Sunday, January 27, 2013

(backwards) listening diary (inst.3 pt. 2)

saturday 19th jan - evening session

playlist 1, trs 3-8 (end)

- go on, just take a look back at that list and tell me "what's not to like"... there's not much coming up in the way of news, though a few things are worth mentioning for sure:

a. comp. 159 is seriously complex and (therefore) really satisfying if one wrestles with it, as i have done quite a bit now. it seems (here) to hinge on the playful, yet near-maddeningly obsessive echo and pre-echo between the repetitive birdcalls of the sax and the piano, pinging the message back at each other over and over again while the two "rhythm" players don't so much provide a foundation here, as do their level best to demolish the environs completely, or so it seems. but in a good way! (as i so often find myself saying these days.) - this piece can or could drive one insane, the way that obsessive line is tossed back and forth between the leader and the lady, the boiling maelstrom that underwrites it, the sheer length of it: not much change out of thirteen minutes each time you play it, but an attentive listener feels rewarded for the struggle, you bet. (i had this one first off the album for some reason (*1) and played it several times on breaks at work, either when playing pool (nope, that didn't work too well) or just hanging out... it's not an easy ride. but when was it supposed to be easy? this is the ambitious side of the quartet, or an aspect of it.

- "little melonae" has been mentioned before, briefly (and i can't remember when i'm afraid). for those not familiar with this piece, it's a jackie mclean number much admired by fellow explorers of the reed family; the jazz doctors even opened an album with it (love frank lowe. love, love frank lowe) - where the deceptively tricky, childlike melody (or shd that be "melodae"?) works perfectly for the violin as well as the sax; b. of course plays it on sopranino, fast and hard, running his fingers down those jagged contours faultlessly, setting himself up a cooking solo and leaving plenty of momentum for kevin o'neil to work with (*2). this number is pushing quarter of an hour in length, but i've played it eight or nine times recently and it never palls. i normally struggle with b's standards, let's be open and clear about this (it hasn't come up much recently). 'nuff said.

- and hey, comp. 173 is just fucking mental, man, i'm telling you... i'm not even talking about the barking-mad, brilliant dialogue written into the libretto or even the voice-totemic phonemic modulation which provides so much extra energy in the middle of the long full performance (*3); no, i just mean the relentless pace of the music, almost overwhelming in the opening piece (where attack is piled on attack for long minute on minute until the heaps and piles threaten to blot out the horizon); and much the same in the closing sequence i selected here, the only difference being it's half the length and therefore that much less overwhelming... and it's still crazy. even by our guy's standards... truly a very, very demanding and deeply rewarding musical conception, here encapsulated in one seriously action-packed coda.

[... aha, and timing being the serendipitous thing that is (for me, at the moment), next up from the TCF vaults in february is another one of those kick-ass sax quintets, playing this time... comp. 173. blessed be :))  ]

sunday 20th jan

1. ivo perelman and jay rosen, the hammer, trs. 1-3
- apart from having one of the most unappealing, most targeted-bargain-bin-seeking covers i have ever seen on a music album, this one is pretty good - at least that's how i remembered it from a couple of years back. i do like jay rosen, who is not particularly well known (except to collectors of the CIMP label - he is practically the house drummer there, or was at least a few years ago) and is not to be confused with longtime (now) braxton adept jay rozen, tubist and euphonium player of distinction; rosen-drummer is one of relatively few hard-bitten modern sticksmen from over "this" side who can make me think for half a second that i'm listening to a drummer from "that" side, i.e. extreme metal, so i always think fondly of him. (chris corsano is another one. not too many other names on that list though.) i haven't played this in a while, though - atanase had recommended it to me back in the day, i even held off ripping his copy so i could pick it up next time leo's had a sale..! and i did enjoy it, i did think it worked better than the trio with dominic duval (speaking of CIMP's house pool!), and when i put it on the other day, i really didn't remember it very well. starting almost from scratch, then.

considering its title, the hammer is not by any means flat-out assault and battery, and some of the music may even veer too far (for my liking) the other way, but the first three cuts sound pretty good today and they bring to mind one thing in particular, with stark clarity: the fundamental difference between jazz and free jazz, which is for me this very ability to speak in tongues or otherwise open up dimensional shifts; perelman demonstrates this quality excellently, condensing into his modulated reed sound a whole stratification of layered intelligence, communicating very very precisely yet with great epistemic urgency and forcefulness of spirit. by the end of three tracks i feel as i'm close to speaking the highly educated language in which he is addressing me (*4) ; oops, then the beginning of the fourth cut strays over the line towards (what felt suspiciously like) latin sentimentality, and i bailed, this most definitely not being what the doctor ordered. no, instead i fled towards known safe refuge:

2. victoriaville 1992, trs 1-2

- first two tracks, he says blithely, as if this entailed no more than ten minutes if music (which in the case of this group would be a very long ten minutes anyway); nope, this was more than half an hour of proper, intensive, collaged braxmusick and with me in receptive state, this had quite a bewitching effect on me at times. (in and out of the room, but frequently pulled back in by the music...)

- besides, this is my new best friend comp. 159 kicking things off, which is just home from home right now considering where this post began; this time it's another year later, sixteen months later actually, and the music is being folded back in on itself at a faster rate still, then. crispell, as so often, has recourse to comp. 30 and - well, actually you have me at a slight disadvantage there, because for all its ubiquity in the post-collage phase of opening-up-the-book, i would struggle to identify comp. 147 straight away i think. ok, so it was played at ulrichsberg, the soothing come-down after the franctic, unnerving comp. 169 on that occasion; but back here in canada i wasn't paying close enough attention today to try and unpick exactly who is playing what and when; i did feel immeasurably more "upheld" for spending so much time in the band's company, today. the second piece is not particularly recognised by me at all (comp. 148? restructures only lists it this once) but it still feels great to live inside. i was (semi-)deliberately avoiding any detailed analysis today though; indeed, after saturday's longer-than-expected afternoon session, i am under orders to sort the kitchen out today and have the music cranked in the next room... this works just fine, the music frequently engaging me, like i say, as it churns and progresses... until a bass-solo-including-silence takes over, which i then discover is the beginning of the next cut anyway; good time to switch as now, of course, i can't hear what's going on at all, have totally lost the thread and feel of the music.

