Tuesday, November 29, 2011

braxtothon redux: you *can* go back

this wasn't the first time i'd revisited town hall: trio and quintet. but, as it happens, this was the first revisit to the actual quintet, as such; i've been back to the trio numbers before. (great stuff. i digress...) it's taken me this long to play comp. 6p (*1) again, for whatever reason (not much time, large quantities of music... obvious enough reasons really).

it struck me how much my hearing has improved (through diligent practice repeated over time = gongfu or kung fu) since those early braxtothon days. and yes, that was phase two but it was still very early, i was very much yet in the flush of enthusiasm which propelled me head-first into the free music blogosphere to begin with, and which had been renewed by (my intitial involvement with) this very project... at the time i remember being struck by how little (b's guest reedman/fellow aacm-member) john stubblefield was utilised on this long piece, and this time round i quickly came to the conclusion that i simply can't have discerned some of the guest's contributions. well, that applies to the earlier parts of the first section, at any rate... this time round i had no trouble hearing two horns all over the place, plus jeanne lee (to whom the piece is of course dedicated, as well as having been written specifically for her - unique occurrence in braxton canon..? *2) after a while too, ghosting her way ever so gently in before any sort of big deal is made of it - no "heyyy! here's the big star", not that we would expect it... it's still worth saying it.

anyway, yeah, i remember the session now... interruptions, compromised listening environment, dog #3 (rip) - always the jumpiest of a high-strung bunch - would not settle, etc etc. and yet i went ahead and drew a whole load of conclusions about the success of a complex work without first allowing for my own failure to comprehend it... yes, that's interesting..! i have not re-read that piece for a long time, and now i do, i am not happy with it at all... well, just goes to show how hard some old habits really do die, because until ten minutes ago i'd have doubted whether i ever ran a piece as blatantly compromised as that one on this website :-(

anyway... like i say, very interesting - yes, my ears have grown a bit sharper but i had trouble in using them properly at all last time out, four years ago and some, and allowed that to pass for a sessionette when it really was nothing of the sort. which is why you have something that reads like a rejected, magazine-demanded thumbs-down, halfway penned and more, in the head, before the actual listening takes place. (not quite, in my case, but i still ran with some questionable conclusions without bothering to recheck or moderate them - this is not, in any case, a mistake which i would make now... i think..!) - so it's very interesting because never mind the extra detail in terms of the two new players, the piece itself sounded great to me this time out, hugely "liveable" and deeply involving space, if one allows it to be, which i evidently failed to do last time. (ahem. mea cupola, etc *3) - OH YES AND specifically, when i said before (i'd completely forgotten this) that "for the life of me i can't see what she contributes to this, and again, this is no disrespect to her but the voice seems to add nothing to the music", i didn't know what i was talking about (temporarily, haha) and really had no right at that time to be asserting so boldly something which i couldn't necessarily back up. like i say, this time i loved the piece even though i still wasn't giving it my full and undivided, pottering about etc etc, it filled the house this time, made me feel a whole lot better and more refreshed, and i certainly did enjoy everyone's contributions, even if it remains the case that mr stubblefield was basically retained as a player of prescribed parts; i am happy to say that i have changed my mind about this piece. and the "quintet"? well, no, it isn't anything like a jazz quintet or whatever, not really, but a) is that what i meant, before? and b) is it important? no, to the latter... and the former, i can't quite recall but the programme did feature (a duo,) a trio and a quintet, straightforward enough, and perhaps the whole purpose of constructing one ad hoc on top of the core trio from a free jazz group - in order to play creative composition - was to show how versatile his trio really was, how responsive to different demands and situations... ok, and in the end i gravitate back towards forgiving myself a little after all, since i know by now that things did not quite work out like that... know being a heavy insistence on poetic license in this instance ;-)

i'm also aware this time of the effect that ms lee, onstage, might have without necessarily even opening her mouth - of course this is not going to translate well to the album, but still, it might pertain to the reasons why b. wrote the piece (doubly) for her... i would do the knee-jerk thing of instantly upgrading the album to a CCCC rating, but i'm not gonna do that just yet, after all i still haven't studied the piece up close at all, and it's long, looong and episodic, phasic, cyclic. magical... to be explored again, and again. i still don't agree with the guy at free the music (as to its being the best album *4) - i don't see the need for "best album" in this case (or many others), and even if i did, i'd have iridium at the top before i started thinking about any sort of top twenty, to be whittled down slowly... etc etc... one masterpiece!, indeed, out of a discography so vast and extensive and... and multifaceted, that's the crux of it after all... but still, i definitely see that i underrated it last time and shockingly failed to pick up my own inadequacies as a reporter. sorry folks. done.

oh yes, and that "b-theme" late on in the piece sounds to me like another potential solo transcription, not a theme as such, but it's still extremely impressive too hear how lee negotiates it even at that speed, i.e. effortlessly, it would seem.


brief thoughts on a revisited complete '71, disc one:

1. 6k (which i know reasonably well) is delightful and although it was clearly written with corea in mind, it would've sounded great with crispell too. did it get revived? any ideas?

2. 6j (which i have never fully replayed) is a long one, long and complex and multipartite, and i really wasn't paying any sort of attention not on this occasion. so i have nothing to say about it..!

3. 6a... heh, to think that this was such a "curve ball" on the session, beyond my capacity to classify correctly at the time, couldn't even follow it clearly at first. i mean, why? but then i have heard and heard it, since then, in any number of different versions, this being for years a core canon piece in live contexts. but none are necessarily better than this one, which i've heard the most times also... it was playlisted of course, back in the day (that database long since corrupted alas)

4. i deliberately backed off a discreet distance this time from the mighty comp. 22 - fireworks and all - remembering how emotionally rending it can be if lived bar-by-bar - which i managed in the session and vividly recall even now... much of it still came through, and some of the later sections still sounded very violent and traumatic even without the "ear-lenses" on... man, it's weird now to hear b. playing soprano as such, they were getting that one wrong for years to come on album sleeves (and many of my references to soprano playing in early braxtothon entries will be accordingly incorrect i would guess), but in this case it really is soprano sax, only four times, as specified. now... hmmm, could we not get this piece replayed with some other guys before it's all too late../ messrs. parker and coxhill spring to mind of course... perhaps mr rothenberg... if none of the other south chicago alumni... perhaps one version without and one entirely with those guys? let's not forget, the pages can be arranged in any order so it would never sound the same twice... c'mon, let's see if we can't get something like that off the ground... extraordinary possibilities in this extremely beautiful piece, and with enough focussed attention the spectre of steve lacy would surely bless and attend {{{***}}}

* see comments

Monday, November 21, 2011

warmup/gap-filling #3

[shock horror, i still haven't got round to the final listen-through which will eventually (we trust) trigger the write-up of the collective impressions resulting from my various musings on the mitchell duets with a.b. album... erm... anyway, in the way of things i have continued my recent (re-)explorations of metal's mine(field)s, but have also lately branched out again to include more creative/improvised music... having taken so long to get round to (the braxtothon-omitted) trio and duet, as mentioned briefly recently, i have now "spun" it three times. (other recent plays have included hook, drift and shuffle by parker/guy/lytton with george lewis, and this brings us to, vol.2 by threadgill/zooid... hmmm, that last group is apparently playing the london jazz festival this year, but unfortunately i shan't be able to go... dammit) - anyway, since once again i have found myself having difficulty posting/focussing/keeping my attention on creative music, i thought i would jot down a few half-formed impressions and conclusions about b's 1974 release, in the hope that it might spur me on a bit...]

trio and duet seems an oddly (un)balanced album, with one long original on the first side and three standards on the second; such a combination would be very unlikely now, but back in the mid-seventies it doubtless made a lot of sense for b. to showcase two very different sides to his music on one album. but if it might, in principle, now seem to a cynic that it was somehow just chucked together, i don't think this is likely to have been the case at all: not at that time, and besides not on sackville, no way. here b. is reminding the world that yes, among other things he does regard himself as a successor to the great (set of) tradition(s) known sometimes by the vulgar label-of-convenience jazz.

...  comp. 36 is just beautiful. i have studiously avoided referring to the composition notes for this piece as of yet, noting only (via restructures) that the piece was one of three such for instruments plus synthesiser, all dating from that year, and that it was intended specifically for live performance... which in turn confirms more or less what i felt on first hearing the album, namely that it has cropped up at least once, probably more in live sets which i've heard in the past. (for some reason, pieces from the four small ensemble books are psychologically easier to identify than others, i find this anyway... of course they are the ones which crop up again and again (well... more in some cases than others admittedly), though this is no longer true by the time the collage stuff gets going of course... anyway, obviously the musicians who have played the stuff would recognise it straight away: quite apart from anything else, there is usually a "hook" or melodic tag which identifies most of these blueprints early on, irrespective of how far they diverge from the more-travelled path later, and i can often spot" these in listening without... necessarily being able to give a correct identification. many of the hooks (keys... musical spells... they act as hooks on my attention, that's for damn sure) are maddeningly similar but then, that again is another way in which the music announces itself as b's.

