Monday, September 26, 2011

a bit of a mystery...

while i'm sorting out the braxton/mitchell "rivalry" post (which i'll aim to put up before the end of the week), here's a quickie... the artist formerly known as king kennytone recently drew my attention to this audio clip, which (despite the tiny size of the file) is actually 46 mins long, not so much a clip really as an incomplete concert... it's quite interesting, but my main reason for posting about it is to cast doubt on (virtually all) the published details... as you will see if you download it, the concert purports to be the "braxton quartet" (though whoever is playing on this, it's very unlikely to have been a regular working group), wollman auditorium, columbia university (nyc) - the date is given as june 13th 1976, although some doubt is allowed there. tafkaKK found it here, though it probably originates from dime by the looks of it; the "details" which were supplied with the recording are also duplicated here (as i discovered while conducting my own, totally inconclusive, research into concerts b. played at that venue).

ok, so... going from the top:

if the date is correct, this should be the correct personnel:
Anthony Braxton - reeds and flute
A. Johnson - piano
Dave Holland - bass
Oliver Johnson - drums 

- why "should" this be the correct personnel? what evidence is there that this line-up was playing with b. at that time, and who the hell is "a. johnson" anyway?!  even assuming that's a typo (may have meant to write "a. davis" - anthony davis is indeed a plausible guess for this period, although muhal richard abrams is pretty much equally plausible... and there could easily be other names added to the list), why would one assume that oliver johnson was still drumming with b. in 1976, when he doesn't appear in the discography after 1972? for that matter, i'm also not convinced that this is indeed dave holland on bass - to me the arco technique sounds shakier than holland's, which is normally ultra-reliable. (my opinion doesn't have "casting vote" status here, and i'm not saying definitively that it's not holland - just that my impression was that it isn't. fwiw a bass-playing friend of mine agrees with me that this doesn't sound like dh; he suggested maybe fred hopkins..?)

even though we don't have the definitive date, this is most likely as it's the only time AB is confirmed to have played this venue.

most likely... mmm. b. played this venue on several occasions, though not necessarily as a leader; for example, the leroy jenkins/jcoa for players only album was recorded there in 1975. but in 1977, the same venue saw the four-day aacm residency described by lewis in a power... (if anyone is interested in this, whitney balliett's detailed write-up is available here.) could this recording not perhaps date from then..?

The first 10 minutes are a duo of AB and Holland. Then the drums come in for 10 minutes of trio

- what amazes me here is how the screamingly obvious gets totally overlooked. yes, the opening ten mins are played as a duo (whoever the bassist is... and yes, of course the annotator did at least get the piece right, it is indeed comp. 40f); and around 10.35, during the bass solo which so often with b. signals a change in focus and/or primary materials, applause indicates that other players are taking the stage. we do then get a few cymbal taps (though this is in fact the last percussion we hear for several minutes); but the most noteworthy detail is that two flutes are quite clearly heard in the next section. did the writer actually listen to the music at all, or just guess?? (actually there are times around 15-16 mins where it almost sounds like three flutes, plus bass - still no drums at all - but i can't quite make my mind up about this; what's not in doubt is that there are at least two!)

- at 16.55ish the piano enters and another piece is being played. (this nagged at me - it might be comp. 40n but i'm not certain of that, the role of the bass is not quite the same for a start.) now we actually do get some drums, as well as bass - there are still two flutes audible. in other words, what we are hearing at this point is a quintet (at least!). by 19.30, it really does sound at times as if there are two flutes onstage and another reed, presumably a high-pitched sax - but this impression comes and goes and it's not as if i have spent hours and hours poring over the recording. anyway, this piece continues until 28.00 precisely at which point a descending piano figure, which has been repeated several times already, suddenly leads to free-for-all mayhem; and that's what we get until the abrupt ending during the 47th minute.

