Saturday, April 7, 2018

Anthony Braxton - 1970 - For Alto

Anthony Braxton
For Alto

01. Dedicated To Multi-Instrumentalist Jack Gell
02. To Composer John Cage
03. To Artist Murray De Pillars
04. To Pianist Cecil Taylor
05. Dedicated To Ann And Peter Allen
06. Dedicated To Susan Axelrod
07. To My Friend Kenny McKenny
08. Dedicated To Multi-Instrumentalist Leroy Jenkins

Alto Saxophone – Anthony Braxton

These are the original liner notes to Anthony Braxton's For Alto, written by Braxton himself but never used. Braxton made a revision in 1970 to the original text, editing out bits which have been restored to give a more complete idea of Braxton's original thoughts. Text edited by Braxton appears in blocks


I was going to say that I was deeply indebted to Stockhausen but I changed my mind. I changed my mind because I am sitting on this desk trying to think of valid ideas to write on the back of a record [but the whole scene is a drag]&emdash; right now my leg is itching [but I am not afraid] &emdash; anyway I had planned to write about the different approaches to the music on this record but I feel so ridiculous because it's so stupid to try and explain anything [especially since you don't know where it is anyway that even as Lynn types this I become more and more frustrated and yet I do want the money for writing liner notes so I must continue, especially since I've already been paid]. I would like to also use my liner notes as a chance to voice my dissatisfaction with the rising rate of the CTA.

I have wanted to do a solo saxophone record for the last two years and as such have been preparing material so I was very happy to have the opportunity to record this music, some points because I recorded them myself the sound quality is not quite as clear as I would like for it to be. In fact, there are several sections where the quality is bad [horrible] [I apologize for this (now why did I say that because I really don't feel bad about it). I think I was just saying that but I don't know why people should constantly have to say things they don't mean, especially when it's not benefiting me. ( I'm really embarrassed. I just received a Dear John letter. I really don't understand it but onward, we must always go onward, but I don't mean to be cruel. I don't understand that last remark of mine because I'm the one who got the Dear John letter] &emdash; but because I was happy with the music I decided to include them anyway &emdash; also I wrote the extra noises in on the score &emdash; so its all right.

For Alto cover This is a very nice room that I'm in right now but since I've decided not to mention Lynn's name I'll merely confine my remarks to the scenery as such (whatever that means), If this record doesn't sell a million copies I will be very disappointed. Already I am making room on my mantle for a gold record and I am going to have parties and I am preparing an acceptance speech.

[About my saxophone, I've had Lucy for six years and while she has been repaired several times I love her very much (until I can get some money to get her traded in) I am really surprised about that Dear John letter &emdash; I mean there must be other ways]

I went to an electronic music concert the other day and was very pleasantly surprised with the realization of Frank Gordon and Donald Stark, This has been a good week for me &emdash; Leo Smith gave a concert at the University of Chicago which I was fortunate to catch also and then Richard Abrams, who was in a good mood at the time, even wrote up my astrology chart to which I'm very grateful. My sun sign is Gemini with Virgo risings, I thought I had Libra risings and so I was surprised Richard has always helped me. [I am getting very tired trying to write these liner notes]

[How do I feel right now? Well, I'm not consciously in pain] I haven't had the chance to play music in some time. I would like to play but the conditions are so strange that I find myself staying home more often than not, This is a very strange period for contemporary music and there seems to be no end in sight unless of course this is my ego and maybe I have no right to feel that way. Of course, I might not feel that way. I am happy that Lynn says she will miss me when I go to New York. I wonder if she really means it. I hope she does though. She has been with me in a very different period of my life and for that I am very grateful. I only heard Ornette Coleman live for the first time last year and I was very impressed both with his music, with the horn and without the horn. I tried to meet Stockhausen, but was unsuccessful. I am really surprised how little the musicians know about each other &emdash; or what each other is doing &emdash; but maybe someday that might be corrected. I am going for my driver's license, hopefully tomorrow and if I don't pass the test I will be very unhappy &emdash; I lost my license in the Army when it fell out on the ground in training. This is the first chance I've had to get it again. I wish Warne Marsh would record something soon.

