphere, in advance!)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

braxtothon phase 4: quartet autopsy

november, 1976... and what began in london almost six years earlier has finally come to an end. those feb 1971 recording sessions probably didn't witness the actual conception of the anthony braxton quartet (although maybe they did..?), but as far as the discography is concerned, that's ground zero (*1). of course, it would be easy to forget a couple of significant points as well: the working quartet didn't always feature dave holland and barry altschul, and even when it did, sometimes they weren't both available. just to restate what any half-serious braxtophile "should" know by now: new york, fall 1974 is only partly a quartet album, and jerome cooper played drums on it anyway. (worth repeating that, since i know the tendency - out there in "jazz discussion land" - is to consider that album as a highpoint for the classic 70s quartet.) getting back to the first significant point, b's working band during 1973, unfortunately unrecorded and therefore unknown to most people, featured kenny wheeler with the unfamiliar - but superb - rhythm section of j-f jenny-clark and charles "bobo" shaw. b. mentions to graham lock (in forces in motion) how good this band was and regrets that he never got the chance to take it into the studio and capture it for posterity; the only recording i have of them is from châteauvallon in august 1973 and as far as i know it's (alas) long gone from the blogosphere. the point is, holland and altschul were not continuously involved with this project throughout those years; but for the most part, they were, and in some (esp. older) listeners' minds their names are perpetually linked with braxton's during this time. in any case they gave loyal service during a crucial period in b's development, and what i want to do here is look back over their tenure in the band; specifically, i've long promised to give a fuller account of my frequently-stated opinion that they stayed just a little bit too long. presumably, there have been plenty of people out there who don't like this idea at all, and it's worth giving a proper explanation. (even more specifically, this is the time to examine and unpack what some may think by now is a personal grudge against dave holland... that really isn't the case, but... well, read on.)

let's just remind ourselves of how we got here. the young dave holland's career was kick-started by miles davis, who head-hunted him after seeing him at ronnie scott's and whisked him off to new york - where he met, among many others, chick corea. the two of them would participate in several large ensembles (most notably for the epochal bitches brew); and they stuck around after others had gone their own way, working closely together in miles' "lost" quintet (with wayne shorter and jack dejohnette - "lost" because miles never got them into the studio, though there are now so many live recordings of this band in circulation that it would be more appropriate to call them the "found" quintet..!). corea then formed his own trio, with holland and barry altschul; when b. got involved, the resulting quartet became known as circle, a group still fetishised in some quarters (by people who in some cases seem to regard the group's inevitable dissolution as the beginning of the end for b.). at some point around this time, all four members of the band were inducted into scientology, and corea stayed with it; the other three lasted about a year before deciding to leave. corea goes on from here to make lots of money (a basic requirement for scientologists, since ascension through the ranks necessitates large investment) by playing dodgy fusion (*2) for most of the next decade... the others, no doubt bonded further by their shared doubts about scientology, proceed to take the path of creativity over commercialism, condemning themselves to relative poverty in the process.

- but even before circle was disbanded, our man was already hard at work constructing his own main working group for the next decade (and beyond). circle was - like air - a democratic co-operative group, with no leader (*3). though it shared personnel with the other group, the anthony braxton quartet was very much b's baby and firmly under his leadership. wheeler, introduced to free music by the spontaneous music ensemble (where he met holland), comes in to help voice those lovely ballad structures which are taking shape... of course, the complete 1971 album is not credited to the quartet, since only three of the tracks are performed by it; there are also two duets with corea, at least one of which made its way into circle's repertoire (*4), as did the original repetition structure, now known as comp. 6f but first listed on record(s) as "73 kelvin" or similar. all of these pieces (including the three quartet numbers waxed in london) are significant, since they were retrospectively included in the 6 series, the first book of pieces for creative ensemble. this first book (of four) also includes the two braxton compositions from his first album as a leader, 3 compositions of new jazz, as well as pieces cut for the french byg label and issued on b's two albums for them. one key aspect of b's work at this time was to establish separate "strands" for his composing; solo pieces went together, of course (*5), and there were to be many other types of composition also, which would later be numbered individually when b. and francesco martinelli drew up the system which is in use today. but the creative ensemble pieces are special in their own way, since they were to make up the bulk of the repertoire for the main working group over the next couple of decades (*6).

