Wednesday, March 14, 2012

embarrassment of riches

right after posting about the "boot box" - and you have not heard the last of that (or rather its contents) - i was on restructures, noticing suddenly all these extra recordings, some of which are appearing back in the mid-seventies. more boots!! well, of course last year had seen me have one of my "moments", flooded with optimism for a while after the relaunch of the TCF site... this spring's bootiful bounty actually arrived around the same time as last year's, but it's been a while (few months i guess - after the october events anyway) - and when i tried to log in, i was booted out. wrong sort of boot, that... and a manual reboot was ineffective, my username and email being dead money around the new-look place apparently :(

- now, there was a happy ending to this: 'cos the guys were very helpful, and explained very promptly indeed what had happened to allow me and others to slip through the net; i rebuilt my account and away we go... now, inspection of the new-and-easier-to-navigate site quickly revealed/confirmed that i really have missed a lot, purely in terms of new releases. the sheer number of variety of braxton house releases now is bewildering, hugely encouraging and (frankly) rather overwhelming. i mean, and here's the crux of it, they all cost money too and even though the foundation has priced things very sensibly on the whole, the unfortunate truth is that most of us cannot simply spend hundreds of pounds/dollars etc on music all the time (well... growing up and into my thirties this was exactly what i did, but i have had to slow down a lot since then... ok, so i found other resources at the same time - !). anyway, for the time being i grabbed one thing which actually leapt out at me as "free", volume one of the sax quintet from 1998, a remarkable affair which i've ben enjoying this very evening. (as for vol two... well yes of course i'm tempted, but we gotta keep a level head here. i still never did become a member, but that's another story... one which is not likely to get aired here any time soon.)

so yeah, i stuck to the free stuff for the time being until i have made up my mind what's what (*). (don't get me wrong, i fully support in principle what the foundation is doing with all this. i also appreciate they can't just give it all away and still survive; i think possibly they have flooded the market a bit, but we will see.) now, as regards this year's "march harvest". there's another fabulous crop of boots, indeed on balance it probably outweighs last year's. ok, there is no '93 supermega-quartet, but then just look at what we have got this time around:

  1.  quintet (new york) 1975. no sooner do i mention this in my previous post (section 4.), than it turns up here, to save me the hassle of playing the tape ;-) fascinating chance to hear the core quartet plus teitelbaum.

  2. quartet (wilhelmshaven) 1979 pts 1 and 2. this one actually turned up on inconstant sol several years ago, passed on by tantris presumably from dime, but in any case both sets were already available to me. (i downloaded it anyway of course... always worth it, just to compare...)

  3. quartet (karlsruhe) 1983. tantalising late version of comp. 98 with crispell and anderson from the original tour, paul smoker in for hugh ragin.

  4. duo (zurich) 1984. one in a very long line of duets for the maestro, this time with gunter "baby" sommer alongside...

  5. trio (pisa) 1982. man, i am so glad this one is back in circulation. i blogged about it myself a few years back but those files are dead of course, and besides, now i find out that i never had the entire thing in the first place. unbelievably high-end free improv from three absolute fucking masters.

  6. solo (kent) 1979. one in an even longer line of discipline-enforcing solo alto recitals. what's not to like, etc

  7. duo (belfort) 1985. and speaking of series and continuations, these two maestros have wandered in and out of each other's frequencies pretty regularly over the years and decades...

  8. trio (wuppertal) 1989 pts 1 and 2.  incredible band this, which left behind an amazing album of course, but which also toured europe somewhat during that year. i was recently delighted to discover at least four full concerts from this tour, all waiting for me in the box. and here is yet another! both sets! my cup runneth over.

  9. creative orchestra (portland) 1989 pts 1 and 2. same line-up as eugene. same set-list too. just under a week later, in the big city. what did they all learn from the first time?

 10. quartet (mulhouse) 1983. one full set from everyone's favourite not-quite-the-finished-article line-up.

