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Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Anthony Braxton – 12 Comp (ZIM) 2017 (Firehouse 12, 2021) - Part 1

By Lee Rice Epstein

Part 1 of 3: Compositions 402, 412 - 416

One thing about reviewing these annual Anthony Braxton box sets, which seems to be the volume he comfortably works in lately, is separating out some of the work, then getting to see how a few of us respond to the works. We don’t always cover every Braxton release, a function of fixed time constraints, but I think we cover most (all?) of the major ones. And so, the first formal recording of ZIM music: presented over 12 performances from 2017 and 2018, both live and in studio, with 5 different configurations: two sextets, two septets, and a nonet. Each performance is one particular composition’s recorded debut: Compositions 402, 408, 409, 410, 412, 413, 414, 415, 416, 418, 419, and 420. I have a fondness for listening to Braxton’s music in numerical order, it’s partly the completist in me but mostly it’s because traversing numerically through his catalog provides a narrative through line, linking ideas expressed in one environment with those from another. For example, there is a live recording of Composition 404, recorded in trio format at Big Ears Festival in 2016 . But most interestingly, to me, is that this book of compositions is preceded by a solo performance, Solo (Victoriaville) 2017 , a performance that occurred around the middle point of this set, chronologically. Combining and overlapping these actually gives some sense of the sound and style of ZIM, which fits comfortably in the category of Braxton’s post-GTM musics, including Pine Top Aerial, Falling River, and Echo Echo Mirror House and which also sounds like nothing else, at times not even like Braxton, save those indelible saxophone runs.

The very opening of Composition 402, a portion of the score visible as well in the liner notes, gorgeously pulls back the curtain on the entire set. This sextet, with Braxton, Taylor Ho Bynum, Dan Peck, Jacqui Kerrod and Shelley Burgon on harp, and Tomeka Reid on cello gives some sense of the soundscape of ZIM. There’s more chordal-harmonic density, and there’s more textural tension, such as when Reid’s bowing slides across Kerrod and Burgon’s contrapuntal harp runs. The sub-sections are combinatorially succinct, with a unique organic structure that emphasizes the gradient logic at the core of ZIM. For those inclined, the booklet includes pages of Braxton’s aphoristic descriptions of gradient logics and details like, “There is a ‘feeling out process’ that involves getting used to the fresh moment of introduction to the ‘family’ of the music. I see this phenomenon as related to the first take of the ZIM MUSIC recording session that will not be included in the box record set.” Ah, and so it may have been for the instrumentalists as it may be for listeners.

This is certainly the case with the four later nonet recordings, Compositions 413, 414, 415, and 416, featuring Braxton, Bynum, Peck, Stephanie Richards, and Ingrid Laubrock, Kerrod and Brandee Younger on harp, Adam Matlock on accordion and aerophones, and Reid on cello. Recorded by the extremely talented Nick Lloyd at Firehouse 12 in New Haven, this set of performances, alongside the three nights at Café OTO, could easily stand alone as their own mini-box sets. There’s no real difference in sound quality from live to studio, it’s the compaction of ideas that brings the nonet performances into relief. Two-thirds of the group appears throughout the set, having worked through (and continuing to work through) gradient logics in other formats with Braxton. The introduction of Richards, Laubrock, and Younger highlights two key elements about ZIM that make this set a real triumph: the first is the accessibility of its interchangeability, by which I mean that, on its face, ZIM may seem imposing, but its core structure allows for this kind of expansion. And the second is that like, say, Henry Threadgill’s 14 or 15 Kestra: Agg group, what sounds dense on paper is often just plain fun to listen to. There are dozens of moments in each recording noted a time code to revisit, or zoomed in on one dialogue (especially when the two harps are playing, enough cannot be said about Kerrod and Younger and their incredible performances), or just smiled at what I heard.

Excerpt - Anthony Braxton ZIM Sextet - Live at Cafe OTO, London (28/05/2018):

Read Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3


Loki Motive said...

Despite being eager to listen to this new configuration, I had to put this on hold in lieu of the Standards box set. At some point I hope to pick this up on Blu-Ray in order to hear the 5.1 mixes

Gary Chapin said...

Yes, Loki, Braxton's output does make one see that time is a finite resource. :)