i digress... for a change... i've heard the piece before, not necessarily with synth though (this in itself gives pause for thought). with teitelbaum on the case here, it's just spectacularly beautiful, the results captured in gorgeous (seriously) loving detail by the engineer(s) in such a way that a spectral and spellbinding clarity occurs, within which sounds can only be perfect, as they are; the eye experiences this on certain damp, misty days when one out walking is surprised to see that although visibility is greatly reduced in the distance, up close (and even some way off) everything seems sharpened and magnified, presented for viewing in radiant, lucid detail; the group space created here in the studio by these three players (teitelbaum and the leader joined by leo smith of course) achieves a similar effect for me, - but (of course) in the ear, allowed for these moments to live what is normally reserved for the eye :)

smith fluffs a couple of his early entries, tough notes to nail as "instant" attacks, just popping out of the air like that at awkward intervals... yes, not one but two scrape their feet on the way out, but this sort of thing never did matter so much (at all) in free music, where the freedom is above all spiritual, artistic... here it no more grates than did kenny w. missing out the odd battlement-section of comp. 23b - especially at the da capo... it's not important, and the sound space absorbs and reflects imperfections in their perfect state... as with everything else. by this stage, braxton and smith are both clear (apparently) on how they can work together fruitfully, because the brassman makes a magical contribution to this number, gets right inside the material and is fully involved in exploring its possibilities. those early days when he and jenkins were squeezed into b's groups... that wasn't really gonna work out, but under different circumstances, what could go wrong...

... as for the other two, what occurs here between synth and clarinets is hypnotic and ethereal and generally spookily magnificent, just as the pair would realise again in new york just over a week later... for a while in the middle, the synthman gets to play all alone, and boy does he ever tear things up, expanding the possibilities yet-still further; this eventually bleeds back into the third section, in which a sort of voice-swapping seems to take place, with instruments mimicking other sounds at times (this has struck me more than once on this track, i don't know how planned it was, of course) - a clarinet sounds somehow like a guitar here, a trumpet like a sax there, images shift and merge, magic takes place...

what happens on the flip side (and it still really makes sense to think of this album as a vinyl entity) doesn't witness any actual magic of course, but in truth it's still very good stuff, lively readings of three hoary old standards, b. gradually pushing his course farther and farther off-piste (though whether or not this is how it actually happened... my info on this album does not extend to "take" numbers off the master!), so that by the time we reach track three (or four, on a cd!) "you go to my head", b. is paying only tangential lip-service to the theme and allowing himself maximum freedom, occasionally skating gracefully back towards the imaginary line which represents the "score" and paraphrasing for a second or three before propelling himself away again. this is also, not coincidentally i think, the place to catch holland at his best: earlier in the side i had found myself bored by (yet another) lifeless d.h. bass solo, but his solo on the final cut is full of energetic spark and really quite creative in the final analysis... elsewhere on the side he plays tastefully (of course) and without missing a beat, but -  

but... from this 21st-century writer's perspective, the stark contrast in density and conceptual/sonic richness between the two sides is truly salient and (surely) emblematic of where the composer's priorities lay, and lie. (it is arguably also true that holland's eventual use-by date is prefigured here, but i'm not about to press the point.) side one is just a lot more interesting than side two... and this is not surprising, since b's dreaming eye conceived it, and uses it to thaumaturgical ends. as always with these gap-fillers, listening was backgroundish so no rating, but this one is well recommended.

Monday, November 14, 2011

broadcasting to you live (ish) from the coalface

hello... erm, slight hold-up with the other thing due today (...) - but in the meantime, just caught up with what a friend of mine (and the blog's) came up with by way of swift response to my plea for fresh live materials from the boot-sphere... frédito has kindly provided a good compression from a lossless recording on dime, this being the world premiere (i believe) of the syntactical ghost trance choir

that gets me hot and i'm not ashamed to say it :)

i mean hey, we all know what problems i've had with vocal music(s) in the past... i've lectured enough poor souls over the years... or whatever... this is something very very clean and uncontaminated to my ears, just actual vocal ritual magic, or ritual vocal magic... take yr pick... so good i had to play it twice in the event, indeed listening to it again right now and dog #2 (only survivor of the three-dog pack which witnessed the early braxtothon sessions (and even participated in some)... for 18 months now he has been accompanied by dog #4, a young "sister") is joining in - tho this has more to do with demands for supper than anything else, nevertheless his piercing staccato attacks fit naturally into the complex group space (perfectly captured, despite supposed limitations of recording etc etc... yadda yadda) - as anything would, within this nurturing space... 

... and the really reassuring, nay exciting thing about all this is that although this recording, this concert, was and is a postcard direct from the coalface, the actual oft-discussed-seldom-encountered cutting edge at work, hard at work - yet making it sound as play... it is just one such coalface being worked at the moment - i mean right now, as it were - in a phase which begins  - sorry, continues - to see skewed and unfamiliar framings of (what we hope by now are becoming) familiar scenes and aural/conceptual territories. check it out check it out check it out i say :-D

mo'later (is the idea)
,  c