don't get me wrong, i'm always grateful when new recordings show up. what irritates me - if i hadn't made that clear - is the way people all too frequently add dubious information to such recordings (presumably in the hope of making themselves look more knowledgeable than they really are) rather than just admitting that they don't know. we are told that orchiddoctor, who supplied the tape, is certain of the venue; assuming that this is reliable, could we not just have left it at that? "venue known, date and personnel unclear, any help etc etc" would have been vastly preferable to information which is likely to be wrong, and is probably only a guess anyway, but which will now reverberate around the trading community till doomsday, this being the way such things tend to go: mistakes are invariably repeated. i myself am quite happy to say that i don't know who plays on this and i won't even try and guess the year, though i would say that mid-seventies is almost certain because of the material; it wouldn't surprise me if at least one other high-profile player turned out to be have been involved (which is why i wondered about the 1977 aacm-fest), but we may well never know for sure. never mind, never mind... there are more important things to worry about than this. still, if anyone can help with any details here - useful ones that is - do please drop me a line!

Monday, September 19, 2011

the experts (1) - thb sextet 2010

(since i had in mind - still do - a brief post about that first james fei album, the symmetry seemed too perfect to ignore when i caught up with this recording the other day... of the "wesleyan period", these are definitely two of the guys i'd have at the top of my experts list when it comes to b's music..!)

taylor ho bynum sextet at saalfelden jf 2010

this concert knocked me the fuck out, no kidding... it comprises one complex, long-form piece and one long encore, a (not exactly improvised) skewed blues which is just pure pleasure...

the leader opens the first piece himself, taking a little time to establish some of his core vocabulary (and also establishing a pattern as we shall see). the next thing i really remember is a very hot alto solo by jim hobbs which certainly grabbed my attention, but in any case the main section which follows the opening is what sticks in the mind best 'cos this was damn hot intelligent groove-based stuff with all sorts of spikes and concealed pockets, and it had me thinking of charles tyler and steve reid... this the first of several sets of names i shall invoke over the course of this brief enquiry, not with a view to pigeonholing mr bynum, nor even to aiding the reader with an understanding of his music since this was, after all, just one performance..., but rather in the course of making a wider point.

two basic things about the structure of "apparent distance": the leader's cadenzas punctuate it, not only revealing more about thb's language and personal expressiveness each time, but also signalling transitional shifts between territories (sound familiar?); and solos are not quite the same as normal here - wait,  that is, they are just the same, but somehow much greater than the sum of their parts, each player besides the leader enjoying one phase of totally dominating the group sound in addition to all the interaction required of them. (thb admits afterwards that it's a hard one to play!)

for a long while in the middle of the piece (which lasts around 45 mins btw) the name which kept coming back to mind was henry threadgill - specifically the sextett, above all suggested by the instrumentation (two brass, one reed plus double strings): the unusual combination allowed for some fabulously rich and "liveable" group textures, and besides which, for anyone with even a little knowledge of thb's past associations, a look down the personnel list brings a frisson of excitement, since one knows this band just can't fail... that too is a hallmark of the threadgill sextett! the music itself - apart from that long main section kicked hard into motion by hobbs, it didn't necessarily remind me of anyone for the most part, it changed and shifted constantly and never let me doze off at all...

... till another last cadenza by the leader had me marvelling at how much richness he could infuse into simple close-mic'd exhalations of breath, then mixing this in with his playing (in a manner which reminded me at once of b., though the spirit of bill dixon also seemed to hover over the performance *1,2) - what these references really indicate though is the level of mastery being achieved here, the sound of a vocational creative musician after countless hours of hard work and detailed soul-searching; towards the end of this final major statement by the leader, tomas fujiwara starts up a dry, rattling march to the scaffold and an echo of another (possible) funeral drum appears (comp. 23a *3). the gravity of the theme which takes us out, when it eventually arrives, had me thinking this time of the early mothers of invention (with the superb-as-always mary halvorson filling in here for don preston, occupying much the same areas of the group-space). it really is an impressive ending to a most interesting piece.