3. splatter trio and debris (with guests), jump or die, etc, trs 1-2, 4-5 only

- jeez-damn, this is rather good isn't it. have i ever mentioned that?! it's just heart-warmingly, eye-poppingly magnificent to hear how these guys pushed and pushed themselves to co-create some really vibrantly alive,  utterly serious interpretations of the maestro's works, and not necessarily the well-known (ahem) ones either. ok, so i miss out comp. 23d (+108a) today; this is only 'cos time is at a premium, and i heard it the day before already. that leaves a bunch more obscure-ish stuff, for the most part, and don't it just sound fucking great. luckily the back of the kitchen chore has been broken by now, since not much gets done from here on in, too busy marvelling at the richly diverse and totally fresh, unexpected sounds which keep issuing forth from those speakers. boys: over twenty-one years into the past, i declare, well done to you all!! extraordinary stuff - and did any of you actually think "i can die happy now"? ;-)

for all that enthusiasm, i (again) retain very little from this four pieces, beyond (rather appropriately) visual impressions of outlandish landscapes (comps. 48 & 142); the collage of comps. 50 + 53 seems (alas) to have wiped its own feet with great care on leaving my ears because it's gone, gone... and the first cut - the unwieldy-looking but wonderfully-executed monster that is comp. 40e (+40d)/comp. 40p (+69q)/comp. 40(o) (which is how i would list it myself, i think) is familiar to me already, having been devoured on numerous occasions. here it's an indulgence which costs me possibly two pieces at the end, but once again - when the girls do arrive back, four-year old daughter expresses pleasure and interest in the music, and is well chuffed to guess correctly when i ask her whose music is being played :)

phew ... breather for at least a few days i think - ! no, i haven't even touched on the meta-diary materials (i.e. the music i have been playing while i typed all the posts up over the last few days... music which includes playlist 2 and more willisau, as well as more zooid (boom!) and - haha, no, i'm outta here, eleven posts in one month indeed, i ask you...) and i'm not going to. suffice it to say: ears are ringing, ears are ring-ing (*5) with wondrous sound. me, for time being, gone {{{@@@}}}

* see comments

Saturday, January 26, 2013

*viewpoint update alert*

right, yeah: like i said recently, i've been listening to the "meta-talisman" which is willisau 91. a lot, ish. actually more managing files on a computer and less listening as such, but... there's been plenty of that too, since a little goes a long way in a sympathetic set of ears, so... the album is either changing me, or bearing witness to change which was happening anyway. (if you know what i'm saying.) i'm now totally clear in my mind that this group, the (truly) great quartet, is my all-time favourite band in this field (whatever that is...). and that, in turn - i've decided this morning - is entirely natural and all "as it shd be", since in my previous misbegotten role as failed-perpetual-apprentice hard bop aficionado i would have said, to anyone foolish enough to ask me the question to begin with, that my fave jazz unit was miles' second great quintet (especially the four all-acoustic studio albums and the plugged nickel sets, etc). one (now-famous; i shan't name-drop him!) former college friend expressed astonishment at that and said "i'd have expected you to be into, y'know, late coltrane or something" - to which i replied, "well, yes - i like that too" but was privately concerned about my friend's lack of (deeper) knowledge, assuming when i mentioned miles davis that i was talking about "kind of blue/sketches of spain dahling" and not understanding how much freedom the second great quintet enjoyed - "time no changes" is one of those weak soundbites i steer clear of, as you know {koff} but here it sort of really was that simple, the leader fully trusting his young geniuses to co-create the most interesting, fertile ground possible for the soloists to explore, navigate and/or clash against;

- and the eventual true heritage from that shows up with this unbelievable anthony braxton quartet, the true great one, the apex of that continuum, c.1985-94 (*1).

now, willisau represents (pretty much, give or take) the triumphant return for a band "on hold" since late 1985; and this is where we get to the "opinion upgrade" because one of the group's apparent aims, this time round, is to represent precisely some sort of apical level with regard to the continuum of "american (free) jazz as such", to show how it's done when all group-members are not just reading from the same sheet, but communicating at the same speed, crucially. hence, in the two studio, each  disc ends with a "braxton jazz staple", b. quietly acknowledging the fact that in a sane and civilised parallel universe comps. 40b & 40m are staple fixtures in modern jazz "songbook" rep. and, well, this is exactly the sort of thing i'd been saying this band, this exultant set of exalted players, really needn't be getting involved with in 2012; in 1991 at least, and '93 as well i think (*2), this was deemed to be a valid way to use the group's resources - so some element of nostalgia might be thought to be acceptable ("friendship closes its eyes" and all that) last year. (and beyond? mmm, think not all the same). and boy, when the music reaches peaks of (complex/evolved/superintelligent) intensity like these numbers did in willisau, this more than justifies the decision to let the band loose on a straightforward (and non-collaged) reading of an old third songbook piece or two, picking natural closers in both cases, and benefiting obviously from the presence of the piano. this in place, and dimensional shifts are accessible to this interplanetary unit which could not really have been more-than-glimpsed by the '74 group, for example. comp. 40m willisau-style is a very slow-building cooker but when it reaches full intensity, it's a blast furnace. or something hotter... a fission or fusion reaction. when lock talked of incredible energy being channelled through/by the tiny and naturally (perhaps) rather diffident ms crispell - when she plays of course, it not being otherwise visible in her at all - this is some of what he had in mind, six years (or five and a half more like) down the line. cooks aint even in it.

- and apparently also i suck, duuude, cuz on the same album, studio half again, there is a track listed as comp. 23c +32 +105b (+30), where there is quite definitely no appearance of 23c until several minutes have elapsed. so, in other words, it's not up to me which way the composites are titled, it's up to the musicians ;-)  sure enough, late in the mix on this one there does eventually come a fully collaged, smeared-all-over-the-musical-landscape 23c, after it's been played straight. (yeah, so please note: none of this automatically justifies playing it straight and not collaging it on the trio date. ah, shut the fuck up man, enough on this already!) - the real point here is that no, not every piece undertaken by this group had to be linked to the same one identical agenda; it's perfectly fine and fitting for these guys to take on very new and unexplored territories, and also to show at other times that they can treat much-played, supposedly-done-with pieces like the 40 series with the utmost seriousness as repertoire, and so tear the material completely apart and inside-out, refashioning it until it finally fulfills and expresses its own ambitions rather than just establishing its potential. this, in fact, must have been one essential part of what the composer-leader wanted to use the band for at this stage.

does it mean that it's still valid and not just nostalgia-driven, to do in 2012 these pieces, or to take this same approach and not reach those same previous levels, never mind advance the music in any way? (well yes, there was one exception to that as we know... i have to ration myself on that version of comp. 69b from last year so i don't end up risking an aneurysm or something!) i'm really not sure still. it does seem a little perverse... at best. safe at worst, and we're back to dear old nostalgia again. ahhhh, but even that is not what it used to be, alas... and i am rapidly running out of the desire to keep talking about the same album, over and over again (*3). luckily... i don't have to for a bit ;-)


- salut f. - & hello to my old mucker, the artist formerly known as king kennytone - thanks! will be in touch soonest  :-D

* see comments

Friday, January 25, 2013

(backwards) listening diary (inst.3 pt. 1)

(started sun 20th)

ahhh... look deeply into the embers embedded in them thar clouds - and try to catch a faint echo of where my ears have been at, since i put the playlists together and devoured the tentet...