- like i say, that's plenty to be getting on with, right there.

now the way it turned out, it was pretty late in the end before i even got started. so i prioritised a bit, grabbed what i could with both hands and immediately started to organise a super-playlist to get me on the go. that turned to be just over five hours long, but hey... in this mood, i've learned to go with it and just absorb as much as i can. (these intensive, music-packed phases don't tend to last all that long historically; they are also counterbalanced by periods of drought.) in the event, though, i was thoroughly exhausted on sunday night (after the traumatic saturday i'd had... never mind that now) and managed only to hear the first two parts of this monster playlist, to wit:

list one

a) as 1. above, the "loft quintet" with teitelbaum sitting in. this is not as mad as you might think, at least not at first. the synth does not really nose its way in until the first piece is pretty well explored, this being the tension-inducing, usually non-cathartic comp. 23g. where i found this date particularly satisfying and interesting was the second piece, comp. 40n (which is far less common in live performances of the time than its schizoid twin, comp. 23e). holland defies belief in this one with his iron self-control when wielding that bow - the actual production of the attack becomes completely transparent, leaving just this endless sound which dominates the space with only minimal (need for) variation; and the synths end up working the most wonderful magic/k - towards the end of the piece i had long since given up doing anything other than standing very still, giving all my attention to the music in my ears. no more detail, that's for another time ;-)

"four winds" is the last piece, just to prove [to me] that it was in the band's repertoire before 1976. i mean, it's only the brass player who would need to learn it and then probably only once or twice; for all its tricky pauses and shifts in time, this is not a difficult piece of music; i don't remember much about this rendition of it though. i was already flagging by this point (as see above). [i am no longer paranoid enough nor egotistical enough to conclude that someone deliberately put this out there to slap my wrist, or whatever, for any of the times i might have implied (or indeed stated) that this piece is too vanilla to belong in the book - and that it was just being played at graz as a nice favour. (don't forget one thing - i didn't start out thinking this way, it came upon me once i had embarked upon the work. my memory told me that the graz rendition of "winds" was, y'know, red-hot... until such time as braxtothon ears told me a little different.) even if there was nothing conscious about it - and of course it's far more likely that the concert was selected for the inclusion of teitelbaum, simple as that - indeed especially if no direct human agency was at work, then it is still what the universe is reminding me with this discovery. it's all part of the self-dissection, the public learning process i seem to be committed to continuing..!]

b) comp. 98 sounds great with smoker on board (no disrespect to hugh ragin; smoker is one trumpet player i liked more or less on first hearing - the small brass is not something i hear clearly in free music, or rather it wasn't until recently... over the last year or two that has actually changed a lot, mainly thanks to thb, peter evans et al). and i did manage to stay awake for almost all of it, but not quite the last few minutes, when i had one of those "suddenly roused by applause" moments. i was far too tired and distracted to draw any useful conclusions about the nature of the piece itself - which i have never studied, and which of course remains some way in the future as far as the core work is concerned - or indeed about this interpretation, but i do remember enjoying it, and particularly the pleasure of "channel-switching" in my head between the three horns at times, consciously trying to hear the whole at others. i will be coming back to all this stuff, anyway.

- and  meanwhile, the playlist (which as you can see includes the first revisit to bremen, just to mix things up a bit) continued on  the monday morning, just like in the old days :)


few more things while i remember... at some point i need to write a bit about the incredible comp. 173, an outrageous vocal/orchestral masterwork which defies description, as they say... oh does it, i reply... but anyway, i've been listening to that recently, three or four times spaced out over weeks or months, however long it's been (for a start, time-before-new-job seems to have moved at a totally different pace - and indeed it did in many ways)... it may have warped my fragile little mind as one might say ;-)   erm, and i have actually been repeat-playing a standard for a change (really does make a change in my case, as the reader may know), notably "little melonae" from the bergamo '03 jf date. ok, ok... it smokes... i have to admit. hey, i do listen to actual jazz from time to time i'll have you know, nor do i have anything (much) against it, it's just not where the meat is at, for me... but every so often like i say... now, it is true that of all the musics b.s plays, i tend to enjoy his standards dates the least but when the piece is really challenging - as in mr maclean's wicked, monkish, spiked sweetmeat - and the band is cooking (as if it would be likely to do anything else, with this guy in the room), i gotta admit the mood is pretty irresistible.

i still couldn't sit through a whole set of it without taking a break...

