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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Noël Akchoté - Complete Recordings (Plays Anthony Braxton) ****½

By Lee Rice Epstein

As far as I’m aware, the only other large-scale interpretations of Anthony Braxton’s music have been the two sets of his notated piano music, by Hildegard Kleeb and Geneviève Foccroulle. Here, however, guitarist Noël Akchoté tackles roughly 40 years of Braxton’s evolution, chronologically tracing a line from 1967’s “Composition 6C” to the final Ghost Trance Music composition, “Composition 360,” one of Braxton’s accelerator whip pieces (most of which, though not this one, appeared on the landmark 9 Compositions (Iridium) 2006).

Starting with the obvious, there are no straight covers.. Everything is filtered through Akchoté’s rich, delicate playing, whether on acoustic or electric guitar, or guitar synthesizer. The full 4 hours and 30 minutes were recorded over a 6-day recording session, 14–20 May 2016, in Paris. Even with the wealth of material one could spend decades listening to, I’m still curious if there are alt. takes or false starts to hear, so deep is Akchoté’s dedication to de- and re-constructing Braxton’s mammoth discography.

One excellent place to start is “Composition 255,” which is performed on guitar synthesizer. The multiphonics allow Akchoté to truly explore the different, sometimes contrary, directions Braxton might go in. In the span of “Part 3,” for example, there’s the clear line of a GTM composition, but it's at odds with a contemporaneous improvisation. In the span of 2 minutes and 20 seconds, Akchoté lays bare much of what makes Braxton unique, that is the many ways his compositions balance these varied lines and spontaneous improvs into a cohesive whole. And Akchoté does this over and over again, most often in the span of a minute.

Some of the more recognizable, “classic” Braxton compositions fall into the areas 6, 23, 40, and 69. On many of these, Akchoté plays acoustic guitar, which gives the readings a playful edge, as with “69 A,” where fingerings and fret buzz fill in the space surrounding the melody. “6 I” is incredibly layered, with Akchoté multi-tracking his acoustic guitar and exposing a bluesy side to the notably jaunty melody.

I feel like it’s too easy for me to fall back on noting what an incredible accomplishment this is, purely from a programming perspective, and it certainly is one. But it wouldn’t be as remarkable a collection without Akchoté’s superb performances. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in Akchoté, Braxton, or guitar, in general.

The complete recordings are available on Akchoté’s Bandcamp in individual releases:
Or as a single release from various big box digital retailers.