... 's weird... what i discovered during the weeks (and months, pretty much) when i wasn't updating the blog and rarely thought about it [ = felt guilty about it] is that people were reading it anyway; the fact that i had "abandoned" it didn't seem to matter and various posts which had been up for a while kept getting new page hits. ok, then having noticed this i had another bout of "blog drought" and that apparently caused a substantial fall in the numbers. caused it? coincided with it, at any rate. finally, i then came back here with renewed enthusiasm (for pretty much everything) and posted eleven times over the next month (18th dec- 18th jan); the previous "fallow period" - nine months comprising the second half of march up till midway through december - had realised a mere nine posts. anyway, at the end of this frantic burst of blogtivity, i had succeeded in getting the page-view count back up to where it was to begin with, i.e. the level it was at when i wasn't posting, but first started taking proper notice. this is a little strange, and i'm not sure what it tells ms, but it doesn't matter. this is because i also (re)discovered something else: that i feel so much better about myself when i am writing this.

alors on continue ... and since i've managed to cram a fair amount of music into the free space in the last thirty-six hours, and since it left me feeling subtly different from before, i thought i'd run back through it.

saturday 19th jan

1. playlist 1, trs 1-2 only: a few minutes snatched when least expected (luckily i had the ipod with me!), but attended very carefully. "birth" seems very long when listened to closely: it's fast-paced and jam-packed with narrative information. but is the narrative supplied by the saxophone, or by the drums, which change their style of attack repeatedly throughout, and end up unaccompanied? was the sax actually just providing accompaniment for the drums? - the jump or die comp. 23d (+108a) was (somewhat) detailed when i first heard it; it seems even more interesting now than it did back then. these guys really knew how to co-create edgy, fertile soundscapes from out of the textures provided in b's music; or at least if they didn't really know before, they figured out how to do it in the studio...

- with some time to myself a little later, i didn't go straight back to the list. instead i dug out a few things i had been meaning to play, starting with this one, naturally enough...

2.  satoko fujii four, when we were there (2006), trs 1-7. "sandstorm" - not surprisingly with so much water under the bridge since i first heard it - is less frenetic than i remembered it, but not by much. it is definitely written and not improvised, though. and yes, it's perfect for both dresser and black, who whip and slap the music along mercilessly. other pieces don't always fully hold my attention today; the title track begins (for me, now) unpromisingly, one of those "haunting" jazzy chord-cycles which (now, always) recall EST - but ms fujii knows what to do with it to keep it listenable, displaces accents regularly and in a manner quite unpredictable, reminding me of andrew hill (who himself was not above skirting the suburbs of sentimentalism, always making sure that his intellectual treatments eschewed the descent into sentimental city full-blown). the album is clever and charming, each piece distinctly different from its predecessors; the playing is top-notch (of course) - and black and dresser do hit it off for sure.

3 - 4. frank zappa, the yellow shark, selections
   - ensemble modern, greggery peccary and other persuasions, two tracks only
this was really interesting, as it shows me how far my ears have travelled in the last few years. around 2005-6, and to a lesser extent after that, i got back into zappa in a big way, having collected lots of his albums when i was younger. but i could never make much headway with the modern classical stuff, even though i suspected it was important work. moments might stand out for me, but i found the majority of it impenetrable, and it would pass and be gone before i knew it. tonight, things sounded very different.
- most of the pieces which i played on this occasion now struck me as being basically too simple (harmonically if nothing else) to be performed by an orchestra. this is a development in itself, because it's only a few years since i was listening to instrumental such as "dog breath variations" or "g-spot tornado" and marvelling at how difficult they were. and they are, if considered as pieces to be played by rock musicians (actually "...tornado" wasn't composed for musicians at all; it was put together on the synclavier for the jazz from hell album, which contains mainly music thought to be too difficult for humans to play; the ensemble modern amazed zappa during the shark rehearsals by requesting an arrangement of "...tornado", then arriving early each day to work on it *1); most of the same pieces just don't sound complex enough, or ambitious enough to be given to a modern orchestra. this is not the case with all the music, and the one piece i played twice today is an exception: "the girl in the magnesium dress", originally part of the perfect stranger (*2). this is an extremely complex piece, without doubt, so much so that the original version was not one of the compositions played by the ensemble intercontemporain, but reproduced on the synclavier alone. here, played with great care by real musicians, it's probably the only piece which fully holds my attention, and i'm therefore able to measure my own progress as a listener by the fact that i can now penetrate the music and make (some) sense of it. the rest of the tracks i play on the album seem - today at least! - to be almost facile by comparison.

the later album, made years after zappa's death, always did strike me as a bit strange. pieces which were written on the synclavier, intending to get as close as possible (not very!) to the sound of real instruments, are now played by real instruments in such a way as to sound like the synclavier. ok, so that's a generalisation; but that was always the feeling i got from it. the two tracks i played on this occasion didn't do much to dispel that memory... "put a motor in yourself", originally the opening number on civilization phaze III, was the piece i had most looked forward to hearing when the later album came out: out of all the music on phaze III, it always seemed to me to strike the best balance between complexity/ambition and (warped) melodic accessibility; and the stiffness in it, the inherent lack of rhythm was merely an inevitable by-product of the fact that it was (painstakingly!) constructed on a very expensive computer-synthesiser. - but, yep, several years on from when i last heard it, the ensemble's version sounds the way i remember it from before: as if they forgot all about restoring the missing elements and instead impetrated an orchestral arrangement which replicates exactly and precisely the synclavier version, then slavishly worked at reproducing it in the studio. ((as i seem to keep finding) listening to) it is a weird and not entirely pleasant experience.