* see comments

Saturday, March 10, 2012

the opinion upgrade from uranus

ok, so... the other night i was awoken by a strange greenish flash and a whirring noise, seemingly emanating from just outside the house yet apparently inaudible to the rest of the family. y'know, just ordinary stuff so i turned over and went right on back to sleep. imagine my surprise when the next morning i let the whippets out to relieve themselves and saw in the corner of the back garden a large, sturdy box... wisps of smoke still uncoiling therefrom into the chilly post-dawn air.

- and upon closer inspection, what should turn out to be in this box but a shitload of anthony braxton bootlegs. no, really (*1). a handful of cd-rs and a BUNCH of tapes. yeah, tapes. audio cassettes... obsolete format etc etc - the task will fall to me at some point to digitise some of this stuff, assuming there remains an internet onto which to upload it by the time i get round to it, because let's be clear, this is me we're talking about and i don't do anything today which i could do some other time, and so on and so forth... well, even allowing for forward motion (and since the new year/new job situation i can definitely affirm that i am in forward motion, ridiculously so compared to the last few years) i can but try to set realistic goals for deprocrastinating, but then i'm not kidding about one thing at least: there were a lot of tapes in that box and a frighteningly high percentage of it represents stuff that's totally new to me. (needless to say i have collected every single scrap (*2) i could find by this guy ever since late 2006... i have a lot of braxton boots already.) in other words there's no rush to get it all up since it will need to be assimilated a little at a time.

besides, the joke is that i don't have a damn cassette player in the house any more, or rather i do, but not a functional one. i have to make it a priority to sort that out - ! because there really really is some fucking primo shit in there. as i catalogued it - the mysterious "source" had kindly chronologised it already - i started to get very excited. i mean, for a start there is a great run of concerts from c.1982-5, documenting the working group's metamorphosis from manic hypercarnival vehicle to dimension-shifting superstragegic visionaries - around the pivot of john lindberg, the "fallen from grace", well documented in this remarkable collection up until literally the very moment of his eventual departure mid-tour in '85: that is to say, the amsterdam show from 16th june apparently saw a trio plus a bass onstage, while the bassist sat at the bar. (i say mid-tour; i don't have any idea yet of the actual itinerary: what i have so far is a june which kicks off with three solo gigs before that fateful "final concert", and prior to that the nearest quartet tape in the list is salzburg, 19th may.) the night of the 17th, in eindhoven, ernst reijseger sat in; when they reached east berlin, jens saleh was on duty; but of course the name on gerry hemingway's lips early on had been mark dresser (*3) - and by the 22nd, there he is, already in place for the legendary events of later-that-year - though from this one, in ljubljana (yugoslavia, as it was then) i am promised as yet only 25 tantalising minutes. (*4)


now, barely having started on the music (see final para below) yet, just listing this little lot gave me many pauses for thought. i have been trying to lead by example in drawing open and close attention to my mistakes, especially when this involves various parts of the hypothetical braxto-continuum i have been fabricating ever since the inception of the 'thon. i mean, y'know, piecing it all together from a fragmentary series of recordings in chronological order - that does not and cannot give the full picture; i wasn't there, so it can't be complete or completely accurate. but, hahaha, it can be easy at times to run away with a clear idea and declare it probably so (or whatever i'm doing on such occasions). the eternal problem with such a "spontaneous hypothesis": it may explain everything neatly, take into account all available evidence and answer many possible questions but it can also be wrong. like i say, i am committed to bringing this to my own attention when i catch myself out, and then to sharing it with whoever actually reads this stuff ;-)

(... *5)

sometimes it's not even a question of correcting myself or setting the record straight, simply new information which helps build a fuller picture. anyway, with all that in mind... some points of interest from the first part of the collection:

1. in may 1972 there was a performance at studio rivBea, effectively circle with sam rivers himself in for corea. or rather (since circle was already brown bread by this point) the earliest actual anthony braxton quartet with rivers in for wheeler. i don't know yet what music they played but i'm guessing it wasn't the same set list as was rolled out on the first of december that year, at the same venue, the day after conference was recorded. the may date is news to me. (and exhilarating news too, since i otherwise only knew of the famous '78 san francisco gig with b. guesting in rivers' band.)

