AMN Reviews: Revisiting Anthony Braxton’s Early Solo Saxophone Work

I stopped accumulating downloaded music sometime in the late 2000s when, scrolling through the contents of my nearly-full 1 terabyte external hard drive, I spotted the 6-CD historical retrospective of Polish jazz that I hadn’t listened to in the five years since I had downloaded it. Indeed I still had it, but did I need it, still if ever? Abundance creates whole new levels of compulsion, under which desire can continue unchecked despite aural and mental satiety.

Anthony Braxton enthusiasts understood this dynamic several decades in advance of the digital music era. Even then, most of us necessarily learned to draw the line somewhere: while you’d always find noteworthy exceptions, you tended to focus on a particular period of Braxton’s work, or a group with specific backing musicians, or a kind of instrumental ensemble, or even a record label. Often these would be determined in part by your first exposure to Braxton’s music. While I suspect the first recording I ever heard was the copy of New York, Fall 1974 housed at the college radio station where I first DJ’ed in the middle and late 1980s, the first Braxton recording I owned was the double-LP Alto Saxophone Improvisations 1979 I scored for $4 from the cut-out bin at Wax Stacks in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

So I’ve always been partial to Braxton’s quartet and solo work, and the Tricentric Foundation’s recent announcement of an “official bootleg” 1971 solo recording available for free through this year’s holiday season compelled me to go ahead and add one more downloaded recording to my collection. Since 2011, when they first released Solo (France) 1971 in its “Braxton Bootleg” series, Tricentric has augmented the already voluminous body of Braxton recordings by at least a third. For those keeping score, that’s over one hundred additional recordings in a total discography that discogs.com currently numbers at 309.

Nevertheless, Solo (France) 1971 is a valuable entry in the Braxton catalog, historically and in its own right. It stands between his two watershed double-LP solo alto saxophone recordings, For Alto (Delmark 1969) and Saxophone Improvisations, Series F (America 1972). For Alto proved to be a groundbreaking moment in the history of recorded jazz and a benchmark for saxophonists to come. It’s a consummate statement not despite but because of its sonic imperfections: while Chuck Nessa achieved some post-production cleanup of the home recordings Braxton made in his Parkway Community Center apartment, For Alto still retains an urgent grittiness and presence as vital as the music itself.

His 1972 follow-up for the America label could be viewed in this context as a studio-quality redo of For Alto if it weren’t for the fact that here Braxton featured newer material, specifically the Composition 26 series of solo works as opposed to the Composition 8 series featured on For Alto. Then in 1975, the Futura label released Braxton’s LP Recital Paris 71, a misnomer in that side 2 was a studio recording of a four-part overdubbed piano piece. Side 1 however featured a 25-minute rendition of the Duke Ellington standard “Come Sunday,” from a performance at the Theatre de l’Epeé des Bois in Paris; soprano saxophone specialist Steve Lacy was also on that bill and thereby awakened to the possibilities of solo performance that he went on to explore at length.

The first two tracks on Solo (France) 1971, and the clear standouts to my ears, were issued in 1998 on the CD News From the 1970s, which accompanied the current issue of the Italian magazine Musica Jazz. A haphazard piece work, News mistitles the two solo alto tracks and separates them in its running order, placing between them a duo with Dave Holland on cello and a quartet date with Kenny Wheeler and a French rhythm section. So if anything, it’s worth having Solo (France) 1971 solely for restoring these two pieces in their full and proper context.

Track one is a nine-minute rendering of a gorgeous ballad, which the Tricentric release calls “Composition 26A” and restructures.net calls “Composition 26D.” Here I’m inclined to believe restructures, because it’s without question the same tune Braxton gives an all-too brief (2:20) treatment to open the second disc of Saxophone Improvisations, Series F. Played mostly in the alto’s middle-high register, this France 1971 version begins with a quiet near-octave drop and then uses a climbing 4-note arpeggio as a signature motif. Braxton takes two runs through the theme, solos while routinely suggesting and even quoting the theme, and then goes “back to the head” in traditional fashion. In fact it’s perhaps Braxton at his most “singable,” and if the long-mistaken notion of his music as “too cerebral” still exists, this track can put that notion to bed for good.

France 1971’s second track track is without question “Composition 8F,” which Braxton rendered in jaw-droppingly blistering fashion as Track 2 on For Alto. Clocking in just 70 seconds shy of the original rendition, what this version lacks in length and firey intensity it makes up for, as does the whole release, with the overall recording quality, which features nicely balanced roomsound and just a touch of reverb. Comparing the two performances also makes it clear how well-structured the piece is, with Braxton’s shifts in attack, register and tone–from the overblown runs and staccato blasts to the most altissimo squeals–all clearly deliberate and planned in advance.