that group, having begun while circle was still a going concern, took a while to bear any more fruit. over the next few years, my picture of the band's evolution is very far from complete; i don't (yet!) have many live recordings from 1971-3. but the discography, at least, does not contain many quartet recordings during this period, and those which were released do not always feature the "classic" line-up. february 1972 sees michael smith, peter warren and oliver johnson in the group, cutting two standards and a pair of book two (23 series) pieces for what was released mistakenly as dona lee (just a careless typo; this is not the "correct" name of the album as some insist!). may of the same year sees holland back on board, and altschul too, for the new york town hall concert; but even then, only holland played on all the pieces. january 1973 finds b. in tokyo, working with three top-flight japanese players on four book two compositions (*7). as previously stated, the (american) working group during that year did not include holland and altschul, though kenny wheeler was back in. only in 1974 does the "classic" line-up begin to assert itself as such. from here until 1976, holland and altschul are the first-call rhythm section, and only the brass chair changes - wheeler to lewis. during this three-year period, of course, several much-loved albums were recorded (although some of those only saw release a while later), and this above all is why the line-up of braxton, wheeler/lewis, holland and altschul is so enshrined in the "jazz memory" (*8).

in any case, that brings me up to date with braxtothon time: at the tail end of 1976, after a very full year of activity for the composer - and for free jazz and creative music generally - holland and altschul finally leave the band, and a major chapter has closed. i can now try and get to grips with exactly what was lacking in these two players, for me... and for starters, it's time to look at the whole "dave holland question".


as i've tried to make clear before, i really don't have a grudge against dave holland, nor am i on a mission to undermine his reputation - the aim of this blog is to listen closely and report back on my findings; that's it. however, my changing opinions on holland as a bandleader and composer in particular seem in some way emblematic of the drastic change in my hearing and taste which took place in the last few months of 2006. (my opinion of holland as a player has changed less, but anyone who has read the braxtothon entries at all over the last couple of years will know that i no longer consider him to have been ideally suited to b's music... this is all about to be explained.)

after a brief flirtation with jazz in my university days, i didn't seriously attempt to get into it until i was approaching thirty (which seemed like a good age for it!). having initially been drawn to dolphy, coleman, coltrane, ayler etc, i nevertheless tried to read up on the history of the music and learn as much as i could about (what i perceived to be) the key figures. at this time i had no friends who were particularly interested in jazz and had to collect as best i could on a limited budget, making use of the libraries wherever possible. (i managed to borrow a fair number of recordings since i was living in north london at the time; since i've been based in swansea the opportunities for such things are rather less, but then i've found other ways to do my research..!) i established fairly quickly that "premodern" jazz just didn't work for me, and concentrated on the modern players. while pursuing my original interest in free/avant-garde jazz, albeit rather slowly, i tried also to familiarise myself with parker, monk, mingus, miles davis, and with the blue note stable (these were always freely available, either as library borrowings or as cheap purchases). at this point i found myself listening mainly to recordings from the 50s and 60s, with only fairly occasional forays into more recent developments. names like braxton, mitchell, cecil taylor went down on a list somewhere to be explored further at a later date; i knew back then that these were beyond my understanding at that time, though i felt sure they would be of great interest later.

during this period (roughly 2000-05) i became familiar with lots of facts and figures, knew the basic details of some key discographies pretty well... and found that my understanding of the music remained more or less static. reviews by professional critics often left me scratching my head, wondering how they could hear the music with such clarity and hoping that i might one day come close to doing the same.

