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.

1 comment:

centrifuge said...

there's a decent(ish) vinyl rip on a well-known (i think!) free music blog, but as i understand it the sackville cd, limited to 1000, is actually still available through the usual sort of places...

... today - as well as putting the finishing touches to this post after one week of having it sit there (to be fair i have been very busy for a change..! much activity behind the scenes) - i took the chance to replay some old braxtothon faves... great stuff and very instructive, reminds me how far i've come since these were early, *phase one* recordings... will try and get 'em written up right now in some sort of loose format, for posting later in the week maybe... james fei post(ette) coming up too :)