2. from the "empty years", 1972-3, there is still half-of-fuck-all unfortunately, but there is one snippet of interest, a twenty-minute extract from a film soundtrack recorded in paris for la coupe a dix francs. (hmm, just looked that up on imdb and you can forget any notions of chic parisian crime movies or whatever...). probably recorded 1972 but there's not much info on it.

3. right, so here's a mistake of sorts for starters and guess what, it concerns my old mate dave holland. i finally had to 'fess up last year to feeling a bit guilty about mr holland, or rather what i've said about him at times on this blog. (but then again... etc.) more to the point, though, i have (still) thus far allowed myself to get away with drawing a very firm line under berlin 1976, marking the end of the holland years, regardless of what friendship may have persisted between the two men thereafter; and prior to that even, my journey through (bits of) 1975-6 has been characterised by an increasing and ineluctable feeling that holland was fundamentally unsuited to music on b's scale. which may or may not have some validity (*6), but there was not so much of a firm line anyway as it turns out: duo concerts with holland continue through 1975 (april, philadelphia) and 1976 (well... no date or venue on that one but still) and crucially, this is the deal breaker, into early '77 if 19th feb, buffalo is to be believed, a full 90 minutes' worth from that one. back in '76, 18th august sees an impromptu presentation of solos, duos and trios with steve potts and kent carter, holland having been taken ill at the last minute; the point here is that according to braxtothon lore, once duets had been undertaken with lewis in particular, there was no way holland could measure up (supposedly). so much for that idea. (yep, back to *6 again)

4. 12th june 1975, another rivBea appearance, this time the working group with wheeler. 28th june, back at the same loftspace again but this time with richard teitelbaum. (hmmm...!)

5. 26th july 1975, the day after the antibes quartet, our man is back onstage again but this time with evan parker and derek bailey. man..! (the 27th, b. is in viareggio, north of pisa, playing a solo show. that's a pretty gruelling journey, chances are. this man spent far too many hours and days travelling steerage or the equivalent - true of him and of anyone else on the creative music circuit, but b. played a lot of solo concerts. again, i was basically wrong(ish) in my core assumption about that but this is not the place to detail it.)

6. 14th sept '75, somewhere or other in NYC - details on tape but not on my master list (yet!) - the art ensemble of chicago played with b. and frank lowe both sitting in. omfg, etc :))   (*7)

7. jan '76, a detroit show with phillip wilson in for altschul. yet more evidence (as frequently-ish discussed on these pages) that there was never anything set-in-stone about any version of the early quartet - regardless of how fondly some may look back upon it.

8. march '76, one from san francisco with wilson again (the latter a dab hand of course, having played with b way back when, captured on a recording with him as early as 1972), but this time in an intriguing double-brass group comprising leo smith, baikida carroll and a guitarist called - j. leary? maybe, maybe not... and i'm really not sure whether b. appears as leader or sideman. anyway, there's at least one other (small-group) appearance by carroll in that box but i'm struggling to find it in the list. it'll turn up :)

9. 25th july 1976, washington d.c. - a quintet featuring lewis, muhal, holland and steve mccall...

