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.