- "mōggio", the opener on greggery peccary and originally waxed on the (maligned) man from utopia, is an old favourite of mine (from an album which i readily admit is one of fz's worst); but on this revisiting i still find it wanting, if enjoyable. part of what makes the original continue to impress is the listener's knowledge that the young (*3) steve vai is doing things on a guitar that the instrument was never designed for, executing very demanding written lines (of the type that an ambitious composer might give to a clarinetist, or to a player of mallet percussion) at maximum speed with almost complete perfection... obviously, this entire dimension (nb: not aspect) of the listening experience is lost to us in the ensemble's version. without it,  again, we're back to material which is great for a (masochistic) rock band, but nowhere near ambitious enough for a serious orchestra.


thing about that, by the way, is fz actually wrote plenty of music for serious orchestras, he just didn't get the chance to hear much of it (although supposedly (*4) he did get all of it out of him, before the end). the ensemble, like zappa himself - and, more to the point, like RCA - doubtless had half an eye on making a few quid after all, by actually shifting a bit of product. a whole album full of the stuff that made kent nagano stand up straight at the thought of even looking at it would, presumably, have been expected to vanish arse-first into oblivion ;-)


5. henry threadgill's zooid, up popped the two lips, trs 1-4

aha, now... my ears weren't spoilt at all by the preceding (basic) disappointment(s), just sharpened up (*5) so that when i find myself listening to something (which i admittedly already know to be) truly intended as all-the-way intelligent art, it blows my head off. in a good way! threadgill's conception is rendered beautifully clear all at once, within a few seconds of opener "tickled pink": each voice is an organism-unto-itself within a small community, and each runs uniquely its own course through a musical territory. having such a concept so effectively realised by such dedicated and super-skilled musicians is a beautiful, beautiful thing and i am very tempted just to sign that one off right there, but

       - i just can't (yet?) bring myself to do it ;-)

 - but no, there's a couple of other things actually. after all, this was the first zooid album (the last make a move recording so far, everybody's mouth a book, was released around the same time), and the project went on to become the composer-arranger's (*6) main obsession for the next few years, yielding several more albums (and live performances) - all of which (studio) recordings i've heard, just not this one until now; and of course the difference is that for the first time i'm hearing this sextet, one more in the strings than the next two albums and a configuration never quite revisited even for the most recent outing. i don't know whether slimming down one was ultimately just a pragmatic "road necessity" in this day and age, but (it's inevitable that) i do notice, in the midst of moving-and-marvelling my way around the room, that the oud has the least to contribute and is ultimately logical dispensable voice.

the other thing... well, it would be fair to say that mr threadgill tends to make rather samey albums, at least as often as not. this is because he tends to take particular ideas and work through them extensively and deeply, tilting them through various vertical and horizontal permutations in the course of examining and exploring them, before moving onto something else. and, er, who the fuck doesn't? ;-)

5. parker, guy, lytton and crispell, natives and aliens tr. 6-11

again, fired up as i now am, this sounds terrific from the split-second laser hits disc... it's the one i ended up paying least attention to - partly because i expected the girls back any minute and kept thinking each track would be my last - but i still patched in and out of phase with it every 10-45 secs and it just sounded fucken ace. perhaps inevitably because of where i came in (*7), parker almost sounds superfluous to what's going on here, the interplay between marilyn crispell and barry guy being that deep and intense. still kicks bottom though :)

[within minutes of playing this, i was online reading about marilyn c. and discovered the existence of this difficult-to-find-without-getting-burned gem; few more seconds, located said item for non-larcenous price on eBay, secured purchase of same ;-)  ... still haven't had a chance to play the damn thing yet mind...!]    (**)


inst. 3 pt. 2 follows imminently!

(*)  see first comment

* see second comment

* see third comment

* see fourth comment

Friday, January 18, 2013

i can't stop posting

there's so much to post about, all of a sudden...

i bid thee wintry greetings, reader, from snowy south wales: yes, you reader, since people do still read this blog on a daily basis, even if they have long since got out of the habit of letting me know about it. well, that's ok; i've long ago (obviously) accepted this as part and parcel of what i'm doing here, hence it's no imposition to continue it -

- but, as i said recently, i have been feeling a general thawing/conscious shedding of defensive cynicism towards my fellow humans (triggered off just before xmas in my own "scrooge experience"! *1); and i felt it was really high time i got over myself and signed up to the tcf monthly download thing. so much music is on there already, it's scary really, but beyond (for a minute) the ordinary (for us) business of collecting music recordings, there is the greater and more important matter of contributing to creative art which is, with no irony at all, good for the soul and spirit. of all concerned... good for everybody. it has felt weird to be out in the cold for so long. (fer sum reason i jes hadda do it.) definitely time to warm up a bit.

so here i am still listening to the month's free download:

and hoho yes, all very mind-blowing that is too. (i shit you not.) i have also got there in time to grab last month's, the carnegie hall solo recital fragment from 1972 (a pretty barren year). which is nice. oh, and a quick glance at the "sampler" persuaded me to strap that one on as well. not bad for an evening's work really ;-)

(this has been going on for the last month now, pretty much. in the buildup to xmas i bought some stuff in the leo's sale, much of it braxton of course (yes... and believe it or not there is still some which i haven't got), and saw that arrive just in time for the end-of-the-world-which-didn't-happen; the next few days saw me trying to get through those (still only partially successful!). i then spent some of the money i'd been given before the 24th online, and continued a few days later after a muse and ponder about what i really wanted to buy with it. guess what i bought with it? mainly more anthony braxton cds. (a couple of months off, and then a complete binge):
victoriaville 1992 (great quartet)
john shiurba's 5 x 5 thing (inc. greg kelley, g. robair... and b!)
7 comp's trio '89 (which is a seriously impressive album)
comp. 192 with goddess newton (shiver)
- this in addition to those i had already snaffled in the sale. (some special stuff in there too.) so, yeah, rather than just stack those up and then get depressed about how little time i was gonna get to lissen to 'em, i just started squeezing 'em in however and whenever i could. (still haven't finished old dogs, mind you. or some of the double leos.) and then, well, xmas went, new year came and went, and as cds arrived i was playing them, and then i decided to explode (for some (set of) reason(s)) into the most fertile month this blog has enjoyed since march '08. that was mainly guided day-in-day-out by this meta-talisman of an album, or (to be precise) a few parts of the first disc thereof. but, y'know, that's powerful stuff and will unlock doors (apparently!).

