Sunday, February 28, 2010

(there once was a ) music file here

well, a little one: download

- this is the alexander hawkins sextet, as featured in session on a recent edition of the bbc radio programme jazz on 3. hawkins, based in oxford (also home to the locals, the group co-led by pat thomas and alex ward which plays all-braxton sets... or used to at any rate), has been making quite a name for himself in the u.k. over the last few years, and may also be known to stateside readers through his membership of the convergence quartet, which also includes taylor ho bynum.

i didn't manage to record the show myself, and i'm grateful to a correspondent (who wishes to remain anonymous) for sending me this file. it's a relatively low bitrate mp3, for interest only... no, it's not something you can put on your shelf and polish and stroke lovingly, for those who fetishise their music collections in this way... it is nevertheless perfectly listenable! anyway... since i didn't record the whole thing, but only listened to it once, i can't remember exactly what hawkins said about braxton, but it was something along the lines of his being "the main point of reference for contemporary jazz" (eek - yes, the "j-word" was in fact used, i do remember that much). one or two of the hawkins originals in the ensuing set did seem to betray b's influence; but then, after those words came so close to the end of the interview, it's perhaps not surprising that i heard them that way.

ok, now this is where it starts to get a bit complicated. the piece - which i believe was described as a medley, inaccurately if so - is listed on the programme's webpage as comp. 69(1)+6(o)+40(o). actually the letter "o" was replaced by zeros where it occurs, but we'll ignore that... except we can't, quite, because whoever put the setlist together clearly knows relatively little about the braxton canon*1: numbers instead of letters is easy enough to correct in the case of the 6 and 40 series pieces, but is problematic for the other since of course comp. 69(1) does not exist. the obvious substitution to make is comp. 69i; but in practice it is extremely unlikely to be that, since - according to restructures - that particular piece has never even been recorded by b. himself, only by the splatter trio. they almost certainly had access to b's scores; hawkins would not, i think (in any case he doesn't seem overly familiar with the canon himself - he said in the interview that these pieces were originally written for quartet, "but work ok for this group" or words to that effect; but they weren't written for quartet, they are from the creative ensemble books and hence are suited to any small group).

- in any event, i really don't think the first theme we hear is an unrecorded piece, for the simple reason that i'm pretty sure i recognise it -! the more i hear it, the more familiar it seems... but i'll be damned if i can place it, and so far i have not been able to identify it from cross-checking likely recordings. it is definitely not comp. 69j (which seemed like another reasonable possibility), nor for that matter 69h or 69k or... you get the idea. so, please: if anyone can tell me what piece is being played at the start of this file, i will be very grateful!

as for the rest of it - on first hearing, not quite giving the music my undivided attention (though i thought i was listening fairly closely), i didn't hear the other listed pieces either. 40(o) is of course a repetition series, and one i've heard many times in numerous different versions - but i would have been expecting to hear the whole band play the theme, at least, in unison... and i suppose this is what i was (half-!)listening out for. and 6(o) is a gorgeous ballad structure which i would have expected (again) to recognise at once. but if the piece was described as a medley - in which a succession of different themes are played as one unit - that's erroneous: this performance is really (an attempt at) a collage structure, as pioneered by b's great quartets of the mid-eighties. from around 3.15, while the leader continues playing the first composition (or perhaps just improvises), the cello and bass do indeed begin to bow slowly the written bass parts from comp 6(o)*2, or at least i think that's they are (!); and at 5.08, with this slow arco stateliness still in effect, hawkins embarks on a very fast reading of the 40(o) theme, possibly taking a few liberties with the written line by the sound of things (maybe another reason why i didn't pick it first time round).

this approach - the ensemble starts out playing a piece, then one or more members begin playing something else, and later yet another is joined by someone else again, while the rest of the band continue whatever they were doing - is very much in the spirit of the "forces in motion" group, and some kudos is due to hawkins for even trying it. i'm not sure it's an unmitigated success, bearing in mind that for much of the piece, only certain players seem to be playing any composition, the others just doing whatever - but again, maybe this is me rather than them, and subsequent hearings may yet uncover further subtleties as yet undetected. in any case, it's good to hear someone taking this sort of challenge on, and i hope that hawkins continues to develop this concept in future. in the meantime, i hope people enjoy the music... and once again: if anyone can name that first piece for me, with its highly distinctive, "walking" written line - do please leave a comment!

* see comments.


centrifuge said...

1. the programme in question has been accused many times over the years of (among other things) being a bit free and easy with little things like accuracy of details. in the case of this particular edition, the blurb on the webpage promises "a combination of group improvisations, composed pieces and tunes by Sun Ra and Wadada Leo Smith", when in fact the sun ra number which the band *used* to play is not featured in this set; neither is any leo smith composition actually listed, though again, presumably the sextet has played at least one piece by him before, possibly on the album (?). no mention is made of braxton, leroy jenkins or jerome cooper and oliver lake in the introductory para, though the "covers" played in the session are in fact by them. (eartrip editor david grundy tells me that some of the originals are listed the wrong way round, too. this, it must be said, is pretty much par for the course as regards this programme i'm afraid.)

2. - but the familiar 6(o) flute melody never appears, which is why i say the piece does not qualify as a medley, whatever else it might be.

Anonymous said...

Will he tell you if you contact him directly?

centrifuge said...

thx for the tip, not sure why i didn't think of that ;-)