10. ... and in september of that year, the same line-up with altschul in minneapolis. you see, i didn't know that lewis-abrams line-up from before 1977 really but the r-section dates it pretty firmly i think. even in the case of the gig with mccall, holland's presence makes it that much more likely that it really is 1976... and yes, i am mindful of what i wrote in point 3 above... courting the possibility therefore of falling on my arse again :)

11. october 1976, and i was very pleased about this, the one-off quartet of b. and teitelbaum, roscoe mitchell - and allan strange, whoever he is or was, but he played a synthesiser too. double duo, then... a fragment of this was posted by "the rare music curator" (as mentioned here - though as you can see the original link is long since deceased) who never answered my emails. well, hey... it was a good idea he had anyway, but it's reassuring to know that several of the treasures he excerpted for that podcast are now available to me in full. (just, i can't actually hear them yet... ) there's another, even better example of the same thing in the next batch of observations... coming up (some time)

12. i wondered a few times here whether or not lewis plus mark helias and charles "bobo" shaw was the line-up of the working group during 1977. it never seemed consistent that muhal would have agreed to join someone else's band as a regular member. but we know he played plenty of gigs with b. around this time, however that worked out; and these always featured b's music (afaik) - of course, b. appeared as a sideman with abrams also... anyway, one more to add to the list (of mra's braxton quintet gigs) in june of that year and then a quartet the following week in hamburg, no piano. this quartet always seemed plausible as a working concern but i read elsewhere a while ago (*8) that the line-up for that year was supposed to be something totally different..?

that's about it for now... being human i am never totally satisfied with anything (much... it's no longer quite true of me actually, but not far off) and there was one thing i sort of expected to see, namely a (near-)complete set of the '85 uk tour tapes which didn't materialise at all - and one thing i really hoped to see, a long duo with buell neidlinger recorded (iirc) in a guitar shop in santa monica, which slipped through my fingers once, before i could grasp it and was gone: that wasn't in the box either. but man, what there IS in there, it's truly extraordinary. now, what am i gonna do about that damn k7 player...

* see comments

ps  i did listen to two of the cd-rs already, both very good, one in distinctly lo-fi sound (even for me - though as always i found it perfectly listenable once it was underway, especially solos), one rather butchered in terms of actual content, but "that's boots for you" - i am considering uploading part of the butchered one, watch this space#

Friday, March 2, 2012

i forgot my point(s)

(- title of my damn autobiography, that could be...)

it's true, in the end it took so long to write that last post out that i forgot one of the basic points i wanted to make in the first place. what i meant to say was... - and once again i'm repeating myself here! - that b's music is all about possibility, not necessarily actuality and certainly (*1) not about finality. rather than bring to us a new set of (ego-based) statements, he comes to the meeting-table with new sets of questions, or rather the latest exotic variations on the same basic (that word again) sets if questions which he has been asking over and over, all this long (short) time. he is far less concerned with control than many other composers have been (*2), much motivated by the perpetually-curious mindset which wonders, each time, "what will happen when we ask these questions in a live environment?"

- hence the endless joy of collaging one's own compositions, and also of composing in such a way as to leave vast areas of personal and interpersonal freedom, guaranteeing that no two "results" (crystallised-realised time-limited potentialities... oh boy *3) are even remotely close, never mind the same. terms like "mileage" (which apply usefully to high-end free jazz, for example) become pathetically small-minded in this context. parsecs perhaps, rather than miles.

or perhaps such distances of musical-conceptual space could be termed braxtons ;-)

anyway, that's about it - except no it's not, i need to add a second, very important, point which i omitted from the previous post (!): i have mentioned zappa on so many prior occasions that i'm not even going to bother linking to any of them, they are all over the place whenever b's orchestral music is under discussion; but one crucial difference between the two men (n.b. not just "two composers") is precisely the willing lack of control in braxton's philosophy. fz was famously an exacting taskmaster who demanded almost slavish obedience from his players (and is roundly disliked by many as a result). b. is pretty much known to be the opposite, yet his music requires an even higher degree of virtuosity in order to engage with it fully (it's possible to engage with it less than fully at considerably lower levels of musicanship - arguably another difference, although... etc *4). it is no coincidence that fz famously had terrible experiences* getting orchestras to play his stuff properly... whereas those who work with our man have driven themselves to exceed his and their expectations, time and time again, and have done so (i believe and understand) freely and joyfully. there's a message there for all of us, right?

* see comments (inevitably)
* see second comment!

(- three textual emendations, last para, 19/4/12)