Tuesday, January 15, 2013

tzadik presents braxton (considered version c)

(number three in an occasional series.  - heh, not really... this is likely to be my last word on the subject for a while at least!) (*)

version b experiences: the night of the 12th, written up and posted 13th of course - but the writing was hard-fought, sentence by sentence and para by para, and i'm not convinced (having looked back through it this morning, correcting a few of the more confusing typos in the first bit) that it's really readable. ah well... the insights will resurface; and in the meantime, this morning (of the 14th, though this is written after midnight with falling river music in the b/g) saw me reframe my take on the album again and stand still further back, seeing the album now preety clearly for what i'd skated around seeing befgore, namely that it's fitted around the twin desires of making it notionally palatable (and thus floggable) to the coffee-table sets in london, paris, new york, madrid, buenos aires etc etc, and of providing a set of music centred around the choices of ms crispell.

so without further ado let me explain why i've been so unfair on poor old comp. 23c and what i'm going to do about it: i mean, who am i to question what pieces they decided to play? why do i assume that the set-list was foisted on them by the slave-driving label bosses? (arf arf - but then of course, any tzadik release would necessarily have to contain a set-list that jz himself is happy with - i think that actually could go without saying.) the pieces either written for marilyn crispell or reclaimed by her form a thematic core around which is woven the warp and weft of the music. so, again: i have already twigged that m.c. likes to play 23c, so who am i to decide she can't have it here, or to suggest that comp. 40(o) is so much the better choice that there cannot be any doubt or debate about it? nobody, that's who.

so... yes, without even having listened to the piece itself again over the last few days, i have had the ending to comp. 23c (as specifically played here by the "headless trio") stuck in my head all day. why? because those stabbing attacks into the piano are the simple microcosmic ingredient which ties all the others together, pretty much... that, in different degrees and to different extents (only two of the five pieces would or could be "summed up" in any way by such stabbing attacks) and well, anyway, whatever the lady needed to get out of her system and whysoever the route thither, this is beyond mere sniping from the gallery such as the likes of me are prone to indulge in. (ha, the actual release still isn't, necessarily... we'll get to that in due course.)

comp. 116 is and isn't a flying vehicle as such; as the opus number suggests, this is one of the pieces written in the early '80s specifically for m.c. and is therefore a very natural choice of opener here. but the tendency to follow the psychedelia of the experience up with an image which sums up only that part or aspect of the experience means that a cold, neutral listening would frown at the borderline hysterical description of the music. or would it? you see, i sort of came here before and then got a shock when i came back through the wrong portal and couldn't recognise my previous impressions at all; - back to 2012, our opener is a very strong piece of music, but not hell-for-leather as such, and it's not entirely fair to compare it to satoko fujii's "sandstorm" (*1) as i did in vers. b. that's a part of what it's based on, the headlong - and hampered, hindered - dash, but there is more to it, and not every snapshot reveals the same over-arching shape. the three players do get right on into it, though, and yes, it's simply establishing early on the fact that without the leader, this headless trio is led de facto by the prima inter pares on the piano. (b. never has duetted with dresser, or not for a published session. with hemingway, he made four whole discs - but only pretty recently. the crispell duets came out years ago now, and the actual band wasn't even convened at that time, i think i'm right in saying. she was also the first to arrive, obviously.))

still, and this time i try to retain more than just a comparison with a different piece of music from my fleeting impressions, by the time we get to the final third i'm listening and thinking "now, if we had a rfeed on top of that, we could really have something very special, but..." - and it does creep back in a bit. (i didn't throw a full-on about-turn as such before writing all this.) tell you what though: twice wrong, once at last perhaps right: when more of an effort is made to follow the actual musical movement in the piece, it no longer feels too short, just the perfect length and especially for an opener.

today i still didn't listen to 23c, but i did think about it like i say. and i get where they're coming from in playing it, i suppose. (*2) it is essentially a delightful miniature, and it's just possible (though not overwhlmingly likely) that people will be tempted to buy this album who have never heard the piece before. besides... again, it's pretty obvious really that m.c. just likes playing it, so that's that. (i still sort of think they missed a trick by not just cutting after the bass solo! but i understand that was never gonna happen.)