One day I would like to do an album &emdash; no on second though I'd rather not talk about it. It'd be very silly to write about things I should be doing rather than what I do. Ann says that she has plenty of ideas for my liner notes, one of which is to put my favorite cookie recipe down and if we need some room on the notes I'll do just that. I met Jimmy Lyons the other day in Maywood, Illinois. I was very glad to meet and talk to him and his wife Barbara. We talked about a black critique, I disagreed with his ideas but had a very stimulating evening and Barbara's mother served us delicious chili. I had a very difficult time when I was at Roosevelt University, especially in the music school. I could get no one to play my music and very few of the composers sympathized with my ideas on art and I didn't like the food in the lunchroom. In Paris I met a very interesting Yugoslavian chess player who I studied with. He was the strongest chess player I've ever seen in my life and if we could have communicated, he spoke hardly any English, I would have studied with him indefinitely. I would very much like to go back to school and complete my studies. There are so many things happening in this period to learn about and plus I am so tired of my situation as it stands now. Right now I am somewhat worried that when I return to New York, my music, which I have been writing for the last four years, might not be there. I seem to be constantly making stupid moves but if I lose my music what a drag. I should be leaving Thursday. [If I had my instrument right now I would like to play] "Ruby, My Dear" by Thelonious Monk [. That] is such a beautiful piece of music. Thelonious Monk has always been one of my favorite composer musicians and if could find the name of the Albert King tune that I like I would purchase it immediately. The last three years in the A.A.C.M. has seen radical changes in the techniques employed on all instruments, especially the saxophone with accomplished players like Jarman, Mitchell, Threadgill, Stubblefield, McIntyre as well as musicians like Wallace Macmillan &emdash; there is always a stimulating atmosphere. Chicago is very fortunate to have these people. The A.A.C.M. in my opinion, the last-first hope of the music. Hopefully we will not be crushed. John Cage hardly ever comes to Chicago. I can hardly concentrate with you in the room. Lynn is very mysterious. I have been searching for Gemini composers and was happy to find that Stravinsky is a Gemini but there seems to be more Sagittarius composers. I wonder what that means. I disagree with Henry Pleasant's book, The Agony of Modern Music. I wish Bunky Green could record more. He has always been one of my favorite alto saxophone players. I first heard him when I had just gotten out of the Army. He is one of the most exciting alto saxophones I have ever heard. I seem to constantly miss the Kontarsky Brothers when they come to Chicago. I have been told that they perform a piece of Earl Brown's. I would really like to hear that. Earl Brown is one of the strongest composers in the past seven years. Now why did I say seven years? Why couldn't I just say I really like Earl Brown, which is true. I sometimes think about the future of jazz magazines. I don't really understand what's happening with the jazz critics: unless that avenue can be corrected, creative music will always be surpressed, which is to say we will surpress ourselves. Last week, Dan Morganston accepted one of my articles for his magazine. I was very happy to write but I fear my article will be misunderstood, but what can one do? Musicians are going to have to write about their music&emdash;making attempts to narrow the gap between the audience and the music. Donald Stark asked me to explain my mathematical approaches last Saturday and I talked for a half hour but was unsuccessful I fear. It has become increasingly difficult for me to explain anything. If I go to the West Coast I would really like to see Donald Garrett. I am very much impressed by Stockhausen's piano music. I seem to be in a piano music period and lately I find myself listening to early piano pieces exclusively. I would like to go back and study piano as soon as possible. I have always wanted to play Berg's Sonata. In St. Louis Julius Hemphill and Oliver Lake are two of the most original players of the music that I have heard in that area. It would be very good to hear them again as I have not heard them for more than a year and I wonder what Phillip Wilson is doing. I think he is playing with Paul Butterfield right now. I disagree with McLuhan's essays on media but I refuse to tell why. In this period I find Dostoyevsky very attractive. I have decided to accept for my philosophy an excerpt from his Notes on the Underground &emdash; "My liver is diseased. Well, let it get worse." I don't really know how I feel about Frank Zappa but maybe I should listen to him more. I am still trying to learn the words to "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands." [I have always been against Aristotle's systems of logic that most of us have unconsciously accepted in the way that we live. His concepts are frightening to say the least.] The philosophy department at Roosevelt is full of shit.

Why doesn't someone write about Bobby Blue Bland. It seems to me that he is without peers. I have never heard him play live and on the next occasion I will definitely catch him. Yesterday, I heard him play on record his version of "Please Save Your Love for Me" which is incredible. I would like to make a blues record one day, Koester has called the blues on this record high society blues &emdash; told me I don't know anything about blues even. I was very unhappy with the reception of my first record but I have now gotten used to it. I read in Coda Magazine that our music was a poor example of Webern. The jazz musicians say it is not jazz and the classical musicians say it is not classical. I like the jacket though...