sometime around 2004-5, i began listening to the bbc radio programme jazz on 3 on a weekly basis, eagerly drinking in more contemporary sounds and trying to bring my knowledge of the scene up to date. the broadcasts would frequently include tracks from current cd issues, and my "to buy one day" lists got bigger and bigger... but, to my frustration, my understanding of the music still didn't increase much. part of the problem, i knew, was that i was usually doing other things while the music was playing, but... this didn't seem to be a complete explanation for it. i often couldn't really tell whether i liked something or not; if it didn't speak to me, i usually concluded that the fault was in me (*9) and that i just needed repeated exposure, better concentration, etc. my collection of cds grew steadily, as did my knowledge of names and facts, without any great shift in my hearing taking place. meanwhile, having time on my hands, i had become active on the bbc's jazz messageboard; i was aware that a hardcore contingent of posters were loudly opposed to jazz on 3 and to its presenter, jez nelson, in particular; i always thought they were being rather unfair (and indeed ungrateful) and sometimes told them so.

dave holland was one of my "certainties" at this time, someone whose albums i collected whenever the opportunity came up. conference of the birds, widely regarded as a timeless classic (*10), had been on one of my early "must-buy" lists; i got it as soon as i could, and was happy to agree with the general consensus (though i always found the themes a bit twee and dated). i also picked up the later albums as i came across them, and although some of the dhq offerings struck me as rather dull and samey, i put this impression to the back of my mind (assuming as always that i just needed to hear them more). holland's contemporary projects, both the quintet and big band, were very much still of interest to me at this time.

heading into the autumn and winter of 2006, i began to discover the emerging music blogging scene, just in time to get in on the action at church number nine (*11). now i had found my music, as i quickly realised. night after night found me in front of the computer, feverishly downloading rare albums and live sets, listening to them straight away (this "honeymoon period" was all too brief - soon enough i found myself overwhelmed), discussing my impressions excitedly with other listeners. i learned that i had been badly mistaken in one of my assumptions: that this was an ideal time to get into the music, since "everything" had been (re)issued on cd and was in print. nope! as it turned out, lots of crucial recordings had been lost to time, buried by general indifference. but the other important lesson was absorbed gradually, so that it took me a while to notice: my hearing changed. constant exposure to the sounds i'd been looking for all along meant that after a while, i heard everything differently. ironically, daily exposure to free jazz had achieved what countless hours playing hard bop cds couldn't: even mainstream recordings now appeared much more transparent to me. eventually, i found myself understanding precisely what the "jez nelson naysayers" meant - many of the broadcasts now sounded superficial and/or derivative to my ears, and the presenter struck me as shallow and uninformed. very often i could now assess within a few seconds whether or not a given piece of music was what i was looking for. i was soon able to go back through my "wants" lists and cut them in half...

... but this took a little while. there was an overlap period, during which i hadn't yet had the opportunity to update a lot of my opinions (and i'm tempted to put that word in inverted commas). approaching the end of 2006, i was still looking forward to jazz on 3's scheduled live performance by dhq, and indeed i'd asked a relative to buy me the latest album by the group, critical mass (i would later find this a staggeringly inappropriate name for an album in which nothing much happens, or nothing new at any rate..!). it was only when the cd arrived, and i first played it, that the penny really dropped. for a start, the opening track just sounded far too familiar: essentially, i now realised, holland had been turning out versions of the same piece for more than two decades now. this caused an uneasy feeling in me, which the rest of the album only increased: over the course of the next hour (i don't think i made it all the way through on this occasion), i developed an unshakeable impression of tired, formulaic, lifeless, sterile music. the scales had fallen from my ears, and nothing ever sounded quite the same to me again.