At the release’s midpoint stands a version of Irving Berlin’s “They Say It’s Wonderful,” which Braxton renders admirably. Then come two more originals: “Composition 8J” is a study in eighth-note patterns, showing Braxton working through a variety of scales and chords, with more than enough melody to avoid charges of being a mere formalistic exercise. This piece also made it to the Series F release, and again in live performance Braxton extends the treatment by a full minute-and-a-half, working through slightly different scales from the onset but still making the composition recognizable.

Closing out the set is “Composition 26G,” which explores multiphonics, or the production of multiple notes simultaneously. In this rendition, Braxton works mostly from the stratosphere down, lingering in extreme altissimos while picking up lower notes along the way. At the three-minute mark, Braxton hums at pitches below his playing to enhance his harmonic and tonal production. In hindsight one can see this piece as a textbook example of techniques Steve Lacy and Evan Parker would soon be using to great effect, Lacy in his various “Duck” pieces and Parker in his Chronoscope recordings en route to forming his mature solo style.

The total running time of Solo (France) 1971 stands at a little over half an hour, which seems short of a full live performance and begs the question if the tapes ran out or haven’t fully surfaced. In fact, their origin adds to yet another lingering confusion: Tricentric’s release notes indicate that the recording “comes from a reel to reel tape in Mr. Braxton’s possession in a box labeled ‘Ghent’” and that “research by Hugo DeCreen suggests that this is indeed a solo concert from France 1971, and that the Ghent solo concert was in 1973.” Regardless, the downloaded tracks from Tricentric bear the words “Solo (Ghent) 1969 to 1971” in both the album folder and the individual tracks’ album title fields.

Until the details get sorted out, it’s perhaps best to put aside the discography nerd in you–and just enjoy the music.

–Tom Orange

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AMN Reviews: Flames of Genesis – Interstellar Transmigration Part I: A Bridge to Further Realms (2017; Minotauro Records)

Deep space music was pioneered by artists such as Lustmord, Robert Rich, and Steve Roach. Based to some extent on the Berlin School of electronic music, these individuals sought to capture emotions of the void. Rather than being simply bleak and empty, their recordings were majestic and powerful.

Flames of Genesis is a U.K.-based project that does not attempt to hide its influences or goals. With an album cover depicting nebulae and a black hole, the concept behind the music is apparent. And if space is your thing, there is a lot to like on Interstellar Transmigration Part I: layers of bassy synth washes provide a slow-moving bed of drones with occasional percussive elements. Ponderous and dark, the album could easily be a soundtrack (in fact the group uses the word “cinematic” to describe its music).

In light of the aforementioned influences, it is not hard to trace the lineage of Flames of Genesis back through the 1990’s, 1980’s, and 1970’s. Accordingly, the music on Interstellar Transmigration Part I is not radically new, but instead is an example of just how compelling this sub-genre can be.  A thumbs up for fans of dark ambiance and slow drones. But even if those styles are not your cup of tea, take a step outside the airlock and give Flames of Genesis a try.

Newsbits: Tony Conrad / Bill Frisell / Cage Performance / Neural Network as Composer

English: Bill Frisell, moers festival 2010

The recent Tony Conrad documentary is reviewed.

In other documentary news, Bill Frisell is the subject of one.

A recent John Cage performance of the SEM Ensemble is reviewed.

And in weird science news, a neural network artificial intelligence construct has been trained to create a black metal album. I see more of this in the future.

The Free Jazz Collective Reviews

English: Mars Williams performing live at Doub...

Source: The Free Jazz Collective.