There must be something else to say. Oh, the music on this album is almost a year old. Today is Feb., 23rd. Hopefully, this record will be out soon. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Lester Lashley was awarded "New Trombone Player of the Year" or something like that in Down Beat. There are very few trombonists of his caliber. If there were recording opportunities in Chicago I feel that American Contemporary music would be benefited. Chicago is the center of the new music without a doubt. Steve McCall told me recently that he is going back to Europe. Needless to say I was surprised. He only recently came back to Chicago after being away two years. I believe LeRoy Jenkins is the most advanced violin player performing. That he hasn't gotten the recognition and exposure he should have is appalling. Lynn's back is tired. I hope I can finish my liner notes before she gives up. I would like to hear Maurice McIntyre play before I leave Chicago. I think his soul is incredible and I have always loved his music. I think it's obvious that notions of Mathematical music will have to be completely altered if it is to continue to be creative. I think constantly about the gap between where the music is at and where the music is at. I've found on the whole that the people in Europe were more receptive to our music than here in Chicago. Maybe that might account for some of the advance players I met. One day I would like to get my orchestra music performed. It is very difficult to have any music performed. Hopefully this album is the first of a series of solo albums for myself. Most of the music on this record has been performed at different recitals that I have given in Chicago. At Lincoln Center on the South Side of Chicago and at the Parkway Community Center in '68. I was thinking about growing a beard but have changed my mind because it hurts so much after one week. I don't think I would like to live in Chicago any more. Several of the pieces on this record were inspired extensions of different principles in contemporary classical music, notably Klavestuck 6 and 4 of Stockhausen and Morton Fillman's Durations. With different forms of music being so readily available it has become very difficult to distinguish between forms or approaches. Maybe we are at the junction where we will not need this anymore. I had given up sweet rolls because they aren't healthy but find I myself going back to them. The sweet rolls in France were horrible.

Braxton 2/23/69 [revised in 1970]

Recorded in 1969, this historic album was the very first lengthy document of solo saxophone improvisation. Originally available as a 2 LP set, all 73 minutes are now on one CD. When initially issued, For Alto received a five star rating in Down Beat which called the album ''revolutionary''. It is now listed as one of the Village Voice's 10 Greatest Avant Jazz Albums of All Time!

A review of the LP re-issue in Downbeat read ''Though For Alto was only Braxton's second recording, his solo vocabulary of multiphonics, pointillistic intervals, and scalar lyricism was already in place. This set of breathy balladic fragments, streams of molten sound, and reconstituted blues elements has stood the test of time.''

Originally released as a two-LP set in 1969, For Alto is 73 minutes of unaccompanied saxophone solos by a young musician issuing just his second recording under his own name. Solo saxophone was then a rarefied tradition in jazz. Coleman Hawkins had done it once in the 1940s and Sonny Rollins in the '50s. More to the point, Eric Dolphy and Jimmy Giuffre had done it a few times in the early 1960s. Braxton was being more than brash, however, and doing something very different. He was applying fresh structural concepts to sustain extended improvisations, and he was exploring John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen, as well as the jazz tradition, to mark a new direction in the avant-garde.

Forgoing the "energy music" school, Braxton was exploring silence, noise, and forms of serialism with an analytical, almost sculptural, approach to sound. Each piece here explores a different approach or set of materials. There's buzz-saw saxophone on "To Composer John Cage," while "To pianist Cecil Taylor" is heartfelt blues that delves back before bebop for its sources. Tracks 5 and 6 are breathy, extended improvisations, the former exploring pianissimo understatement, and the latter developing elliptical complexity, with both drawing on and redirecting the jazz-ballad tradition. The concluding piece, nearly 20 minutes long, builds dialogue from contrasts between brittle, abrasive overblowing and the merest suggestions of notes. For Alto is one of those rare works that point to new possibilities, and it's been one of the most influential recordings of the past 30 years. It remains brilliant, challenging--perhaps even daunting--music. --Stuart Broomer

