Anthony Braxton‘s Tricentric Foundation has put its recent emphasis on boxed sets, with this one being the biggest of the bunch so far. Consisting of a dozen hour-long performances, 12 Duets (DCWM) 2012 pairs Braxton with three ladies in duo configurations.
Across this long collection, Braxton lays down various unsettling drones, over which he improvises on a variety of instruments (sopranino, soprano, alto, baritone, and bass saxes, as well as contrabass clarinet). Along with his texture and tone, Kyoko Kitamura (voice), Erica Dicker (violin), or Katherine Young (bassoon) work in the foreground.
Ms. Kitamura provides various spoken word segments, warbles, and squeaks on the first four recordings. Not exactly scat singing, she puts together spoken phrases, nonsense words and throat sounds. On the next four recordings, Braxton’s drones take on a more ominous feel, while his sax playing remains bright. Above this juxtaposition, Ms. Dicker adds violin improv. Scratchy at times, more conventional at others, she bows the whole extent of the instrument, evoking a wide and engrossing range of themes that exhibit her classical and improv experience. Bassoon is one of my favorite instruments, and Ms. Young is no slouch. Having said that, the instrument is downplayed a bit on the final four recordings. Not to say that it isn’t present – but instead she plays it percussively and to set moods. In fact, it often meshes so closely with Braxton’s playing and the electronics, the result is more of a unified wall of sound that the other two-thirds of this set.
These duets involve Braxton and his collaborator moving in different directions, sometimes as if they were unaware of each other’s presence. The fact that this strategy works is a testament to the respective skills of each. This is a long and challenging, but ultimately rewarding, listen. If you are a Braxton fan and like your music on the disturbing side, these 12 sets are essential.