- now i arrive at another collection-point, evidently, and have downloaded the above-mentioned recordings from tcf. that tentet, wow - worth it just for the incredible trap drum display given by kevin norton during the forty-ninth minute (i.e. from 48.00ish onwards). worth it for that, but replete with so, so much more.


i also find myself playlisting again, for the the first time really since 2008, again:

- and, ah:

- well, i enjoyed that anyway ;-)

[as you can see, i classify any of b's own music under the category braxton, for (several) obvious reasons. in the second playlist, james carter's version of comp. 40q is "jazz" because he (young carter) is himself choosing to make that statement about it, reclaim it as rep or songbook. if anyone's really interested in querying any others then drop me an email or something :) ]

if i have anything useful to report on any of this then i'll be back. meanwhile, like i say... two months with scarcely a flicker of braxton and one jam-packed with him. yin, yang, we can work with that... go check out the 2001 tentet!! remarkable sounds from the (notionally) reed-heavy group; kevin o'neil plays a blinder too as usual. (i will try and remember one day to repost my corrected rip of another concert by this band.)

c x

[hello to alex hawkins - nice to correspond with you again, get that album of covers on the go i reckon! start thinking of collaborators..!]

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

falling river quartet

right, so for those of you who missed it... mmm. apparently i seem destined always to start these posts in red, so let's go with that. the anthony braxton falling river music broadcast courtesy of (bbc/jez nelson's) jazz on 3 last night - wow, yes, i sat up and listened live for the first time in ages - is still available for a week. get on it people. 

i did listen to it... ish: the low volume levels, and the fact i was having to listen to it late in a family house with no headphones (or soundproofing) meant that i could barely hear some of it, so in the end i gave up trying after a while and got back to the writing instead. it worked surprisingly well as background music, though, and i was frequently very impressed by something or other - i am looking forward to hearing the recording at a proper volume some time. in the meantime - daresay i say it again - this is more genuine cutting-edge music here, folks, what are you you waiting for?

[i saw the page hits  die off completely after eleven o'clock last night. i was hoping that meant everyone had gone away to listen intently to the broadcast :))  ]

 time for a break now - if you have thoughts, let me know what you think - ! feel free to leave a comment!

cent x 

(the trio's) composition 116

(what it is... and isn't)

it's not a headlong, full-tilt fast line extension or anything quite like it. i've sort of cleared that up already (for a very patient and ruminative reader!) - but i haven't said what it really is like, in terms of a braxtothonesque image... it reminds me of a large and undeniably possessed kitchen table, containing numerous fragile household objects and counterbalanced by six-to-eight legs of uneven length and a charmingly unpredictable degree of relative stability, attempting to negotiate its way as fast as possible down a cobbled hill. but in a good way! above all it's marilyn crispell's very own version of comp. 23f and of course comp. 40q - a descending spiral down a broken flight of stairs. and yes, this was one of a slew of pieces written especially for the pianist. gerry hemingway would already have been firmly in ownership of the drum chair, too. mark dresser would not, yet, have been anywhere near the picture. john lindberg was - in hindsight - getting ready to be dumped out of the band. [i still don't know why btw. not that it's a particularly pressing issue.]

anyway, the piece does rely on propulsive forward momentum, it's just that it's both continuously (broken accent time in the drums) and continually (bass) harrowed and interrupted momentum. joyous, really, in the event! (basically looks like a fairly happy table.) the piece does also really offer crispell plenty of chance to shine - and spring, and sparkle even amidst all the spikes and sparks being flung back up the busted-up terrain the group is traversing... and if this is how they want to open the album, i certainly don't have a quarrel with that at all. you see, this one is fine as it is, not quite reaching any transcendent realms but not being required to do so - it's an opener. it's a great opener! one knows (or hopes at least) that the richest meat will be elsewhere in the album. (and it is, there's just not as much as had been hoped for, perhaps.) and because it is reliant on forward speed and flexibility, who knows, maybe there was a conscious (or half-remembered) knowledge of dresser's having previous form on fast openers, playing with satoko fujii and making his bass leak smoke. after all, in case anyone saw the link i posted before and assumed that dresser sort of ended up playing on it, this is absolutely not the case. (*1) no, comp. 116 wasn't written with him in mind, but he was in the post for it, and all these other pieces. he really breathed fresh life into some of that material, probably. (*2) why not leap at the idea of rushing out of the gate with this piece, with this band?


speaking of comp. 40q... ahaha, i had to cut-and-paste out an image i came up with for that number, so long ago that i would now hate to have to admit it. 'cos of course that's coming up next, right? ahahahahahahahhhhhhhaahahh)

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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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Sunday, January 13, 2013

tzadik presents braxton (enlightened version b)

- and da capo al fine, after placing the lens up close:

- tracks not re-examined in album sequence... details follow...

so, comp. 40n then, and this (slightly vexed) question of the role of mr dresser's bow... yeah ok, so as it turns out this really was a straightforward case of my not paying attention, on several successive occasions - which also, in fairness, would normally be taken (by me as well as most others) as indicative, or at least temptingly suggestive, of some lack of desire in the music to captivate the listening ear. well, sixty-forty at best, that one; more often than not, in other words, one will be missing things of note and (consequently) not stopping to take stock of that at all. BUT at the same time, this rendition remains an odd contrast with holland's treatment(s) of the piece. (*1) when dresser wants to do special things with the bow, he can really raise hairs on the back of one's neck - raise whole choirs of ghosts all on his own, so he can - so to undertake to interpret the (all arco) bass parts of the written chart (which i haven't read or read about in detail yet anyway *2) in a manner entirely different from the accepted way of playing the piece; - and in summary, i always considered 40n to be a non-schizoid twin of the mighty comp. 23e; this twin is stable, in my mind, but equally planetary in its scale and concerns. this time round? in "reclaiming" the piece, if that's what they are doing, the three players succeed only in demoting it, scaling ita ambitions right back and down. for what it's worth (something), dresser's arco work on the piece is fine and graceful, and he does eventually hit a flat drone... for maybe ten seconds. he also modulates it before it's finished. anyway, for whatever reason, the group reinterprets the written text as something much less dramatic than it was previously, with no great advance in understanding, necessarily. or it just feels subdued...

