Anthony Braxton: Beyond Quantum/Performance (Quartet) 1979/12+1tet (Victoriaville) 2007/Trio (Victoriaville) 2007/Solo Willisau
Anthony Braxton/Milford Graves/William Parker
Over the course of a remarkable 40+-year career, Anthony Braxton has remained wildly prolific (Wikipedia cites more than 100 titles as a leader in his discography) and has moved farther and farther away from any conventional understanding of the sort of music a jazz musician plays. Recently Braxton's creative improvisations and original compositions have been removed from melody and rhythm, better titled by abstract symbology rather than nouns and verbs.
Leave it to downtown impresario and producer John Zorn to bring together Braxton (saxophones), William Parker (bass) and Milford Graves (percussion) for as close to an allstar power trio as jazz fans can get. Braxton moves effortlessly from horn to horn, Graves boils with creative energy (interjecting his patented vocalizing in one spot) and Parker ties it all together with iron pizzicato playing and well-placed arco work throughout the five "meetings" that form Beyond Quantum. Zorn, along with co-producer Bill Laswell, may have delivered the CD of the year: 60 minutes of seamless, hard-hitting supergroup improv from three masters.
Performance (Quartet) 1979 reissues a complete Willisau Jazz Festival concert from the period where Braxton introduced "pulse track structures," which helps make the Braxton-ian listening experience less daunting. Seven compositions are linked as "collage improvisations" that comprise the two halves of this 70-minute show. Braxton and trombonist Ray Anderson generally solo over the rhythm section made up of John Lindberg on bass and Thurman Barker on drums, with Braxton's stated goal being to achieve the balance of a Dixieland band, if you can believe it, in music that acknowledges individual virtuosity in a group setting, free improvisation that responds to set-down composition and innovation that thrives in light of tradition.
Nearly 30 years of composing and performing has passed since the Swiss concert, culminating in a 12+1tet Braxton reconvened for the Victoriaville Festival in May of 2007. The players had been chosen based on their familiarity with Braxton's concepts and this level of comfort with the material results in distinctive and provocative combinations among the three brass, four reed, two wind and three string players (plus percussion). Individual voices surface: Jay Rozen's percolating tuba, James Fei and Steve Lehman's darting and soaring saxophones, Taylor Ho Bynum's inventive cornet runs. This continuous 70-minute presentation follows its own rigorous internal logic while never losing forward momentum.
In addition to the 12+1tet, Braxton performed at Victoriaville with his Diamond Curtain Wall Trio, rounded out by brassman Taylor Ho Bynum and guitarist Mary Halvorson. This band sets itself apart from other trios with Braxton's full range of odd saxophones both large (contrabass) and small (sopranino), Bynum's arsenal of trumpets, cornets, flugelhorns and mutes and most intriguingly, Braxton's use of computer music, fed by a laptop and serving as background, foundation and an inspiration toward improvisation. What in other contexts is distracting or intrusive becomes an integral part of the music making. It's a fascinating listen and a testament to Braxton's continuing vitality.
In a long line of solo playing that extends back to 1968's groundbreaking For Alto, Solo Willisau presents Braxton unadorned in 2003 on his trusty alto saxophone, the clearest setting for appreciating Braxton's unique vocabulary. Of course Braxton is never easy and this CD requires the listener to have an attention span that can be held by a single voice for 75 minutes. It succeeds. Lyrical, jazzy and avant-garde by turns, Braxton spins a narrative that screeches, barks and circular breathes through numbered originals, with a version of "All the Things You Are" dropped right in the middle. Braxton digs in and claims it for his own.
Now in his early 60s, Braxton remains the most perplexing, controversial and polarizing figure in jazz. His music is rarely as accessible as you would like, but it's usually not as forbidding as you would fear.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: First Meeting; Second Meeting; Third Meeting; Fourth Meeting; Fifth Meeting
Personnel: Anthony Braxton: saxophones; Milford Graves: percussion; William Parker: bass
Performance (Quartet) 1979
Tracks: Part I; Part II
Personnel: Anthony Braxton: alto, Bb and Eb soprano saxophones, clarinet, contrabass clarinet; Ray Anderson: trombone, alto trombone, little instruments; John Lindberg: double bass; Thurman Barker: percussion, xylophone, gongs
12+1tet (Victoriaville) 2007
Tracks: Composition No. 361
Personnel: Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet, bugle, trombone, bass trombone, bass piccolo; Andrew Faffo Dewar: c-melody and soprano sax, clarinet; James Fei: alto and soprano sax, clarinet, bass clarinet; Mary Halvorson: guitar; Steve Lehman: alto and soprano sax; Nicole Mitchell: flutes, piccolo, voice; Jessica Pavone: alto, violin, electric bass; Reut Regev: trombone, bugle, cymbals; Jay Rozen: tuba, euphonium; Sara Shoenbeck: bassoon; Aaron Siegel: percussion, vibraphone; Carl Testa: bass; Anthony Braxton: alto, soprano and sopranino saxophones, contrabass clarinet
Trio (Victoriaville) 2007
Tracks: 1. Composition No. 323c
Personnel: Anthony Braxton: sopranino, soprano, alto, baritone, bass and contrabass saxophones, electronics; Mary Halvorson: electric guitar; Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet, bugel, trombone, bass, piccolo trumpets
Tracks:No. 328c; No. 344b; No. 328a; All the Things You Are; No. 119m; No. 106p; No. 328d; No. 191j
Personnel: Anthony Braxton: alto saxophone