Click here to [close]

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Anthony Braxton - Echo Echo Mirror House (Victo, 2013) ****

A Deep Listening Review  - Part 2 (see part 1)

By Martin Schray

Yes, it is true, I was almost afraid to write this review because Anthony Braxton’s music scares me in spite of its beauty and the fact that I really like listening to it. Recently I saw him with his Falling River Music Quintet and it was a difficult experience, the music seemed very intellectual to me, I was not really touched emotionally. So when Colin asked me if I want to join him for a double review on this album I was indeed really reluctant.

Braxton has recently used and developed four main compositional concepts – Diamond Curtain Wall, Falling River, Ghost Trance and Echo Echo Mirror House. Diamond Curtain Wall includes intuitive improvisation with interactive electronics based on graphic notation. Falling River is a similar concept as to notation: the scores consist of large, colorful drawings (what I saw lately was based on a large blue spot and a golden circle), much smaller writings, and less musical notation. About Ghost Trance Braxton says that it is “a system of tracks, like a giant choo-choo train system that will show the connections, so where a soloist is moving along a track, that will connect to duo logics, trio logics, quartet logics.” Echo Echo Mirror House is his latest concept. In this ensemble, all the musicians (Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet, flugelhorn, trumpbone; Mary Halvorson on guitar; Jessica Pavone on alto sax, violin; Jay Rozen on tuba; Aaron Siegel on percussion, vibraphone; Carl Testa on bass, bass clarinet and Anthony Braxton himself on alto, soprano and sopranino saxes) use iPods in addition to their instruments, while meandering through graphic notation, which results in a fascinating combination of live performance and sampled sounds.

The seven musicians and their iPods are like three full orchestras simultaneously playing three distinct Braxton pieces at the same time. But if you expect chaos you are wrong everything fits perfectly well, because Composition 347+, the only track on Echo Echo Mirror House, is one of Braxton’s most fascinating compositions although it might also be intellectually challenging and difficult. It is like standing in an IMAX cinema where a huge Jackson Pollock painting has come to life. From the very beginning the whole band is in full activity, with Braxton’s alto as a very prominent voice and Halvorson’s guitar and  Pavone’s violin that are the glue that holds the diverging elements together. Especially Rozen, Braxton and Ho Bynum tear at the composition, in these moments there is even a connection to Cecil Taylor’s larger projects. Almost exactly after ten minutes there is a first I-pod interplay which almost functions as a shy swing orchestra sample, but for the next ten minutes the track is about to burst from all the ideas added (especially the piano that comes from the iPod) before it takes some breath again. The next iPod use is a children’s choir, it is only a short intermezzo before the band takes over again which ends in another spoken word plus piano sample added to the band. Towards the end there are opera voices and big band samples again.

When you are listening to Composition 347+ the acoustic perception of the variety of sounds and elements can increase to an extent which transgresses the form of the composition, which almost overwhelms the listener. But Braxton’s composition also tries to communicate the sheer beauty in its superfluity, it puts the listener on a cloud nine by captivating us with pure enchantment and rapture. Opening our ears and eyes, we get the deepest impression which is possible for our consciousness, it is a state where everything is slower and where sound colors begin to illuminate, pure sounds are lighter and go even deeper.

Braxton catches a light which is reflected on the listener who has to arrange the sounds in his inner ear which requires a high listening discipline wanting us to be part of the composition.

If this sounds too complicated, do not get deterred, listening to Echo Echo Mirror House is pure joy as well.

You can buy from