(i hope that it is really superfluous to repeat that) none of these reference points above is cited for any other reason than to give a sense of how listening to this band allows us to hang out with masters past and present... precisely the value of witnessing such a performance is that it reaffirms that special experience of the fully committed, which is that one's attention and wholehearted desire to learn is rewarded with access to the great continuum, and one begins channelling energies from outside - from the collective knowledge pool of the great minds... i have experienced this myself in martial arts practice, and can therefore imagine it applying in the same way to music - and indeed to numerous other artforms; one arrives at a state of focus wherein any questions one has are immediately answered, as if from within... and for a short while in our confused lives, all is laid out and clearly visible... in any case i don't have to imagine anything here, not when i can hear it for myself, can recognise the (heightened/sharpened) state by the effects it has on the ensemble.

i haven't mentioned that the drummer's role is pretty demanding above all on this long piece, everyone has to concentrate hard for a long time (though everyone gets to lay out at times too) but the drummer is called upon to provide a great deal of fire and momentum, and tomas fujiwara does not let us (or his regular duo partner) down.

the encore is just announced as "a blues", a light relief for the band after such a hard main course but, naturally, this is game playing of a very high order, recalling of course the piece simply entitled "blues" from mr lewis' masterpiece homage to charles parker - in some ways, and merely because it cannot possibly be unaware of it - and with shades of many other highly-refined practitioners of artistic entertainment... the dutch spring to mind, more braam-de joode-vatcher than icp perhaps, but that sort of level of sophisticated play - the name mostly other people do the killing also leaps to mind, although this deep-cleanse debrief (after the intense opening number) is far less manic than MOPDtK: in any case it is easy, relaxed-yet-watchful ludic mastery on all sides and just sheer "earoticism" for the listener... the ending is totally unexpected, simple and highly effective!

when mr bynum tells us afterwards how lucky he feels to have this band available at this time, etc, it could all get a bit gushy but in truth, after a performance like that (and with deeply-bonded players in some cases... jim hobbs and thb go way back, he and halvorson have been through a lot together too..!) we can well imagine how astoundingly privileged he must feel, looking round the stage at his marvellous players, all of whom are gathered here to play for him... it gives shivers, rather than any nausea - ! the sort of non-arrogant pride which no heart need ever feel shameful about reflecting.


i mailed thb to gush a bit, later the same day..! then the next day i dug out another recording, this one from (i think) the last time i recorded a show from radio 3, namely this one - and before i even got to the music i heard (prob. for the first time) the little interview in which bynum talks of how interested he is in (writing and arranging for) unusual instrumentations; he doesn't namecheck threadgill as such on this occasion (though that is the obvious comparison, for medium-sized ensembles especially) but he does communicate his evident fascination for unorthodox sound groupings and collective timbres. on this earlier occasion the sextet has two (unconventional) guitarists - mary halvorson joined by evan (not ed - sorry taylor!) o'reilly - and jessica pavone on further stringage, plus (another former braxton lieutenant) matt bauder on tenor, the ever dependable mr fujiwara on drums... so a totally different set of combinations of course, and indeed totally different music since this was a suite of three distinct compositions; but, again, as alive and vibrant and filled with the unknown as a rainforest at night.

- and finally there remains the (large) question of b's influence... of course it is there, and openly acknowledged; and traces of b's music can also be heard at times in the (super-)structural blueprints for bynum's "suites of rooms": he seems to favour longer, developed pieces in concert at least, whether several numbers segued together, or a single collection of experiences linked by the same guide or narrator - and it doesn't take a huge leap to see that this latter description could easily apply to diamond curtain wall or, especially, to gtm. BUT this music is not the same as either of those modalities, nor the same as anyone else's concept: this is taylor ho bynum's music, and the two concerts i heard over the two days, utterly different as they are, have more in common - in terms of shared artistic animus - than either has with anything else i can think of. highly highly recommended.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

