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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Anthony Braxton galore ....

By Stef

According to Wikipedia, Anthony Braxton released 149 albums between 1968 and 2008. I do believe this is underestimated, because several albums are missing. Now, Braxton created the "" website, to which you can subscribe with a monthly fee, which gives you two albums a month for $13. That means 24 albums a year if my arithmetic skills are still intact.

Braxton has always been prolific, but I guess now he will even surpass his own prior achievements. The good thing is that the saxophonist/composer is incredibly inventive, willing to take risks and to go beyond where many musicians dare to go, experimenting en route, and exploring new avenues if they present themselves. And to his credit, each of these musical avenues Braxton develops is coherent by itself, in the sense that he has a clear idea of the sound, the interaction, the structure, to which he and his bands then stick.

The end result is that the listener can become part of all the various projects and directions that Braxton took over the years. Some are really excellent, some less so, and through this immense variety, it is often hard to pick what is personally gripping.

Anthony Braxton - Septet (Pittsburgh) 2008 - (Tricentric, 2011) ***½

The septet consists of
  • Anthony Braxton: Baritone Saxophone, Bass Saxophone, Alto Saxophone, Sopranino Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Contrabass Clarinet, Contrabass Saxophone
  • Taylor Ho Bynum: Flugelhorn, Trombone, Cornet, Bass Trumpet, Piccolo Trumpet
  • Jessica Pavone: Violin, Electric Bass, Viola
  • Jay Rozen: Tuba
  • Mary Halvorson: Guitar
  • Carl Testa: Acoustic Bass, Bass Clarinet
  • Aaron Siegel: Drums, Percussion, Vibraphone
    Together, they play one long "Composition 355", on which the band rarely plays in its totality together, rather, you get shifting groups of players, moving the single, hour-long piece forward. As a result, it feels quite light in texture, yet compelling too. It's a great album to listen to, but it will not figure on his discography as one of the most memorable ones.

    Anthony Braxton - Quartet (Mestre) 2008 - (Caligola, 2011) ****½

    This is the best album in the series, with Anthony Braxton on soprano sax, alto sax, contrabass clarinet, live electronics, Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet, flugelhorn, piccolo, bass trumpet and valve trombone, Mary Halvorson on electric guitar, and Katherine Young on bassoon. The music is varied, the playing excellent. And I am not usually a fan of Mary Halvorson, but on this performance I start to understand what the hype is all about. And all four players are at their best. The small band and the absence of percussion and bass gives the music a chamber jazz kind of feel. Light-textured, captivating, and extremely varied for again a composition/improvisation that lasts more than an hour.

    Anthony Braxon - Composition No. 19 (For 100 Tubas) (Tricentric, 2011) ***½

    The "100 tuba" album is without a doubt conceptually the wildest in the series, but because of the nature of the band, and the incredible control, the sound is quite slow and dramatic, nothing like a marching band, but more like a dark, black cloud coming up at the horizon, an omen for oncoming catastrophes, with the wind still low, but the breeze in your hair slightly shifting, announcing that what will come, inevitably, massively, destructively, yet not here yet, just coming near, setting nerves on edge, awakening deep fears and unknown anguishes, ...

    That's the feeling I get : its Bill Dixonesque in a way. 

    The band is :

    Allen, Brian
    Altieri, John
    Buttery, Gary
    Carlsen, Eric
    Davila, Jose
    Dorn, Jonathan
    Gillmore, Stewart
    Grego, David
    Jami, Hakim
    Krush, Jay
    Lang, David
    Mandel, Josh
    Regev, Reut
    Robinson, Scott
    Rozen, Jay
    Washburn, Chris
    Winograd, David

    Blacksberg, Dan
    Burbank, Gregory
    Bush, Jeffrey
    Buzzart, Monique
    Christianson, Michael
    Cifarelli, Michael
    Collins, Ernie
    Cox, Ian
    Daley, Joe
    Dorbin, David
    Erway, Chris
    Furman, Jeff
    Moore, Scott
    Weisz, Deborah
    Wright, Ben

    Evans, Wiley
    Felkner, Gerry
    Fenlon, Andrew
    Hendricks, Darryl
    Hofstra, David
    Holmes, Bud
    Keady, Joe
    Koci, Nathan
    Kulik, Sam
    Lanz, Benjamin
    Malloy, William
    McCurty, Greg
    Meeder, Christopher
    Schleifer, Daniel
    Yakata, Hitomi

    Dulman, Jesse
    McFaden, Sheila
    McFaden, Francis
    McFaden, David
    Parton, Jack
    Pass, Matt
    Pedulla, Frank
    Pleshar, Rob
    Press, Gary
    Quartaro, Melissa
    Rhindress, Stephen
    Rodgers, Andy
    Sasamura, Ken
    Scott, Evan
    Silver, Debra
    Sopko, Beth
    Stewart, Mark

    (In reality I count only 65 tuba-players, but I guess that's not really the point).

    Anthony Braxton - Two Compositions (Festival of New Trumpet Music) 2007 (Tricentric, 2011) ****

    This album is also unique and absolutely astonishing. The fist piece, "Composition N° 103" starts with classical orchestral music and recorded ambient sounds over which the band starts improvising-performing. Obviously, because it's written for trumpet, Braxton limits himself to the conductor role. The band consists of the incredible line-up of Taylor Ho Bynum, Tim Byrnes, Forbes Graham, Sam Hoyt, John McDonough, Nicole Rampersaud and Nate Wooley, all on trumpet or cornet. The composition has the typical Braxton elements of abstract and high intervallic jumps, either fully arranged - often staccato - moments, with intermittent solo improvisations by the musicians.

    The second piece, "Composition N° 169" is played by Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet, Nate Wooley on trumpet, Mark Taylor on French horn, Reut Regev on trombone and Jay Rozen on tuba. Because of the broader range of instruments, the sounds is a little warmer than with the seven trumpeters, slow, with a kind of decided forward motion, yet again with the typical Braxton cerebrality that creates a shade of too much intellectual distance in his search for aesthetic control. Classical music is never far off - but then of the more modern kind - and I am a jazz man at heart. Give me some more improvisation and soul and rough edges and humanity in the unpredictability and potential for mistakes. Great stuff, but I wish the reigns could have been more loose.

    PS - If anyone has the complete Anthony Braxton discography, I'd be really intrested in publishing it here.

    © stef


    Richard said...

    Thanks for this news, Stef. I'm on my way over to the Tricentric Site right after this.

    Anthony Braxton is one of my musical heroes, and getting to see him in concert in duo with percussionist Abraham Adzinyah in 1994 remains one of my favorite memories.

    But his discography can be overwhelming, and I'm never quite sure what album of his to recommend to others. This website is where to point people, there are all sorts of samples.

    There is also a discography there which seems to be up to date as of March 2011:

    Stef said...

    Thanks Richard,

    I know the "restructures" lists, but they're quite messy if you want to find the latest stuff, especially since his recording dates are mentioned without a direct link to the release dates. Anyway, it's for sure the most complete overview.


    Anonymous said...

    'Mesre' belongs on the New Years poll