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Friday, July 13, 2018

Anthony Braxton - Solo (Victoriaville) (Victo, 2018) ****½

This album is documentation of a solo alto saxophone performance given by Anthony Braxton at the Colisée Desjardins in Victoriaville QC, on May 21 2017, his first solo performance in four years. Throughout his memorable career Braxton has returned often to solo alto saxophone improvisation as a means of exploring sounds, concepts, and structures.  He has been both nostalgically lyrical and uncompromisingly abrasive over his 20+ solo releases, and while he may have mellowed slightly with age, here Braxton delivers an extended performance with all of his characteristic poise, intensity, and wit to an enthusiastic audience.

On ‘No. 392a’ Braxton disperses a simple flowing figure and continually reworks it. With every pass it is embellished with additional gestures, emphasis, and alterations on the central theme. His sound is excellent and this song provides a good profile of both his tone and control. ’No. 392b’ begins with staccato lines capped with contemplative legato statements and the occasional reed squeal, laying down a path of logic for Braxton to elaborate on. With each pass through, the overall profile is retained but the detail is completely different, the number of variants rendered is impressive. ‘No. 392c’ is built around a rising and falling figure. The intensity of Braxton’s glissandos is cut by quiet, more reflective contours in which he gives himself space to shape his response. ‘No. 394a’ offers disjointed growling timbres and pointillistic squeaking, hissing, and pad clatter. Rather than the semi-linear development of the previous pieces, this one is asymptotic and highly varied. It stands out as the most texturally oriented of the set. On ‘No. 394b’ a trilled figure is stated elegantly and is then pulled and stretched out like molten glass across the six-plus minute duration. ‘No.394c’ is populated with full, measured notes that state and deconstruct the theme in a manner similar to that of ‘No. 392a’. He repeats and searches the shapes, modifying and/or recalibrating them, and in doing so reveals the underlying patterns he’s traced. ‘No. 395a’ is a good lively piece, finding Braxton adding phrasing from the great American songbook to the bounce of the main figure, both giving it a sense of antiquity and setting us up for what follows. As per Braxton’s custom he has included a solo interpretation of a standard jazz piece in the set, in this case the well-worn 1930 ballad ‘Body & Soul’. Braxton completely abstracts the song’s structure, offering a reprocessed version full of sudden stops, staccato runs, and eloquent motifs created from the shards of the original. Only towards the end does he bring in noticeable elements of the fundamental form, using them to color his strange construct. The last track ‘No. 395b’ provides us a final burst of energy; the initial staccato runs dissolve into plaintive gestures only to pick back up in tempo and restart, ending with Braxton thanking the audience and their warm ovation.

While not as texturally diverse as Saxophone Improvisations Series F, or as spirited as For Alto, Solo (Victoriaville) is a documentation of a modern genius working out and sharing fantastic ideas. Braxton’s methods are infectious to hear play out, and you get a sense that he’s really enjoying himself. Nothing feels rushed and there are strains of real inspiration rather than just someone running through the motions. Braxton remains a creative titan, whether in solo performance, in an ensemble, conducting his orchestras and operas you get a sense that people are going to spend centuries decoding and studying his work.

Braxton Solo 10-6-17 at the October Revolution, Fringe Arts, Philadelphia, PA: