AMN Reviews: Tropos – Axioms // 75 AB (2020; Biophilia Records)

Tropos is a young ensemble that came together as students under Joe Morris at the New England Conservatory. They are highly influenced by the avant-garde jazz innovators of the 60’s – including Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, Albert Ayler, and Anthony Braxton – all of whom incorporated aspects of modern classical into their repertoire. Here, in honor of his 75th birthday, they reinterpret six pieces by Braxton from the early 1970’s in addition to offering five compositions of their own in a similar style.

The group consists of vocalist Laila Smith, saxophonist Raef Sengupta, pianist Phillip Golub, bassist Zachary Lavine, and drummer/percussionist Mario Layne Fabrizio. Their original pieces are densely composed, busy works with complex timing and a disjointed approach. Similarities to the stylings of Braxton are not subtle.

But the covers are, not surprisingly, clearly Braxton-derived even to the casual listener. They are better thought of as excerpts, with 23e, for example, lasting only a little over 6 minutes rather than the original 17, with the long, chaotic solo omitted. Tropos also does a commendable job capturing the twisted swing of 40b. Through these Smith and Sengupta trade-off or share the leading roles, while the others provide the required active rhythmic base.

Even if Axioms // 75 AB had nothing to do with Anthony Braxton, it would still be a compelling release.  But the addition of the Braxton material puts this one over the top.  Well done, indeed.

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