... in any case it still comes about quickly enough that hemingway swings his way easily into a semi-urgent groove-pulse, and after several bars of keeping her own counsel crispell jumps right on into the very tricky, superbly satisfying theme. yes, and i said last time out, i am a fool for this number when there's a good piano player on it - but i discovered last night, listening with the close ear-lenses on, that there's another essential ingredient to this piece... and when there's no reed voice involved, i find it hard to sustain my interest fully. somehow, somehow this does all feel like a very tasteful, rather bathetic end to what could, should dammit, have been a fantastic album. 'cos this time out, brothers and sisters, that's all i learned anew about this-here jazzy cooker.

right, well - so i knew (sort of) for sure what my overall conclusions were bound to be, but hey, i found myself needing to stand up and stretch my legs for a while so i stayed away from the computer and continued listening more or less intently, with attempted continuous focus, starting with the opening salvo, comp. 116. can't remember off the top of my head whether i "know" this'n from elsewhere - but it does, for sure, offer a cracking start to the set, ripping along at a fair old pace while sprinkling spikes and broken accents all over the road in front of itself... the ensuing negotiation is not so hectic (or so condensed) as what this most reminds me of on this occasion: another small-but-powerful lady pianist, satoko fujii, writing her own music for this album, and kicking off with the alchemical wedding "sandstorm", two minutes of infernal blast [which, contrary to what that professional reviewer seems to infer, sounds to me (unless i am very much mistaken) not chaos-improvised at all really, more like 95% written-out]. who was the bassist on that one again..? oh yes, some unknown lanky american called mark dresser ;-)  ... anyway, back to 2012... this particular fast number of b's is supple and agile, tailor-made seemingly for the wonderfully whippet-springy, zestful ms crispell, though for all its smashed-off corners and busted-up road surface, the opener doesn't quite break stuff down into its smallest possible parts, the vehicle therefore failing to take off to full extent for me, enjoyable though it is. the mix is volatile enough, absolutely, and crispell actually does revel in tearing this sort of music to bits, in principle; and she has done so on plenty of occasions. but in the eventuality, what i found with the ear-spex on was that beyond the frantically-exciting tessitura itself, nothing too out-of -the-ordinary ends up taking place; and yes, again, even when listening closely, it still seems to be cut a bit short...

... which in turn brings me back again to something i could scarcely shut up about last time, i.e. poor old comp. 23c and my apparent snobbery towards it. no, no, not snobbery, but here's the thing: first, it brings me back to it again because the opener is too short for this to work as a "palate-cleanser" (as previously advised), and let's be clear about this, the initial effect noted back in the early-mid seventies was on concert audiences, who were probably hearing the piece for the first time. and second, and crucially: this time out, i recognised dresser's opening cadenzas - his toying around with segments of the theme and embellishing them in the time-honoured bass-solo fashion - for what they really represent: and in reclaiming (for sure) this one as a territory worthy (potentially) of supporting limited structural and/or thematic improvisation, they then seriously miss a trick by electing to follow it up with the actual piece. - yes, in all honesty the bass solo was all they needed and it would have worked just as a one-minute snippet. it would. as it is? it doesn't. a better choice would still have been 40(o), 40(o) or 40(o). and that would still have allowed the bass-solo-only 23c to come off. great idea. ok, i'll leave this one now. (*3)

- and skipping that, as i then did, brought me, all too quickly, to the medley/collage whose title i fixed last time out: comp. 110a (+108c)/comp. 69q. and back to the bow, and to some more graceful wizardry from the iron-haired giant (who bestrides like a colossus, blah-de-blah wank wank)... but i quickly found myself wanting to come back to this one, indeed needing to revisit it since, again as with the album closer (the re-inspection of which occasioned this article coming into existence), i was leaning on an assumed memory and know from experience that i can't trust myself 100%, not if i wasn't really trying to pay attention in the first place... far from it. (*a) i actually said (as a critic would, and as i tried not to do too often during my five or six years as a small-scale freelance music journo *b) that the pulse track only gets going once the piece is underway. true? er, not really as it turns out, but in any case i did skip it (slightly guiltily) and cut straight to the album's clear, indisputable highlight: comp. 69b (8.2).

- marilyn crispell quite clearly loves this piece, and why the hell would she not? it wasn't even written with a piano in the band, and b. did not always have access to one at this time (though muhal and anthony davis both got hit up for a spot every once in a while), but its pecking, drilling trill attacks really get the lady's creative juices flowing. now, what 8.2 might mean is really anyone's guess. did they attempt eight different strategies, and record multiple takes of each, or of some? surely not. (though it could explain why the actual final set-list is short on both length and weight..!) but whatever it is, like i say, three times i'd "listened" to it and three times i'd "loved" it, always finding my body hitting a complex (but very cathartic and positive-feeling) groove in the pelvic girdle; and freaking out a bit each time towards the climax, which is extremely satisfying. now, ironically perhaps, this motherfucker turns out when viewed up close to feature some real wizardry, dresser reminding us at times (in the first third of the piece) of the advanced classical studies he underwent for years before b. got hold of him (on gerry hemingway's recommendation): the fine-fingered weirdness the bassist conjures forth in his free spaces during the build-up, then, of a quantum-exploratory inside-out re-examination of a piece which crispell has made her own (she wanted it first up at the anniversary concert... and she wanted it on here also)... he leaves me speechless when i hear it for the fourth time, lenses in place. actually everyone gets plenty of time to shine on this, 'cos it begins unusually for a start, not with the familiar pecking trills but with sweeps and swoops, etc, free and open entries setting something up in the background, out of which arises, indeed, the playful trills-and-pecks which signify 69b is indeed joined. and yes, the details in the build-up which follows are fascinating, the highlight being for me that liberal sprinkling of fingerboard magic from the bass, but it is a build-up, 'cos it does peak and when it does peak, it stays at a furiously intense level for quite some time, my friends... quite some time. graham lock seemed surprised when hemingway talked of violence in his music (at times), but it came as no surpise to me, by the time i read the book - i knew what the percussion master was talking about, having already heard him participate in it.

well this achieves pretty similar levels of harnessed power to some of those great quartet recordings (*4) at their most intense; and really, if the truth be known, this fourth cut alone fully justifies the decision to get the guys back into the studio at all. (ouch. yeah, but...) that's cool because, fuck, it really does justify it. and the end - well, it's just the end as always, the piano and bass picking out the pecks and signing off one last time, but here, after that maelstrom of intelligent sound, it has a punctiliousness which both intimidates and amuses all at once. it's an absolutely compelling, remarkable performance, from the trio - but nonetheless from the pianist, in particular.

