Saturday, April 7, 2018

Anthony Braxton - 1968 - 3 Compositions of New Jazz

Anthony Braxton 
1968 
3 Compositions of New Jazz


01. 840M (Realize) 19:50
02. N/M488/44M/Z 12:50
03. The Bell 10:20

Recorded at Sound Studios: Track 1 on March 27, 1968; Tracks 2 & 3 on April 10, 1968.
Track 1 is Comp. 6E and track 2 is Comp. 6D, according to Braxton discography.

Saxophones, Clarinet, Flute, Bagpipes [Musette], Accordion, Bells, Drums  – Anthony Braxton
Piano, Cello – Richard Abrams
Trumpet, Mellophone, Xylophone, Percussion [Bottles], Kazoo – Leo Smith
Violin, Viola, Harmonica, Bass Drum, Recorder, Cymbal, Whistle [Slide] – Leroy Jenkins


Prolific multi-reedist/composer Anthony Braxton is an immensely influential jazz artist who has covered just about every conceivable area of creativity during the course of his extraordinary career. Beginning with jazz's essential rhythmic and textural elements, Braxton combines them with all manner of experimental compositional techniques, from graphic and non-specific notation to serialism and multimedia. Largely considered a genius, his self-invented (yet heavily theoretical) approach to playing and composing jazz has as much in common with late 20th century classical music as it does jazz, and therefore has alienated some who consider jazz at a full remove from European idioms. Although Braxton exhibits a genuine -- if highly idiosyncratic -- ability to play older forms (influenced especially by saxophonists Warne Marsh, John Coltrane, Paul Desmond, and Eric Dolphy), he has never really been accepted by the jazz establishment, due to his manifest infatuation with the practices of such non-jazz artists as John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Some critics have even insisted that Braxton's music is not jazz at all. Whatever one calls it, however, there is no questioning the originality of his vision; Braxton has created music of enormous sophistication and passion that is unlike anything else that has come before it. He is able to fuse jazz's visceral components with contemporary classical music's formal and harmonic methods in an utterly unselfconscious -- and therefore convincing -- way. The best of his work is on a level with any art music of the late 20th or early 21st centuries, jazz or classical.

Born in Chicago in 1945, Braxton began playing music as a teenager, developing an early interest in both jazz and classical musics. He attended the Chicago School of Music from 1959-1963, then Roosevelt University, where he studied philosophy and composition. During this time, he became acquainted with many of his future collaborators, including saxophonists Joseph Jarman and Roscoe Mitchell. Braxton entered the service and played saxophone in an Army band; for a time he was stationed in Korea. Upon his discharge in 1966, he returned to Chicago where he joined the nascent Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). The next year, he formed an influential free jazz trio, the Creative Construction Company, with violinist Leroy Jenkins and trumpeter Leo Smith. In 1968, he made his debut as a leader with Three Compositions of New Jazz, which featured fellow AACM members Jenkins, Smith, and Muhal Richard Abrams. He returned a year later with For Alto, the first-ever recording for solo saxophone. Braxton lived in Paris for a short while beginning in 1969, where he played with a rhythm section comprising bassist Dave Holland, pianist Chick Corea, and drummer Barry Altschul. Called Circle, the group stayed together for about a year before disbanding (Holland and Altschul would continue to play in Braxton-led groups for the next several years).

Braxton moved to New York in the 1970s, a decade that saw his creative star rise. He recorded a number of ambitious albums for ECM and for major label Arista, including New York, Fall 1974, and Creative Orchestra Music 1976. He also maintained a quartet with Holland and Altschul -- even appearing on Holland's landmark debut album, Conference of the Birds. Also during this period, he performed with a bevy of artists including the Italian free improvisation group Musica Elettronica Viva, guitarist Derek Bailey, and in a duet setting with drummer Max Roach (Birth & Rebirth). In 1978, he welcomed the birth of son Tyondai Braxton, a composer, musician, and founder of the indie rock outfit Battles.

The '80s saw Braxton continue to record and issue albums on independent labels at a dizzying pace. He also moved easily between ambitious large-ensemble albums like 1981's Composition No. 96 and more intimate trio albums like 1987's ...If My Memory Serves Me Right with pianist David Rosenboom and bassist Mark Dresser. Braxton's steadiest vehicle in the '80s -- and what is often considered his best group -- was his quartet featuring pianist Marilyn Crispell, drummer Gerry Hemingway, and bassist Dresser, with whom he recorded such albums as Six Compositions (Quartet) 1984 and Quartet (London) 1985. From the mid-'80s onward he taught regularly, first at Mills College in California, and finally at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. In 1994 he received a large grant from the MacArthur Foundation that allowed him to finance some large-scale projects he'd long envisioned, including an opera. He also founded his own Braxton House label, releasing such albums as Sextet (Istanbul) 1996 and Trillium R: Composition 162 - An Opera in Four Acts/Shala Fears for the Poor.