so that's how it goes with me and dave holland the composer-bandleader. i'm not suggesting that his music was always tired and sterile; and as regards his later output, it's not actually all that heretical of me to label it formulaic: even the two jeffs, not necessarily known for their heterodox opinions on active musicians, have been happy to go on record saying it, and rather more scathingly than i just did (*12). i can't remember now when exactly i first came across the notorious misha mengelberg blindfold test, in which the pianist (who is unable to identify the artist on a lateish holland excursion) declares the music he's hearing to be "anti-fun" and - on being told who it is - says with typical dutch bluntness that holland should never be allowed to lead an ensemble (*13). but in any case, the "updated" opinion i carried forward into 2007, and on into the braxtothon some months later, was (still) that dave holland the sideman possessed impeccable credentials. so when did my thinking start to change, and why?

as intimated in one of the notes above, the first time i can remember having reason to doubt holland's abilities as a player - at least in this context - was very near the end of braxtothon phase two, at the tail end of october 2007; it came as quite a shock. to be totally fair and accurate, it wasn't actually specific to holland, on that first occasion: listening to the quartet play comp. 23b at moers in 1974, within a few minutes i became aware of the bass and drums half asleep on the job, just cruising. i could hardly believe the conclusion i'd just reached - my original notes for the session find me wondering whether i was now just setting my standards ridiculously high..? was i just spoilt by insane musicianship and impossible expectations? but of course i had only just recently heard the same number played by the '73 band and was acutely aware of a difference in intensity (this one's probably thought of as a "fast" tune because it begins with fast horn lines, but it's a mid-tempo number and - i would rediscover on several occasions - that's precisely when this r-section is most likely to doze off for a spell)... is it too much, to ask of creative musicians that they play always and only from the centre - ? but no, it isn't too much; indeed it's a basic unspoken requirement, common to all the new approaches to serious music which grew up in free jazz soil.

'cos the point is that this was the first of numerous such "doldrums" which i began to pick up in the quartet's intensity levels from now on - and even then, for a while i came to associate these with wheeler, so rarely sure of what he wants to say when he's flung right out into free space, precisely where true free-spirited musicians instantly thrive; so that for a while i was partially blinded to the truth each time i hit on something true... but in any case, even in that first rather deflating session, i was quickly enough reminded of what holland's and altschul's strengths are: the moers set proceeds with the magickal, magisterial conception that is comp. 23e, far from the finished article at this stage (and not at all properly understood by me in that entry), yet still fizzing with massive energies, held under tight control by the r-section at the top of its game. quickly enough i was prepared to let the earlier lapse go as a one-off...

... because like everyone else i'd put a lot of personal faith in the idea of this rhythm section, had got so used to lapping up anything they got involved with during this period... i can remember first reading about "braxton's great quartet" of the 80s and thinking that surely no quartet could be better or greater than the line-up with lewis, holland, altschul... well, we all know i no longer think that, but i wasn't there yet. still, it took little or no time for the doubts to begin creeping back, and regularly from now on: and at first i laid this at the door of mr kenny wheeler. so often a boiling rhythm would simmer down to flatline levels when the trumpet came out, and this seemed to become more and more frequent as 1974 became 1975 - it may have been a vicious circle, because lack of intensity in the backing then left wheeler without much heat to build a fire with; but no-one ever hung back like that when lewis took a solo. ok, so during this next clutch of sessions i saw wheeler edging towards the door in my hindsight-influenced eye, knowing that gnu high was on the cards (and through it and out the other side, a modest but very well-regarded career as a composer of wistful ballad tunes), knowing that lewis took over soon enough... being so recent a convert to this sort of music, i was rather ignorant of the (smallish) extent to which wheeler did remain involved with free music after 1975; but then the weak spot in the group seemed so obviously to be him at this point that i got ahead of myself a bit. (i took some of it back rather when the "special quintet" gig from '76 turned up... reading that line-up gave me a bit of a shock i can tell you..!) yes, there were also times when holland's solos would put me half to sleep, or when he would seem to think slowest or react last in a group free-for-all... i still felt (assumed, really) that with wheeler gone, all this would change.