today i also missed out the third piece, in fact i started with comp. 69b and of course there was a gloss there too, i was memory-guessing when i talked of swoops and sweeps at the beginning - not exactly - but everything else i said was true enough. (expectedly - this was the one i really listened to each time!) the pianist just rips this one to pieces, but in such a good way. actually the whole band really gets their hands dirty here, and i stand by my assessment of this being the clear album highlight - that's ok though. (i think. *3) /// the stuff dresser did which blew me away occurs in "his" little subsection, hemingway having taken the first (with one of those drum solos which give jazz drummers a bad name, among rock listeners who don't understand what they're hearing); it's somewhere around the 3.30 mark i think. the theme is played again, and then - the bass just blossoms flowers, and immediately then clouds of bees to help keep them pollinated, dresser playing with such strong-fingered delicacy of touch that he might be using a harp almost, instead of a contrabass violin, or a very light-strung spanish guitar maybe. it's just fingerboard tapping, but i've never heard it done that way, or certainly not to such effect, on a double bass. and besides, it's not just tapping as there are others varieties of attack, smears and glissandi etc, which join the mix very rapidly - yes ok, if i were more sorted i would provide a sound clip at this point but you are all surely thinking of purchasing the album anyway, no, or at least hunting for that active rip? ;-)

the final section is most of the second half, and i was wrong again in what i said before, about sustaining its level of intensity: it actually increases in intensity, peaking between 5.30 and 6.00, then slackens back just to the point where the attentive listener is not quite about to pass out. the damage crispell inflicts in the second half of that sixth minute is astonishing, and i'm not kidding, a listening ear which is totally locked into the narrative at that point really has to reel back at that point, the insistent double-handed stabbing this time feeling as if it could tear actual chunks out of the astral body and leave raw, ragged, seeping wounds behind. it only lasts for a few seconds, but fuck. intense? doesn't cover it. the whole band, though, is of course totally committed to co-creating the violence at that point, trusting their fellow explorer (and unspoken session leader) implicitly to be doing something of spiritual value - which, of course, is exactly what she is doing. as i say, from here, the level of heat and noise diminishes a little, simmering down just enough to leave the listener conscious, but hardly flagging all the same. the effect, if you muse on it, is incredibly powerful and transformative, and what i (heavy-handedly) said about the ending being both intimidating and amusing still holds, because m.c. really smacks those keys down with a declarative tone of triumph. seven or eight seconds of shellshocked silence are allowed to elapse.

- and the last piece, the two 40 series numbers bolted together, the piece which occasioned my going back for a second dip in the first place - that, too, begins with a hint of self-reproach for me, crispell's very interesting choice of opening attack(s) setting up slow shockwaves again, causing much disturbance in my internal reflection later. the musicians do reclaim the piece for long, sustained and layered, slow-decaying sounds and tones, they just don't do it the same way - they actually allow themselves much greater freedom of explansion in terms of examining the central (drone) idea and doing almost anything but the expected with it. yeah, but - i wasn't (ever!) entirely wrong because here's the thing, which never looks any different each time i come back to it in the mirror: the piece has far less power this way, far less gravity. oh, and robs my hopes and dashes expectations, teases my ears with the promise of dresser out-doing holland (and the latter at the top of his game imo), and never delivers on it at all (except very briefly)... but, y'know, they have their reasons and - again - the label is hoping to sell this to people who don't already follow the music. ah yes but - BUT- what i said about comp. 40b still holds true also, alas: it's a selection which is doomed to feel as if it's lacking something vital. (it is. the missing ingredient is called anthony braxton.) so there we go, an element of compromise towards the end which leaves the sticky-sweet taste of nostalgia on my tongue... as if these three are being dragged out of some museum-of-1985-onwards to do this gig, which is so ludicrously far from being the case it's not even real. all three are still vital fucking players. (that word again. not that one, the v-word!) so yeah, for me and i suspect for plenty of other deja-devotees, there is a definite sense of disappointment in how little of the session is allowed to reach anything like full potential for these three.