Braxton taught at Wesleyan throughout the 2000s, during which time he continued to perform and record, delivering a mix of large and small group projects like Quartet 2006: Ghost Trance Music and Creative Orchestra: Bolzano 2007. He also revived his long dormant nonprofit Tri-Centric Foundation to promote his work and support up-and-coming creative artists. In 2013 he was bestowed the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award for his lifetime achievements in jazz. That same year Braxton retired from the faculty at Wesleyan. Since then, he has remained a vital presence both live and in the studio, with albums like the expansive box set Quintet (Tristano) 2014 and Solo (Victoriaville) 2017.


In the 1960s a new fuse had been lit under the ass of jazz. As musicians of the bop era drove out hard bop, free jazz and modal works, avant-garde was slowly taking root as well. Growing from the seeds of luminaries such as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Eric Dolphy and Cecil Taylor came wild and turbulent sounds. Nowhere else in the history of jazz was there such ferocity and angst. Melody was scrapped and replaced with articulated chaos. In the process the jazz's ideology was wiped from the charts. Taking cues from the avant-garde composers, jazz reset the bounds of experimental composition. Standing at the forefront in the late sixties with another new vision of composition was Anthony Braxton.

As understated and misunderstood today as it was upon its release, 3 Compositions of New Jazz can be cited as a masterpiece of western music's deconstruction or a glaring opus of misdirected noise. I believe it is in fact a masterpiece! Many, including myself, see Braxton as genius who threw caution to the wind and created complex and intricate pieces that can still challenge and provoke controversy even close to forty years later. Fusing ideas of jazz's avant-gardists with Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage, Braxton created a new sound that stepped even further ahead than what his jazz predecessors had done. Though Coltrane may have channeled LaMonte Young on My Favorite Things , 3 Compositions of New Jazz tackles jazz from the view of deconstructionist western-based models. With this record and Braxton's career we have the New York Uptown Jazz scene featuring such notables as Bill Frisell, Joey Barron and of course Braxton's most notable heir John Zorn - his Naked City was profiled April 2003 - and America's answer to the European avant-garde take on third stream jazz.

Piled with layers complex pieces written for a variety of instruments clashing together is the first sound that comes to mind. The music hits like sheets of gnawing power, tearing into your head. Borrowing Coleman's melodic ideas, Braxton allows the rips of violinist Leroy Jenkins fill in for the brass' normally lyrical performance. Leo Smith's trumpet on the other hand works much in the same way as Don Cherry's did for Coleman, bending around the space and melody without filling any of it in. As well Muhal Richard Abrams uses the piano as a percussive instrument as John Cage and Cecil Taylor have. But Braxton's methodical composition style is where this record differs greatly from his peers. Braxton uses mathematical based methods for composing. This idea of using math as a foundation appears throughout the work of post-modern composer Iannis Xenakis who utilized graphs and architecture to create pieces. Although it may seem bizarre, music's structure is based in a numerical idiom itself, these composers merely twisted that foundation to different applications of mathematical ideas and created some of the most innovative sounds.

The argument begins here, is Braxton a genius or fraud? Listening closely to the pieces takes a great amount of effort. There is no use in even denying it. But as the sounds individualize themselves the cohesive idea begins to form. Once you are able to get by the seeming randomness of the instruments, it easy to see why many consider Braxton among the last great visionaries of jazz. Though artists like Zorn surely deserve credit for their innovative ideas, they were certainly not the first to push jazz into such a wild frontier. 3 Compositions of New Jazz is without a doubt one of the hardest records to win over, but its style, tone and ideas are also some of the most influential in modern music today.

This album for Delmark couldn't have been hated by critics more when it came out, a clue that can tell us something brilliant lies within. Everyone was comparing Braxton's group to that of Roscoe Mitchell during this period, and consequently many failed to see the album in a proper context. Many lampooned Braxton's debut for its lack of a rhythm section--untrue really, as Abrams uses the piano as percussion and Braxton does toss some drums in now and then. They said this recording was too detached, that it was too cold, too static. That critics failed to identify the visionary nature of this recording is not unusual, for most of the truly great avant-garde/free jazz recordings of this time period were misunderstood and abhorred.

The music spans from spacious intervals to energetic frenzies, and the presence of Leroy Jenkins on violin adds dimension to the pieces. The sounds are spectacular, leaving the listener to scratch their head at times if trying to figure out what instrument is doing what. Muhal Richard Abrams makes it clear why the piano is considered, first and foremost, a percussion instrument. Don't beat yourself up if you can't dig this after the first listen--it isn't background music. Its a hard one to make it through and is only for listeners who crave something beyond nice melody and harmony. Recommended.

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