Sometimes the best “covers” are reinterpretations of original works that don’t resemble said originals at first blush. But on further listens, a resemblance emerges in structures if not melodies. Pat Thomas’ newly-released archival recording of Anthony Braxton pieces fits nicely into that category. Thomas is a prolific and well-versed, pianist, composer and improviser based in the UK. On this effort, which was recorded live at the Konfrontation Festival, Ulrichsberg in 2006, he is joined by Alex Ward on clarinet, Evan Thomas on electronic guitar, Dominic Lash on bass, and Darren Hasson-Davis on drums.
There is no shortage of Braxton reinterpretations, including notable 2020 releases from Thumbscrew and Tropos. But where the source material was apparent in these more recent recordings, this 15-year-old offering does not scream “Braxton”. Instead, Thomas arranged a number of early Braxton pieces (Compositions 40b, 6c, 115, 23b, 6i, and 23g) into 6-9 minute bursts of guided improv. The signature Braxton angularity is present, notably so on Composition 115 as one example. But the group also adds elements of groove and a pseudo-funkiness that one does not often associate with the composer. Indeed, the duels between piano, guitar, and clarinet are worth of attention alone. Thomas, of course, throws in his percussive keyboard pounding here and there, which is always welcome.
If anything, Thomas and company take a loose approach to Braxton that is refreshing and unexpected. Highly recommended whether or not you are an established friendly experiencer.