and after that, my enthusiasm fully rekindled, i did at last skip back a track, to the medley and the last remaining unanswered question... and like i said above, the answer was that i *had* misremembered it, was probably (vaguely) mixing it up in my memory with the jump or die version of comp. 23d (+108a) - well, however i did it, the actuality is that the pulse track as such only really appears early on, and is never fully kicked into life if you ask me - again, strange (and perhaps even strangled - see last para). the treatment of comp. 110a, on the other hand, by dresser and crispell is very nice indeed, it's just that it seems to catch fire, if at all, in a very quiet and localised way. and speaking of jump or diecomp. 69q itself - ? well, that's fun enough, and again it's a piece not written with piano in mind at all, but which suits our pianist just fine. still and all, by now it's abundantly clear: comp. 69b, and to a lesser extent comp. 116, are where this session really took off.

- so, what do i come back to..? the sound seems muffled and it's not the rip (which i admittedly heard first), the cd does the same thing to me. the production seems skewed towards giving crispell the most sympathetic sound imaginable, her tone being above all one which invokes both softness and great tensility and potentiality all at once, very quickly whenever she begins to play; perhaps they think that in providing an ambience which will emphasise the softness in (or around the edges of) her basic timbre, they are doing her a favour - in which case they forgot that the true favour would have been to provide a great sound for everybody, and then everybody could automatically stretch out and thrive. hemingway - who name i have scarcely mentioned in the above piece - feels suffocated inside the production here and dresser has been, as it were, chemically castrated. the piano leaps and sparkles and hammers, but the others? hemingway, whom i recognised within seconds on a bootleg live clip from the eighties, in the "final prototype" band; here i honestly think i would struggle to identify him at all if i needed to. i mean, is there not something ludicrous about that? (*5) no, when it comes down to it the release could have been better than it is, and really we "should" all be pestering mr zorn to make sure he doesn't forget about vol. 2 - and doesn't neglect to mention that this time we want to try and get a whole set going, of wildly unpredictable materials. that didn't happen yet... but the wild unknown that did get (un)covered is worth the price of admission on its own, at the right price. peace out. c x

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Saturday, January 12, 2013

oh and while i'm at it...

check it out! the return of the main man to bbc radio 3 - thanks to mcclintic sphere for pointing out what once would have been in my (online) backyard :))

there will be one week to listen! word up!!


- again, while i'm about it, like... just in case anyone was wondering what became of those tapes, and i know *i* was! - that gift from musical heaven, in principle - yep, they are still there and waiting to be explored... finding time to do that is one of my projects for the next "quarter"..! (new CDs too... a number of these, and (varying amounts) to say about each and every one, if i can sort it out...)

tzadik presents braxton (critic's version a)

(version b follows soon. trust me, i mean imminently - ! *)

well, apparently the italian gtm piece is not yet quite ready to get finished... but in the meantime i wanted to make sure that i didn't completely lose momentum, so here's something else i had in the pipeline: some thoughts on this album, (*) a recent addition to the slowly-growing list of albums featuring b's music, (re)interpreted in this instance by three people who know it better than practically anybody. what follows is more in the way of remarks on the release itself, rather than an in-depth analysis of the music. (*)

crispell/dresser/hemingway play braxton (*) (tzadik 2012)

- john zorn apparently seized the chance to whisk these guys into the studio when they reformed for the 65th anniversary concerts in 2010; although that may be a slightly misleading way of looking at it. the label blurb actually phrases it thus: "reformed for braxton's 65th birthday concert, they were recruited on the spot to record a CD of music for tzadik, and went into the studio soon after...", which really makes it sound as if the recording came after the concert. it didn't, if the details on the cd are correct: the recording was made on april 19th 2010 (*1), and the concerts took place in june (naturally enough). ok, well, leaving that aside, it's a cause for celebration that this album exists in the first place, and i'm suitably grateful to jz for putting it together. as always with this label, the package is very tastefully designed, with a cover which seems to hint at a relationship between b's famous (and famously misunderstood) titular diagrams and the scores themselves: the angles and curves on the diagram which has been selected for the cover look almost as if they are themselves part of the written notes. that said, i don't know which piece is represented by the diagram or even if it's included on the album (*2): it's disappointing that the proper titles, i.e. the diagrams themselves, are not given on the cd, just the familiar opus numbers.

the title of the third track (listed as comp. 108c/110/69q) is incorrect, for several reasons. firstly, comp. 108c is - of course - a pulse track, and therefore by definition can never be a primary territory; it must always be played with, or against, another composition. listing it first is therefore both (technically) wrong and also somewhat perverse, since the pulse track itself does not make an appearance until the music has been underway for a while. what's more, strictly speaking there is no such thing as comp. 110 since this, too, is a short series comprising several pieces. the correct title for this collage, unless i'm mistaken, is as follows: comp. 110a (+108c)/comp. 69q

now, as i said above, i'm happy and grateful that the album even exists, and i don't want to sound overly critical or negative about it... but for all the intelligent joy which is to be found in the playing, the choice of material is a bit of an eye-opener. the most obvious point to note is that the playing time is just under forty minutes, which is a perfectly acceptable length for an album (even if it seems a little short by the standards of the cd era - but that in itself is fine, if the programme is well-balanced), but which is noticeably light for a full set of braxton material; and this is especially true within the context of this band. the quartet's live sets would always last about an hour - like most dcw or gtm performances - and accordingly, the album really does feel as if it's short by at least ten minutes, even allowing for the difference between a continuous live suite, and an album consisting of several separate tracks. with this in mind, the inclusion of comp. 23c here seems really quite odd, not to say downright lazy: what do we really learn about these players by having this on here? absolutely nothing... yes, 23c is a delightful sweetmeat but we've all it heard it many times by now (me more than most, admittedly) and besides, with no horn it is clearly missing a crucial ingredient. playing it in the anniversary concert made some sense, where it fulfilled its traditional role as a palate-cleanser; but on the album, coming as it does just six minutes in, it really feels redundant to me and in a studio context the missing voice is glaringly obvious. so, for all dresser's nice unaccompanied intro on it, i can't understand what it's doing here. the inclusion of a repetition structure makes perfect sense, but then in that case why was comp. 40(o) not chosen instead? this is a favourite of crispell's (and of other pianists too *3) and offers room for improvisation; 23c is a very rare example of a braxton piece which is completely through-composed and like i say, we're not learning anything here by the fact that three expert musicians are able to negotiate the piece comfortably. and whilst it's also only fair to point out that showing off is not the idea here as such, far from it in fact, i still have to see the programming as very uninspired here. 