after all, 1975 saw what i still consider to the be the apotheosis of this particular band: not the album as such but the piece which occasioned the use of that picture, comp. 23e in all its glory, fully worked-up on the road and ready to crack open the earth, raise ayler's spirit from the grave. i said before that holland's studio work on this incredible piece may well represent his finest moment with braxton; who knows, it may well be the very best moment he's had on record, it would be no shame. the sonic alchemy being worked in that space laboratory is entirely dependent on holland's rock-steady arco technique (*14) and his magnificent control of the dynamics. and don't let's forget the non-schizoid twin, comp. 40n, if anything an even stiffer test of arco technique since it requires continuous stability and only fractional dynamic variance; but really, that powerhouse performance of 23e is (i realise now) the top of the curve as far as the loyal bassist was concerned. it actually was all downhill from there... not that the journey down wasn't still pretty enjoyable.

the rest has been harped on about in so many of my posts over the last two years that it's worth only a very brief recap, to wit: because the first crop of lewis sessions don't feature the quartet, i was fully (delightedly) aware of what those two could do together - and it was another system shock to find (as i could really have guessed by now) that holland and altschul just can't quite cut it in this company. it's really about holland, though: he's just not a thinker on that level and this has a terribly grounding effect on any far-flung flights of fancy. altschul... to an extent these two are joined at the hip, and so one can drag down the other at times (or inspire him at others), but in theory the band could lose holland, keep altschul and still move forward. a bit. basically... it's at an end now.


familiarity breeds contempt? i've said more than once that the "comfy old shoe" sensation of settling into a holland-altschul groove is one of the things i found hardest to overlook in the last few sessions... am i just now far too demanding, unfair? would a new listener come to any of these recordings and think simply, "what a completely great band"? some of them might... i did, once... but then i hadn't heard the duet sessions at that point in my life. anyway, be serious: i've heard a great many more solos by anthony braxton than i have by dave holland, and... (no need to finish that sentence)

- and the thing is, pick up the thread with holland after the end of '76, it's not as if he settles at once into something easy and undemanding, even if that's arguably what he settled for later on; no, he goes right back into playing (among other things) white-hot free jazz with sam rivers (and, usually, the other half of that pelvis, b. altschul, esq.). as late as 1980, at least, holland was still playing with rivers (*15) and sounded great. rivers' music at this time (at least for trio or quartet) played right up to holland's estimable strengths - let's just remind ourselves of what they are, of what miles davis saw just before he went "yeeeaaahhhh... that cat's a motherfucker" (*16): tireless forward momentum; extraordinary technical facility, built on hard graft and natural self-confidence; lovely sound (this alone might have got him the davis gig)... from the point of view of (fully) free jazz, holland has been one of those who picked up the thread from charlie haden and buell neidlinger, both in on the ground floor when the bass first cast off the shackles of "the changes" - combine this with his stamina, you can play at full throttle for a whole set and dave'll never flag, nor ever paint the soloists into a corner. ideal for the sam rivers school of modern creative music, where holland isn't called upon to think on his feet as such, just play well within himself (*17). paradoxically (as some greater minds would see it), this frees holland up to play his very best. again, it startled me when i heard the 1975 bremen recording: this was the latest full set of holland that i've enjoyed unequivocally with this band, on a set full of book two "standards" that consistently fails to inspire the leader by this stage. this is the demarcation line that separates the true visionaries: the fresh and new inspires them, pushes them beyond their current limits. our bassist falls into holding patterns whenever confronted by these same qualities.

