As his 50-plus-year career continues to progress, Anthony Braxton’s releases are taking on more of a longer and retrospective form, with boxed sets, operas, and reissues of older recordings. But every so often, a recent performance is memorialized, like this duet with harpist Jaqueline Kerrod from the 2018 AngelicA festival in Italy.
Over the course of five tracks of various lengths, Braxton and Kerrod explore the ranges of their respective instruments as well as the spaces in between. This can take the form of Braxton droning over rolls and trills from Kerrod, or the former playing his signature undulating runs while the latter splits her time between clearly plucked notes, chords, and more adventurous sounds. Kerrod is a fearless improviser and experimentalist, using extended techniques in a fashion that would sound like mistakes in less sure hands. She rubs strings or strikes them in a muted way that makes vibrations against the harp like a missed note. But this can be followed by sweeping flourishes or motifs with a Medieval or celebratory feel. Braxton switches up between alto, soprano, and sopranino, varying his mood and textures from calm to anxious to ominous. He also goes outside, squeaking, wailing, and gurgling.
Like many improvisations, there is no beginning or end here, Instead, we have a dialog between Braxton and Kerrod that reflects a degree of comfort and trust with one another. Indeed, when one is pushing the boundaries, the other might be doing the same or the exact opposite. But they make all of these journeys work, and together produce an unresolved but compelling tension between beauty and discord.