Monday, April 11, 2011

antibes quartet '75

one of the things i try to do here from time to time is provide track listings for braxton boots which are circulating on the net... some of these articles end up spiralling out of control and becoming "extra" (i.e. unscheduled) braxtothon stops; usually i try to avoid saying too much about the music itself, and limit myself for the most part to general comments about the primary materials, noting when a given territory is entered, and making the odd observation which seems relevant at the time.

this time the concert in question is from b's 1975 european tour, and it comes from a continuing series of audience recordings posted by riccardo at inconstant sol. the sound quality in this case is not fantastic, but it's perfectly acceptable for a small group, all four players being clearly audible throughout. (as is often the case with such recordings, people can be heard talking in the audience, but here it's only an issue early in the set.) there is quite a lot of tape hiss at times. it's not audiophile quality for sure, but anyone with a genuine interest in the music will find a way to listen past such limitations... the programme is just over an hour long, one set and an encore, and although it's not specified it was presumably presented as part of the famous antibes jazz festival.

braxton/wheeler/holland/altschul - 25/7/75, antibes

main set

comp. 23e
comp. 23j
?? (transition phase inc. clarinet solo)
comp. 40f
comp. 23g

- it's actually quite refreshing to come across a live set from this period which doesn't contain any of the fall 1974 side a pieces (i.e. comps. 23b-c-d)... i had been getting just a little tired of hearing those, especially since our man sounds by this time as if he himself is rather less than inspired by playing them yet again; and of course i've mentioned numerous times before that comp. 23b in particular runs the risk of allowing this rhythm section to nod off. looking at the set-list, the other thing which is most obviously missing is one of the repetition structures (apart from comp. 23c itself, which is technically a repetition structure but which has extra characterisitics of its own, there would very often be a rendition of either comp. 6f or comp. 40(o)) - during the course of the braxtothon i found myself concluding that these pieces acquired a new lease of life when george lewis joined the band, but in the meantime it's not at all unusual for this band to play at least one of those numbers. they are, therefore, notable here by their absence... finally, there is a first (for me) in this set: i have never previously heard comp. 40f played by this version of the band. [when i covered the dortmund version of this, i wondered "aloud" whether or not it had been written while wheeler was still in the band, and didn't check... this recording answers that question. it's not a "full" reading - see below - but here it is, already being unveiled to audiences more than a year before lewis got hold of it.]

the recording begins just after the beginning of comp. 23e, this majestic piece seemingly etched permanently onto the set-list around this time; and that's not too surprising since it had just recently been "perfected" in the studio in new york - when i wrote about the bremen concert, i tentatively came to the (apparently wrong) conclusion that the studio version had already been waxed (*1); in this instance, it seems certain that the band has already been into the studio with the piece and is well used to playing it, even a little over-comfortable with it, since the actual moment of transition which completes the written theme does not really occur very cleanly, and is if anything rather anticlimactic. still, it's a great piece and if it sounds slightly odd to be hearing at the start of a set, it's suitably dramatic for the occasion.

round about 12.30 (*2), with b. on flute, there are trace elements of 23c after all, and possibly other things too (?), but 23e is always a long number and there is no actual change of territory until 18.15ish, when there is a sudden and somewhat unconvincing shift into comp. 23j. as with the montreux version, i am left feeling that wheeler does not possess enough firepower to be taking this one on, and there is not quite enough energy in the mix; but the leader does not seem to be held back by that, delivering a scorching first alto solo of the day. holland's bass solo is not bad either... when the restated theme finishes abruptly around 32 mins, the audience (all of whom will be hearing the piece for the first time) doesn't realise, so there is no applause; the band immediately wanders into a transition phase, which itself quickly gives way to an unaccompanied clarinet solo - if this, or any of the other materials played during these few minutes constitute an actual composition as such then i can't place it. gradually other voices enter and there is a little more meandering along. [STOP PRESS - arf! - yeah, could well be a solo piece in there somewhere, one of the 8s or 26s i would guess... haven't nailed this one down yet by any means. further work in progress...]

at 37.30ish, a very fast comp. 40f begins. as i said above, i've never heard this played by wheeler and it's clearly still in development at this stage; it sounds a little directionless and b's alto solo quotes comp. 23g, at which point the band quickly begins moving in that direction. around 42.55 23g proper commences, the original pulse track piece (new readers will need to bear in mind b's own very specific use of this phrase, since what he calls a pulse track does not necessarily represent what most listeners would expect from a "pulse"). just after 44 mins there is what sounds like a sound fault but is probably a (well-)spliced tape flip - it results in "continuous" play, but we have missed a little bit of the performance. there is another terrific alto solo in this number, really full of energy and heat, the inherent tension in the theme-plus-pulse-track exploding here in a way that the studio version never quite does.


"see-saw" (holland)

- i've never heard this played by a braxton quartet before (well - not until very recently *3), but it shows that holland's pieces were occasionally dropped into the live sets before the graz concert - there is a neat symmetry here actually, since graz finishes off with comp. 6i... and just in case there was ever a question of borderline plagiarism over the nature of this theme (i was a big fan of this one back in the days before i was familiar with the braxton number which blatanty inspired it)... no hard feelings at all apparently, which is only as need be... anyway... wheeler seems very comfortable playing this, producing a very agile solo which never sounds lost at all, in contrast to some of his performances during the last year of his tenure. possibly there is a big clue here: holland's tune, that much simpler and less knotty than one of b's, maybe makes wheeler feel slightly more at home. in any case, he will eventually show himself to be happiest when dealing with relatively conventional tonalities. here and today, it's a good encore which guarantees a rousing finish.

and that's that... i found this an enjoyable if non-essential performance, the playing generally very good, some of the readings of the repertoire a little sloppy at times. as always... it's worth hearing!

* see comments

1 comment:

centrifuge said...

1. of course, as regards dates and venues etc for boots, all bets are off until someone actually produces a ticket stub (or at least a flyer ..!)

- logically it seemed sound enough: gradually, over time, the band has learned how to build 23e up and approach transition, then make the leap; and here it sounded as if they had already perfected it and were playing with it for their own entertainment (or rather the leader's). the flaw in my reasoning is that whilst the premise is entirely reasonable, it doesn't preclude the possibility that the piece was worked up 100% on the road and then taken *back* a step to "crystallised perfection" when the band got to NYC. this one was for posterity after all. and it's a masterpiece {{{aaa}}}

2. since i don't have the computer at present, i have to go with the vague timings that i grabbed when i *did* still have the damn thing!! (computer explanation follows in next post, any minute now)

3. it was reprised for the boston gig at the tail end of the year. until such time as someone discovers otherwise, i'm basically inferring that boston was last stop for this band

(boston write-up TBA)