how early could they have known? the august 1975 jazz hot carries a laurent goddet interview in which b. says (*18) "dave holland is indeed one of my closest friends and i often feel the need to play with him." these two (and these three, including altschul) had shared a lot, mostly in hard times. the holland family even put braxton up at one point, i believe (somewhat earlier). they both had every reason to put off the inevitable, to screen off from their own conscious minds the signals which would foreshadow it. but eventually, after joyous weeks scrying the cosmos with the 'bone wonder, b. the magus would have to get that sinking feeling: it can't go on like this, the music is being dragged backwards, or at best stretched in two directions at once. new blood will be needed, a complete rethink from the ground up. in the meantime, two paths diverge and head off into separate futures, it is to be hoped with no hard feelings on either side. much important work has been undertaken with these loyal assistants, and some great moments have been bequeathed to the library of free jazz.

lewis, of course, will return to b's music on several occasions... and continues to collaborate with him in other contexts too.

* see comments


end of braxtothon volume one (as i've just decided!)

- volume two will commence with phase five, coming next month... the ball is rolling again!

Friday, August 27, 2010

*** gtm concert here ***

ok, so here's one which was prepared earlier... i found it here, just recently (and a long time after it was originally posted - i've very much lost touch with most of the music blogs which are still active, especially those which came into being during the last two or three years).

the reason i've prepared my own version - of the 2000 concert, not the 2006 sextet (which i posted myself back on c#9 - probably a different rip, but it's long gone anyway, so those of you who didn't get it, download it now!) - is because, as the poster says, his file includes a number of "gaps". these dropouts are pretty numerous: i've removed at least thirty of them, and i don't know about anyone else, but i find these very irritating when listening to a performance. it's easy enough to overlook one or two, but after a while it becomes a sort of mental torture - you know that there will be another one along sometime soon, you just don't know when... hence, i edited them all out; and in all but one case, have restored seamless playback in so doing. (that one exception is detailed below, at the bottom.)

here is the file, split into two parts. (again, this is a personal thing, but i sometimes find it slightly easier to deal with these long performances if they're broken up a bit. it also makes life a bit easier when downloading.)

this is a superb concert, an example of gtm, second (i think) species. the original poster lists the piece as comp. 224, which seems unlikely to me. this concert did indeed take place in august 2000, and by that time b. was further through the opus numbers than that; needing always to keep moving forwards at the time, he would probably not have gone back to an earlier piece. the opus numbers within the 220-range were being laid down in 1998; in may 2000, the composer was already working through the 240s. by august of that year... well, i don't know which piece was played in lisbon, and i could be wrong in my assumptions... but if it is indeed a premiere (as listed), then i find it hard to believe that it's #224. doesn't really matter that much, though.

the instrumentation is an augmented version of the ninetet which played a short residency at yoshi's, oakland, in 1997. that group featured six reedmen, plus guitar, bass, drums; this one is stacked even more heavily in favour of the saxes with seven. seven! naturally, the leader makes his presence felt throughout the piece. as for the others: james fei and jackson moore are still there (here i am reliant on the original poster's info, of course, but there's no particular reason to doubt it); steve lehman is in the group by this point - he would become very important to b's expanded ensembles later, of course - and seth misterka and scott rosenberg can both be found on other recordings from round about this time. brian glick is unfamiliar to me, as is the bassist, seth dellinger (though a quick internet search reveals that there is indeed a bassist of that name). kevins o'neil and norton were both in the ninetet as well, and feature prominently in b's work of this period. the guitar and percussion add crucial tonal variety at many points throughout the set, but of course it's those stacked reeds which really dominate proceedings. i recommend headphones for this one, since it's otherwise quite hard to distinguish them all.

as the original poster suggests, the ending itself is truncated, although by the end of the recording we are clearly very close to the finish; it's not at all unusual for a gtm performance to end "in midair" as it were, giving an illusion of an endless piece - but experience suggests that the leader would immediately name the band members and offer his thanks on behalf of the ensemble; this is the bit which is most obviously missing, but we must have 99% of the performance here.

thanks to the original poster for making this excellent recording available. [i would have left a comment on his blog, however belatedly - but his is one of those which only accept comments after moderation, and i don't like to waste time and effort on comments which may never appear..!]

