Click here to [close]

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Anthony Braxton – 12 Comp (ZIM) 2017 (Firehouse 12, 2021) - Part 2


By Gary Chapin

Compositions 408, 409, 410

No one sends me into conceptual space the way Anthony Braxton has over the past 20 years. Sure, the the Arista recordings (e.g., Five Pieces 1975 and New York Fall 1974) were interesting, what with the first pulse track structures and all, but they also sounded pretty kick ass. The work of the past twenty years has been not so kick ass, but it has been far more interesting and far more surprising. And, although I don’t think Braxton actually cares about this, at times much more beautiful.

I haven’t dived into a long series of Braxton compositions since 9 Compositions (Iridium) disappointed a bit in 2006. So, I was ready. When they asked, “Which of the twenty ZIM compositions do you want to do?” I really had no reason to choose one over another. I chose these three because 1) I wanted a set done all by the same group of musicians, 2) I wanted to hear Adam Matlock’s accordion (I play accordion) with Tomeka Reid’s cello, and the two harps of Jaqui Kerrod and Shelly Burgon. Add Dan Peck’s tuba and you’ve got a mf’er of a Braxton “rhythm section” playing at the Firehouse (Connecticut) in April of 2017.

In the documentation, a series of dozens of Braxtonian aphorisms and epigrams from which his ideas emerge with uncertainty, Braxton writes:

ZIM music = a glider airplane that circles in a downward and/or upward spiral

This is shockingly concise. Earlier on it’s clear that the central idea of ZIM is gradient logics, i.e., things moving from one state to another in relationship. “It gets faster or slower. It gets louder or softer … A change of seasons. A change of temperature,” et many cetera.

The sun slowly rises = gradient logics

You may be wondering why I haven’t yet talked about how it sounds. Partly this is because I don’t think Braxton cares how it sounds, in the way we use the phrase. His compositions aren’t a function of control – if we do these things it will sound like THIS! And his music, has stopped being primarily about the one way relationship of performing for an audience. Rather, I think ZIM is about creating sound experience spaces. Braxton isn’t manipulating sound, but creating conditions in which musicians in relationship can – through provoked improvisation – can manipulate sound that has a probability of being fulfilling to musicians and listeners. Maybe a “good” composition is one with a high probability of being fulfilling. I’m not convinced Braxton is even that goal oriented. He may be someone for whom the journey (the gradient?) really is the destination. Keith Prosk’s phrase “unfixed states” seems especially apt.

So how do these compositions sound? I’ve been falling into them for the past two weeks and have been mesmerized. They share a quality with his orchestral compositions in that they become meditative or reflective over time, but unlike his larger works, the individual musicians stand out as individual voices. There does seem to be a structure of foreground instruments and “rhythm” instruments throughout (though who is in each role changes over time), and I can’t help myself from hearing conversations going on – sometimes arguments, sometimes comedy bits – throughout. But the conversations happen with the Greek chorus of whoever is serving as the rhythm at that moment. Braxton and Taylor Bo Hynum (Has he become Braxton’s most consistent partner of the 21st century?) are genuinely astonishing, which should surprise no one. When For Alto came out in 1971 it was clear that Braxton was – among everything else – a wellspring of creative melody. That’s still true. And the rest of the group has a playful, theatrical, reckless quality that allows them to shift from dread to structure to waterfalls with facility.

Composition No. 409 Filmed live at Firehouse 12 on April 29, 2017:

Read Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3


Gary Chapin said...

Just to be clear. I love those Arista records to pieces. I was being "wry" in that first paragraph!