tangential intersect with centrispace

much movement behind the scenes, round these parts... this last weekend has been a long one, no work on sunday, and with the girls gone overnight on saturday, i had the long-awaited opportunity to expand and relax, fill the house with music all day and into the night, actually clean up the place somewhat, do some tai chi, some typing and even watch a movie (something i often think of doing on "me time" but rarely achieve - it was time well spent. *) - as well as the parker duets post and sorting out the location sheet for the slideshow, i have written the long-promised "rivalry?" preamble piece, bar a little minor tweakage/date-checking: it will be ready to go up a bit later this month. there is also another vignette on the way about james fei's first solo album on leo lab (hardly recent or anything, just overlooked). we'll see about students studies 3 (can't see why not) and then... shd be about ready to polish off the actual braxtothon session/s for those pesky duets after all this time. like i say... it's properly underway now, no more circling around and around...

... and yes, jon-a, that really is right isn't it, "act 2" of comp. 126 is just a recap of that last section of act one. how did i not pick that up... mmm, i'm gonna blame that on my friend mary jane, she is a terror for taking my attention this way and that at times - if i'm not really focussed on something (which i wasn't, as i said at the time)i can lose the plot a bit really... iirc i did think something was a bit odd but then got confused and certainly didn't go back and check. (if the truth be known... even for me, couldn;t be arsed to go down that road right then and there. thanks again to jon, for the heads up) - i shall mail mr leo feigin to see what (if anything) he remembers about this... the chance of getting the full story at this stage in the proceedings seems rather feeble, alas...

more soon, c x

* comment

slideshow one

just occurred to me a few weeks ago... in case anyone is interested... here is a folder containing all the original pics i've used so far. there's a few extras in there too... and a text file with all the location details and a (very) few anecdotal remarks... almost all the shots were taken by me, two exceptions i think, and the vast majority of them date from a five-month driving trip round europe undertaken by mr and mrs c. in 2003 (april-august). well... i always knew it had been the right thing to do, for a variety of reasons :)

it shd be clear to most by now that i am not a real photographer (fauxtographe we can say in french, a perfectly homophonic pun implying one is a "false/fake" photographer - doesn't work in english alas). i have an artist's eye for (simple or complex) composition and that's about it - even when i used an SLR (for years growing up) i never learned how to master the camera properly, too lazy a student even then, but i usually managed to take shots that were and are good enough for me, and that's all that's important really - besides, who knew how much use i would end up getting out of some of them once i got confined to a low-end digital (most taken with an old canon powershot A40, more recent ones with an A80, that's that!)... i wonder if i haven't sort-of created an artform here, or helped to co-create one, at any rate...

slideshow with music works wonders! repeated exposure may open up doors in your dreams {{{@@@}}} 

***BONUS - if there are any hardcore c#9 fans left out there, this much smaller group of nine pics will bring back a stab of nostalgia ;-)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

london (new york) masters

*** music file included*** -  see end of post.

man... it seems a looooong time ago now, even by the delays-as-usual standards of this 'ere blog, that i first planned to write something excitable about this concert; and for a whole variety of reasons, i just never ever did. (it's hardly a singularity in that regard.) since then, i acquired this album and that (naturally) changed the nature of the still-planned post (still planned because - i repeat myself once again - the photo was already earmarked!); now it was more a matter of generalising about what the two recordings had in common, etc. or was it? i still didn't get round to writing about either of them.

in a (very real) way, there isn't much to say about them anyway - even for me (compelled as i am to describe and delineate that which others would leave to speak for itself). like all fully (or largely) improvised music, the sets cover too much territory to be usefully "mappable"; and besides... is it not enough, just to know that you are guaranteed to hear two world-class grandmasters, wholly absorbed in the process of co-creating? what reader of this blog is going to require any further incentive..? but there remain just a couple of things i wanted to share about them (as well as a further point which will follow)... first, one might think it would be common knowledge by now (but it probably isn't) that these two men are not always defiantly "awkward" sounding or intellectuals-only in their playing: far from it, and indeed when i first heard the new york boot, the opening few minutes had me thinking of lee konitz and warne marsh rather than any two free firebreathers. (admittedly this doubtless had a lot to do with the fact that i had just been listening to those two gentlemen in the car on my way home..! back when the car stereo still worked, aha...) the earlier london concert begins with a similar passage of quiet restraint, both players essaying very hushed, breathy attacks which only gradually become something more forceful... of course, once that force is achieved it's as if it had always been there in the first place, though initially inaudible... the sheer tensile strength of both players' timbres is a continual marvel. parker, incidentally, usually sounds nothing like marsh who often played with a sound which belied its tenor origins: in these duets, parker's tenor consistently "outweighs" braxton's alto, and it's usually easy enough to hear who's playing what -  although there are moments too when both players are letting rip and it becomes harder, the sound more fully enmeshed...

... which is the other thing i wanted to mention, because in those (glorious) moments when both men are really pulling out all the stops and using various extended techniques (multiphonics, circular breathing etc) at the same time, the ensuing storms seem to be more like the work of a saxophone quartet than a duo :)

now, that other thing... mr parker had of course been b's last instructor on the saxophone: sometime in the mid-seventies, he taught b. circular breathing. (i have still not been able to pinpoint this date in the recorded legacy yet... we'll get there. doesn't have to be me..!) he is also one of a pretty small number of guys whom i would consider to be on an equivalent level of mastery with b. quite a few of the others have either left us or are numbered among the usual aacm suspects... i'm not about to undertake an exhaustive list here, you understand - but it's worth mentioning at this point that in an interview for bbc radio 3 in 2004 (*1) b. began by saying that since he found himself in england again he wanted to express his love and admiration for... the following six players, a short list which i (being me) at once committed to memory: i remember it was derek bailey first, then five reedmen in no order... parker coxhill osborne harriott watts. (nor would that have been an exhaustive list; 's just those were the names - the voices - to which b. felt compelled to pay his respects on the night. if i used the same shortlist as a starting point i might add, say, john butcher who is clearly not just a master but a grandmaster of some standing. alan wilkinson would be on the list too.) ANYway... the point: these two hold each other in great respect, so when b. declined parker's invitation to renew the acquaintance in duo (for what i soon found out was this residency two years ago), this was not, he made clear to me, any sort of snub against mr parker - far from it. no, he was simply sick of seeing his music be hijacked for someone's else's 10-second coffee-table trend, i'm putting words in his mouth there you understand, but i know he did dread too much the thought of reading reviews in some journal or other to the effect that the performance was "the best thing he'd done in years" - what invariably passes for a compliment among the chattering classes (*2). - and yeah, he had reluctantly declined, as i heard it told.

isn't that a shame? that a culture which supposedly values the (true) performing arts tends overwhelmingly to produce glib, shallow "critics" who scarcely really even pretend to be paying attention, then expect you to be grateful for some prepacked pleasantry just because they were smiling (mouth only one suspects) when they said it? isn't that really just a load of shit?! pretty much... no names, no names... there'd be no end to it anyway if the truth be known, i hate the music press and have done for years (no longer hate it in fact since i never read it!) - there are people out there at present who are trying to write intelligently about creative music; not that i'm the best person to ask - but of course there is always eartrip... and i have enjoyed point of departure also (though at least one of my "unfavourite" crits, yes that one, regularly writes for that very organ). (*3) BUT ahhhh fuck it, i've already said it... no more banging on right now.

it's all due to change anyway, 's what they tell me...

so, anyway... the new york duo recording, i rediscovered recently, was only ever in flac at i.sol so if anyone would prefer a smaller, quicker, perfectly serviceable hq mp3 rip (and there's an oxymoron, right audiophiles? heeey): it's...  here

(get it before rs lose interest in it...)

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