Saturday, 11 July 2009

Anthony Braxton...

After 7-10 days working on the latest batch of reviews there's been little time for blogging. Some good stuff though - the 'new' Freddie Hubbard live set from 1969 (Blue Note), and Louis Sclavis' killer 'Lost On The Way' (ECM). Getting back into the habit of writing copy every 4 weeks or so is taking time - Jazz Review with its bi-monthly publication was a lot more sedate. So far it's been no problem, and we even managed a weekend away in Glasgow last week to see, erm, The Eagles at Hampden Park. Neil Young would have been far more enticing, but I don't mind at least half a dozen of their 70s hits and they played them all with panache. The tireless guitar heroics of Joe Walsh made it interesting enough musically for even a stuffy jazz critic like me.

I struggle with the idea of live music in stadia, but for certain types of act it works well. A better compromise may be larger indoor arenas (such as the o2) with their better acoustics. Thanks to the iPhone I managed to successfully bid on and win a Jim Pepper CD during the support act, but there will be no attempt at a full review as the music was a bit out of my normal frame of reference and I'm already struggling to write anything meaningful.

All in all it was a nice trip away, and all the more notable for a priceless moment of high surrealism during a visit to Kelvingrove to see Dali's famous 'Crucifiction' painitng. A large procession of bowler hatted, sash and apron wearing Orangemen marching to the accompaniment of helicopter surveillance to drown out their whistles, and mounted Police to pacify the drunken hordes, takes some beating. Dali would surely appreciate the irony of the situation.

Later in the month we'll be back to Edinburgh to catch a few gigs at the annual Festival. Reviews of those shows should appear shortly afterwards, but for now I'll go back to posting old stuff from Jazz Review. This time we'll have some Braxton, as I'm sure most readers of this blog gravitate towards the avant-garde...

Quartet (Moscow) 2008

Composition 367b; Encore.

Anthony Braxton (sopranino/ss/as/cbcl); Taylor Ho Bynum (cor/flhn/t/vtb); Mary Halvorson (elg); Katherine Young (bsn) 29/6/08.

Braxton’s Diamond Curtain Wall Quartet could be exactly the succour that Braxton-ians who failed to get to grips with his Ghost Trance Music have been waiting for. In contrast to the drone-like stasis of his GTM, this music is more expansive in scope. Spanning over 70 minutes, ‘Composition 367b’ is by turns torrential and rarefied. The chamber-like piece has a compositional architecture that nevertheless allows significant space for collective improvisation. Braxton largely sticks to alto-saxophone, his occasionally wayward chops in excellent fettle. Fans of his contrabass clarinet won’t be disappointed either, the lugubrious beast making a cameo appearance at around fifty minutes into the piece. Bynum huffs and puffs in the upper register on assorted brass, but his superficially random flow always finds a logical route back to the musical ‘home’.

Aside from the leader it is perhaps Halvorson’s spiky guitar webs, threading their way through the piece and anchoring the horns, that is the group’s dominant voice. Her distortion drenched chords spring from Derek Bailey’s palette, and I always thought that the late guitarist was one of Braxton’s best foils. This new quartet brings together so many different facets of the leader’s music. Even Braxton’s off-kilter nods to jazz tradition, missing of late, are here if you listen closely. The closing ten minutes dramatically crystallise much of the preceding chaos into a solid form and are a breathtaking sleight of hand. This group may not reach listeners in the same way as the great quartet with Crispell, Dresser and Hemingway, but it opens up some fertile new ground and confirms that Braxton is still a major force to be reckoned with. Sound quality is as good as I’ve heard on any of the saxophonist’s releases, and if you’ve skipped a few dozen of his last discs, now seems like a good time to get back in touch!

Fred Grand