- but yes, then it comes back again to the commercially-viable -or-otherwise aspect perhaps, and the definite knowledge that if ms crispell were allowed to spend all her allowance on double-handed spade-gouging, this would never make it to any coffee table in the western world. and that wouldn't that be a shame? hmmm.... ;-)  in all seriousness, though, there's no real attempt at collaging here; and all it would take would be, say, crispell playing comp. 30 or comp. 10 while dresser bows out something from the 23 series and hemingway plays the drum solo from comp. 96. develop that, staggered out of one of the low 100s, and you've got a real collage. (*4) nothing to frighten the horses. perhaps our heroine feels diffident upon being nudged into taking the lead - in a band which is so very obviously composed of equals (if so, she needn't: she is the most tenured, and also has the most narrative drive inside her, always bursting to get out) - but for whatever reason, commercial or otherwise, it still leaves the committed braxton collector a little short-changed.

[of course we will all want to BUY IT ANYWAY since the music is all composed by ANTHONY BRAXTON and sales will thus go directly to funding more ANTHONY BRAXTON MUSIC :)))  ]


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centrifuge said...

just finished the writing, so this is how long the process actually takes, with something as inherently complex as this album. bear in mind that professional critics generally only have the time to play something once, and will give it somewhere between 10-50% of their available attention, hence most magazines are always gonna be running a chopped-and-polished rendering of *version a*.

everything after the /// in the first para on comp. 69b (and btw mr zorn - if they actually did devise different strategies for this number and then cut several takes of each, or some, could we not have had some alternate takes?) was written this morning, 15th jan. last night was falling river music on r3 - q.v. - next post coming up soon!), this morning old dogs and moscow dcw... {{{@@@}}} etc etc

so - it's not quite the end of what i have to say about this album, because there is a whole extra layer of (slightly guilty) self-revelation in there which i haven't even touched on at all; strictly speaking it has nothing to do with the music (contrary to what some..., etc) so i'll save it, do it later in the month perhaps. it's actually been a long time coming... and needed very careful consideration before i attempted to go anywhere with it.


centrifuge said...

1. "sandstorm" is actually only about two minutes long, and is taken at absolutely furious pace. hence it's a lot denser than comp. 116 here - like i say, i think it's all (or very nearly all) written-out, in which case it must cover pages and pages. the comparion was irresistible though - and i bet dresser made the connection too, having participated in the earlier recording

2. the other thing i was going to say about it (but forgot, by the time i was writing the footnotes for version b!) was that *two* repetition structures on the same album was a possibility presumably ruled out at the planning stage - in concert, the trio played both 23c *and* 40(o). a part of me was apparently a bit miffed at the way the coin fell, coming up heads as it were, but here is another place i think commercial considerations may have had their say. (this last point almost needs a footnote of its own, explaining my thought processes in postulating commercial considerations in music which is so famously, notoriously, de-FI-antly unmarketable. "commercial" is perhaps the wrong word altogether, i'm not quite sure how to replace it then - !)

3. it's a shortish reading of a single piece, albeit heavily personalised. *is* it ok for that to be the clear artistic highlight of an entire album of b's music, played by these musicians, in 2012..? answers on a postcard to braxtonhead@gmail.com ;-)

4. one of the things i listened to YESTerday morning - when i did the re-relistening which prompted version c! - was the 1989 trio with roidinger and oxley (alchemy, alchemy) - they manage full collaging on that fwiw. [this may or may not have been my intended point here. if not, the real one'll occur to me again later i'm sure!]

centrifuge said...

ah no, that was it now - actually it ties into another point i clipped off the end of version c proper, denying myself at the last one *final* last para - ! just setting comp. 40b and 69q, say, as primaries to close a medley or suite is not the same as collaging at all. why is this so important? because these are absolute, world-class players who are still quite capable of riding the cutting edge (and standing up in the saddle!) - this track is cutting-edge. the rest of it ain't. i'm jus sayin

- so, yes, next time out we want to ask for something just for us friendly experiencers, either an entire album of comp. 69b alternates or a full hour-long set of deeply, fully collaged trio exploration (and *not* just through the (ahem) "songbooks" as they could almost be called)... i'm not for a minute expecting anyone to take me up on my initial genie-wish of an unseen, aleatory meta-journey through deepest gggtttmmm - though i bet the venue would be packed if they could be talked into doing it live, amidst an audience of close listeners - ! :-D