The avant-garde “For Alto” is a groundbreaking, completely unaccompanied solo alto sax excursion by NEA Jazz Master and MacArthur Fellow composer, arranger, leader, educator, and multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton. Originally issued as a double vinyl LP package identified by “Side 1”, “Side 2”, “Side 3” and “Side 4” with Braxton’s distinctive and characteristic symbology for each song instead of traditional song titles. Downbeat Magazine, according to the liner notes, gave a ‘five-star’ rating to “For Alto”, calling it “revolutionary”. This was in 1969 when the ‘New Thing’ or avant-garde was more acceptable thanks mainly to the likes of Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane who took the early ire of the ‘jazz critics’ and pressed on with their daring musical mission, eventually becoming the darlings of many ‘jazz critics’; if it had been released in 1960, the rating might have been much lower and the music might be seen as highly controversial, even by the likes of the very vocal Miles Davis in an early DownBeat Blindfold Test who angrily castigated Coleman and Eric Dolphy, but later became a crossover innovator. Following this, Braxton went on to much acclaim with his many different-sized units, such as his Ghost Trance music, and his Diamond Curtain Wall Trio and Orchestra and his collaboration with Chick Corea in the protean all-star avant-garde group, 'Circle'.

“Song 1” is dedicated to “multi-instrumentalist Jack Gell” and is short, sweet, and lyrical. On his amazing and lengthy “Song 2”, which is dedicated to “Composer John Gill”, he really cuts loose with a fusillade of notes, sounds, glisses, held notes, and phrases, pushing his alto sax out to its theoretical limits, especially in the altissimo range and over an extended area of his instrument. The lyrical “Song 3” is dedicated to “artist Murray De Pillars” and is full of trills and other notes that sound like a clarinet or bass clarinet at times. Song 4 is dedicated to the legendary free jazz composer, arranger, and “pianist Cecil Taylor” and is very bluesy, lyrical, and semi-traditional at times, with opposing “sheets of sound” evident at other times , ending on a very peaceful note. One of the longest pieces is “Song 5” which is dedicated to Ann and Peter Allen and is very calm and song-like, with long periods of very quiet, reflective moments included. “Song 6” is dedicated to Susan Axelrod. The relatively peaceful, “Song 7”, is dedicated to his “friend, Kenny McKenny” and is a study in alto sax high and low timbres, some of which are quite thick. “Song 8” is dedicated to Braxton's AACM compatriot, “multi-instrumentalist Leroy Jenkins” and has some similarities to “Song 7” but sped up in tempo. Groundbreaking stuff, indeed. My Highest Recommendation. 

Like any other sub-genre in jazz music free jazz is marked by a timeline of precedent setting events. Many of these moments inevitably center on recordings: Cecil Taylor’s Jazz Advance, Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz, John Coltrane’s Ascension, Albert Ayler’s Spiritual Unity. In the case of the AACM two recordings by members of the association’s roster are widely regarded as points on this continuum- Roscoe Mitchell’s Sound and Anthony Braxton’s For Alto.
Braxton’s recording possesses a further and even more far-reaching distinction in that it was the first extended document of solo saxophone improvisation in the history of recorded music. Coleman Hawkins’ precedent-setting “Picasso” predates it by twenty years but Braxton was the first player open up his horn to a protracted, uninterrupted stream of consciousness discourse. Over three decades after its original release it still has the capacity to dumbfound and astound. Eight pieces, each one a dedication to a peer, a friend or an influence. The opening melodically-tinged track floats across the ears for brief seconds before Braxton’s bell bursts forth full-bore blowing a stream of stentorian blasts in histrionic tribute to minimalist composer John Cage. Given the nature of the dedicatee it’s surprising how much density is packed into the piece’s nine and half minutes. Later pieces act as forums for other facets of Braxton’s formidable technique from multiphonics and breath sounds to split tones and spiraling harmonics. Not all are full frontal assaults either. The pieces dedicated to the Allens and Susan Axelrod are rife with whispy balladic segments sometimes so quiet that the clack of keys against pads and the gulp of breaths can be heard in the mix. What’s more all of the improvisations were recorded in real-time leaving them with a raw, unadorned edge that only serves to make the music even more compelling.

This is a recording and artistic statement that completely changed the rules. Braxton’s gall seemed audacious to some, but revolutionary to far more and the hindsight of history has proven this latter camp correct. His opened the gates for solo improvisatory expression for all players up to the challenge to pass through and in the intervening years many of the giants of improvised music have followed suit. Joe McPhee, Evan Parker, Peter Brötzmann, so many others; all have raised their reeds to their lips on record in the absence of others with only their thoughts and facility to guide them. If it hadn’t been Braxton who led the charge, someone else may have done so eventually. But the fact remains that it was him and For Alto was the catalyst for all that followed.



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