NB - the one exception mentioned above occurs at 9.25 in the second file. this was the only instance where removing the dropout did not result in seamless playback: a tiny fragment is actually lost, so that taking out the gap made for jarring listening. hence, i reinserted a small silence (0.2 secs to be precise!), this being my best compromise.

stay tuned, spread the word, keep the faith... etc etc :)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

65 - !! - (links dead)

[NEW - unedited version of rip now available (see bottom), in case anyone would prefer to index their own versions differently from me, etc... c x]

here are those same, celebratory recordings alluded to in the previous post, converted to handy mp3s by mcclintic sphere (thanks again!) - i've since split the second and third sets into separate tracks. link is at the bottom of this post.

over the last couple of days i've read up a bit more about these 65th birthday concerts, specifically the first of the two nights (as far as i can tell, b. himself didn't play at all on the second night). actually, i was mainly looking for the name of the person who replaced reut regev in the gtm 'tet - and i was unsuccessful in that, but i did find out a few interesting things. for some reason, the website i linked to last time places the sets in reverse order: on the night, the duo was first, then the trio/quartet and finally the expanded ensemble. there was other music on the programme too, but only these three sets featured the leader.

in point of fact, only the gtm piece was supposed to feature b. at all. richard teitelbaum was ready to play solo, and had prepared for the occasion some samples of b's playing from the duo's previous encounters; to his and everyone else's surprise, up jumped the honoree with alto in hand. the music, as i said last time, is extremely good: indeed the impromptu duet worked so well that many in attendance apparently assumed that teitelbaum was sampling b. live, rather than using prepared material.

again, the second set was billed as a trio of crispell, dresser and hemingway, not as the quartet. what they were intending to play after the second repetition structure may never be known, because of course what happened was another "stage invasion": as the trio began to navigate away from comp. 23c, b. joined them (to audible cheers) and it wasn't long before his first quote from "impressions" was picked up by the other three players and turned into a full rendition of the famous modern standard. since my last post i've identified the first piece played by the trio: it was comp. 69b. as previously stated, this was followed by comps. 40(o) and 23c, thus giving us a brief selection of materials from the second, third and fourth books for the creative ensemble. "impressions" of course closed the set.

finally, the evening was brought to a close by the one set intended to feature the composer: the gtm piece interpreted by the 12+2tet. this, in turn, is simply an augmented version of the famous 12+1tet which gave us the glorious iridium box, and another official recording since - as i mentioned above, the only member of that group who didn't make it back for this reunion was trombonist reut regev (anyone know why?): thb was there of course, as were james fei, steve lehman, andrew raffo dewar, jay rozen, sara schoenbeck, nicole mitchell, mary halvorson, jessica pavone and aaron siegel; carl testa was on bass, rather than chris dahlgren (both have played in this group); the extra player was another returning reedman, chris jonas. again, as i said above, i haven't been able to identify the player who replaces regev here and i can't say for sure that it's even a trombonist (perhaps if i listened to the whole set just for that i might be a bit more confident! not even i am that obsessive about such details). b's thanks at the end of the set take in all the players, as always, and the missing name sounds to me like "makiko reid". anyone familiar with a japanese-american of that name?*

here is the music

(i am using the latest version of audacity now, and i haven't yet had much of a chance to get my head round it... i am sure i could have done a much better job of tagging the files when i split them. the resulting mp3s may be numbered rather confusingly; accordingly, i have included a text file with full track details including the running order and timings.)

here also (rather belatedly!) is the original stream rip, in three unedited sets c/o mcclintic sphere

* see second comment for the answer...

Thursday, August 5, 2010

update/65th birthday celebrations

well, let's start with the 65th birthday bash... i've been so out of touch lately that i didn't know about this beforehand - knew nothing about it until a month later, in fact - and i'm actually kinda glad that i didn't, since i couldn't have afforded to go anyway... but reading about it after the fact still makes me wish i had been there. don't the good vibes just leap off the page?