comp. 40n is not so much an odd choice - again, far from it! - as just treated rather eccentrically, there being little evidence (or at least no substantial trace in my memory after three plays) of the rock-bed-rich arco tone sometimes associated with mr mark dresser; remember, this was a piece particularly well suited to dave holland and has been captured-crystallised by him for posterity; hearing it without the long drones really standing out in the ear-memory just seems very strange. so i had to go back and listen to this one again more closely (*) just to be sure: and well, the results of that were a bit of an eye-opener too. 'cos lo and behold, dresser uses the bow exclusively throughout the treatment of 40n, and sure enough, he never reproduces the long drone so successfully mastered  - both live and in the studio - by holland all those years earlier. that is peculiar, an opportunity missed or a very weird selection at any rate, and i'm sure i read somewhere (so, within the last few weeks then) that the drone was precisely what led dresser back to it in the first place... anyway, heard in the background if not up-close, the piece is refined and pleasant enough but failed to captivate me and before i knew it, each time, the busy, deceptively-hard-to-reproduce comp. 40b is underway, crsipell suddenly deciding to get on the road hemingway's been flying along for a little while now. well, i am a sucker for hearing this number done by pianists, find it hard to get truly into without, these days; but this one does not actually add much to that. mmm.

rrrRRRRrrright... thus for all the astral expectoration if you know what i'm saying... it is not exactly too difficult to find much to like about the album, the opening comp. 116 is fiery and spirited and provides a great start, even if it is on the shortish side (and thus exacerbates the problem/s of following up with the repetition structure); and comp. 69b (8.2) - whatever that means - is thrillingly intense and powerful, for some time before it ends. every time i heard the album, i found it impossible to keep still with this piece on and it was definitely the highlight as far as i was concerned. the above-discussed "actual" collage as such - 'cos i don't think it's fully collaged at all (*4) - is good also, featuring (funnily enough) lovely arco work by dresser. and the whole thing is just, well, absolutely impossible to dislike, and i remained happy that i ordered the physical copy of the cd even as i downloaded the online rip (*). no questions there... i just think it could have been done better, with more care and time put into the programming (*5) and a little more to the packaging also. but i'm still glad to have it on my shelf, don't worry about that.

but here's an idea (assuming as always that zorn may already have somewhere-down-on-a-mental-list vague plans for vols. 2-x): next time, why don't we give these masters, these absolutely unquestioned and unquestionable masters, something which is NOT intimately familiar to grapple with..? three days, a handful of gtm scores each, and on the day just let them grab a smattering of pages at random, chuck 'em together and tear through the layers of mangrove together, fully-focussed and alert and with no relaxed smiles at all (until very near the end perhaps) - discovering new (to them) music, not the stuff they above all humans (probably, let's face it) know better than anyone else already. now who among us wouldn't wanna pay to hear that?!

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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

cent's 2013 manifesto

(it's after the end of the world. don't you know that yet..?)

may as well get this one out of the way super-early, like, since i'm full almost to bursting at present with planned blog activity - blogtivity if you please - and meantime the bits and pieces in various states of partial completion are being held up by (what's now) the new year. in all seriousness, as a classic example of double-booked thinking, i'd thought that i could still finish and post the italian gtm article on monday night, without having taken stock of the fact that this was also new year's eve, and me in a house with (now) a four year-old daughter who had insisted she was gonna be able to stay awake until midnight to see "the fireworks" (in actuality this was limited to a handful of tiny explosions in the distance, visible above neighbouring roofs - and the rather outrageously lavish display on london's south bank, seen on tv!) - no blogging time for me, in the end. once she finally conked out, i was too knackered myself to attempt anything at all except a bit of borderline vegetation.

but today, well, that has been the beginning of the next cycle, or whatever the hell this is (now that nothing happened - probably - definitely - supposedly - whothefuckknows anyway). whether we like it or not, for many people there has been a question mark hanging over the last year, and it's officially gone now. and in my case, just by confluence of energies and not prompted by the non-events of friday 21st in the slightest, i want 2013 to be a bit of a breakout year. i am, like, ready to rejoin the human race. that's been a long time coming and it does get quite cold out here, i must say. useful perspective(s), no doubting that, but very cold... after a while you don't feel as if you could ever really remember what it's like to warm up. (but this is what falling off the wagon did for me... don't know what to tell you about that, it's just the way it is.) well, i now almost feel as i should be introducing myself in (alcoholic) self-acknowledgement mode: my name is hal charles and i have asperger syndrome.

whatever that means, right... not necessarily that much... which is after all how i got as far as age 42 without ever being given such a diagnosis, thought it became pretty clear when i looked into it a few years back; but then nothing useful came of it and i forgot about it again. thing is, without ever particularly feeling the need for a label (and especially not that one!), i have recently looked back across my life thus far and seen how that undiagnosed set of preferences and habits does actually colour so much of it, and when it comes to my interactions with other people, well... hmmm. the point is, i never wanted it to work out that way. driven to isolation, compelled to stick with it... never intentionally wanted it. now, i'm used to keeping my own company from a young age so i can cope with it, but i would actually prefer to be a bit more directly involved. one way or another, i have to find a way to do that. this year is when i intend to start.

what does that mean for the music? hahaha, the fucking braxtothon, hung that round my own neck didn't i... still intend to press on with it though. at some point. first... other stuff to clear up from the last couple of weeks' ruminations, some of it dealing with this delightful trinket which i didn't know existed until about ten days ago... even my daughter liked that one (ok, she heard about two minutes of it. fwiw she won't tolerate heavy metal though, not yet anyway..!) but, me being me, i was not so easily satisfied and there's plenty to say about the album. what else... ah, just bits and pieces, let's hope i actually deliver on my teases for a change ;-)  but music continues to be one of the things which reminds me most often that being human is actually not such a bad thing (parenthood? that's nowhere near as straightforward!) and if i am able to communicate some of what i feel and think about it, i can only believe that it's of inherent (and hopefully lasting) value to do that. if it brings me back into contact with more fellow humans... perhaps at last i am ready for that..!

happy new year everybody {{{{''@@@'}'}'}'}