Mike Majkowski – Days and Other Days (Astral Spirits, 2017) ***½

Tom Rainey Obbligato – Float Upstream (Intakt, 2017) ****

Kyle Motl / Drew Ceccato – Katabasis (s/r, 2017) ****

Kyle Motl / TJ Borden – Apperception (s/r, 2017)

Kyle Motl – Transmogrification (Self/Bandcamp, 2017) ****

Kyle Motl Trio w/ Kjell Nordeson and Tobin Chodos—Panjandrums (Self/Bandcamp, 2017) ****½

Mars Williams Presents – An Ayler Xmas (s/r, 2017) ****

The Elks – This Is Not The Ant (Mikroton, 2017) ****

Propan – Baby (Va Fongool, 2017) ****

Mike Caratti / Rachel Musson / Steve Beresford – Hesitantly Pleasant (Iluso, 2017) ****

NYC Winter Jazzfest Full Lineup Announced

Source: Winter Jazzfest. Highlights include:

ADEGOKE STEVE COLSON & IQUA COLSON: MUSIC OF PROTEST AND LOVE FOR MUHAL RICHARD ABRAMS
ANNA WEBBER TRIO
BRANDON ROSS’ FOR LIVING LOVERS: IMMORTAL OBSOLESENCE
BRIGGAN KRAUSS’ STRING AND REED QUARTET FEAT. WAYNE HORVITZ
CHES SMITH’S WE ALL BREAK
DEERHOOF
DAN WEISS STAREBABY
DARIUS JONES LAWNORDER
ERNEST DAWKINS AND VIJAY IYER DUO
GARD NILSSEN ACOUSTIC UNITY
HANK ROBERTS SEXTET
HARRIET TUBMAN PLAYS FREE JAZZ
JAIMIE BRANCH’S FLY OR DIE
JAMAALADEEN TACUMA’S BROTHERZONE
JAMES BRANDON LEWIS PRESENTS “UNRULY NOTES”
JAMES CARTER’S ELEKTRIK OUTLET
JAMIE BAUM SEPTET+
KATE GENTILE NEW QUARTET
MARC RIBOT’S CERAMIC DOG
MARC RIBOT’S SONGS OF RESISTANCE
MARK GUILIANA JAZZ QUARTET
MATT WILSON’S HONEY & SALT BAND
NICOLE MITCHELL ART AND ANTHEM FOR GWENDOLYN BROOKS
NICOLE MITCHELL MAROON CLOUD
NICOLE MITCHELL TRIO
NICOLE MITCHELL’S MANDORLA AWAKENING II: EMERGING WORLDS
PETER APFELBAUM & SPARKLER FEATURING BILL LASWELL
RAVI COLTRANE PRESENTS UNIVERSAL CONSCIOUSNESS: MELODIC MEDITATIONS OF ALICE COLTRANE
REZ ABBASI INVOCATION
RUDRESH MAHANTHAPPA’S INDO-PAK COALITION
RYAN KEBERLE & CATHARSIS: MUSIC AS PROTEST
SARA SERPA “RECOGNITION” WITH INGRID LAUBROCK AND ZEENA PARKINS
SUN RA ARKESTRA PERFORM LIVE SCORE TO ‘SPACE IS THE PLACE’
SUSIE IBARRA’S DREAMTIME ENSEMBLE
SYLVIE COURVOISIER DUO
TYSHAWN SOREY
WADADA LEO SMITH
WAYNE HORVITZ

New World Records Releases

Harry Partch (c. 1969), from the cover of The ...

Source: New World Records.

Black Manhattan, Vol. 3
Composer(s): C. Luckeyth “Luckey” Roberts, Eubie Blake, Frederick M. Bryan, Sidney Perrin, Clarence Cameron White, J. Turner Layton, Scott Joplin, James A. Bland, Augustus L. Davis, J. Leubrie Hill, Clarence Williams, Spencer Williams, Tom Lemonier, Will H. Dixon, Clarence G. Wilson, Q. Roscoe Snowden, Al. Johns, J. Rosamond Johnson, James Weldon Johnson

Julius Eastman: The Zürich Concert
Composer(s): Julius Eastman
The composer is therefore enjoined to accomplish the following: she must establish himself as a major instrumentalist, he must not wait upon a descending being, and she must become an interpreter, not only of her own music and career, but also the music of her contemporaries, and give a fresh new view of the known and unknown classics.

Lisa Mezzacappa: Glorious Ravage
Composer(s): Lisa Mezzacappa
Fay Victor, voice; Nicole Mitchell, flute; Kyle Bruckmann, oboe and English horn; Vinny Golia, alto flute, sopranino saxophone, bass clarinet, contralto clarinet, bass saxophone; Cory Wright, B-flat clarinet, tenor saxophone; Darren Johnston, trumpet; Michael Dessen, trombone; Dina Maccabee, viola, violin; John Finkbeiner, electric guitar; Mark Dresser, acoustic bass; Lisa Mezzacappa, acoustic bass, conductor; Myra Melford, …

Harry Partch: And on the Seventh Day Petals Fell in Petaluma
Composer(s): Harry Partch