- i have to thank mcclintic sphere (again) for tipping me off about this (the event generally and that webpage in particular)... by now, with my posting having slowed down as much as it has, i have to assume that even fewer people are checking in here than they were before, and that most of those who have peeped in here over the last month won't have seen mcc's comment on this year's birthday post: hence my saying a word or two about the music now. if you haven't already done so, be sure to check out those streams!

what we've got there: out of the various performances which (apparently) took place over two nights of richly-deserved celebration, the site has made available for streaming the three which feature the maestro himself. these, in turn, rather neatly sum up some of b's most important, most rewarding projects - at least, out of those on which he himself has played. (i would not want to suggest that, say, the piano music or the opera cycle are not important or rewarding.) that said, there's nothing here with george lewis... but still, one gtm piece, one mini-set from the great quartet (although, see below for what that actually entailed), and one short duet with arguably b's longest-standing collaborator; these between them comprise a powerful "brief history". (only those who crave standards, or who perversely insist on the superiority of the 70s recordings, will be disappointed here.)

the first stream features an expanded 12+2tet tackling a third species gtm territory (*1); it's short, around twenty minutes, but very successful and (almost inevitably) filled with activity and excitement. less than half the usual length for such an undertaking, it does miss some of what we've come to expect - not much time for impromptu readings of pieces from the (now vast) songbook(s), and no particular fireworks from the leader, but it's still well worth a listen. actually, the collective's ability to distil its potentials into small spaces is even better exemplified by the fabulous four-minute encore.

the second is - well, it is talked up on the webpage as a reunion for b's classic eighties quartet, and indeed it was, just about: but the version of "impressions" highlighted on that page is actually the only part of the 33-minute set to feature the hornman. the first three quarters of it were played by only three quarters of the band... this is hardly much of an objection, though, since those three players are of such stratospherically high calibre. the set - which for me was rather dominated by mark dresser's massive bass sound and presence - was not (of course) an improvisation, as the webpage gives it; when did this band ever play fully improvised sets..? no, it's rather a semi-collage set: "semi-" because there doesn't seem to be a lot of mix-and-match going on, though in terms of their interaction and group identity, the trio sounds as if it never disbanded. i can't currently put an opus number to the first piece played, though it's very distinctive and must presumably have been part of the book for the '85 tour (doubtless in a year or so i'll be able to name it right away...); this is followed by the first of two repetition structures, comp. 40(o) - which crispell especially seems to enjoy playing (*2); then a short drum solo; a second repetition structure, this time the additive series comp. 23c, and finally of course the cover, the aforementioned coltrane standard "impressions" which our man obviously loves, since he has played it many times over the years (though usually solo; it's actually highly unusual for a set like this to feature another composer's piece, but hey, this was a special occasion).

finally, there is a rivetting, highly-charged improvisation between b. and richard teitelbaum, which for me is probably the pick of the three - just fantastic, and here, at last, the maestro unleashes some of his very best extended techniques and most ferocious playing.

basically, you can't go far wrong with these short sets - really (for me) the only thing missing is an actual solo performance as such... and it might have been nice to hear the quartet play an entire set... but our man was the guest and honoree on this occasion, and perhaps he didn't want to play too long at his own party. in any case, the music presented is more than good enough. enjoy :)


now, the update... with the last braxtothon phase four session finally done and dusted (goddamn), there is only one article left to post before i move on to the next phase, and a new methodology with it (making more use of the composition notes, for a start... not that i will ever be a "proper" musicologist of course... until further notice you will not find any notation or "correct" musical analysis here). that one remaining article is of course the "quartet autopsy" as promised, and it's getting ready to be birthed as i write... no, really... this one should be up within the next couple of weeks, barring any unforeseen disasters; let's face it, it's long overdue. anyone who's still reading... stick around, there is more on the way!

* see comments