Sunday, April 8, 2018

Cecil Taylor Quartet - 1956 - Jazz Advance

Cecil Taylor Quartet 
Jazz Advance

01. Bemsha Swing 7:26
02. Charge 'Em Blues 11:15
03. Azure 7:35
04. Song 5:19
05. You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To 9:15
06. Rickkickshaw 6:05

Recorded in Boston in September 1956.

Bass – Buell Neidlinger
Drums – Denis Charles
Piano – Cecil Taylor
Soprano Saxophone – Steve Lacy

Soon after he first emerged in the mid-'50s, pianist Cecil Taylor was considered one of the most radical and boundary-pushing improvisers in jazz. Although in his early days he used some standards as vehicles for improvisation, Taylor is largely known for his often avant-garde original compositions. To simplify describing his style, one could say that his intense atonal percussive approach involved playing the piano as if it were a set of drums. He generally emphasized dense clusters of sound played with remarkable technique and endurance, often during marathon performances.

Born in 1929, and raised in Corona, Queens in New York City, Taylor started piano lessons at the age of six, and attended the New York College of Music and the New England Conservatory. His early influences included Duke Ellington and Dave Brubeck, but from the start he sounded original. Early gigs included work with groups led by Johnny Hodges and Hot Lips Page, but, after forming his quartet in the mid-'50s (which originally included Steve Lacy on soprano, bassist Buell Neidlinger, and drummer Dennis Charles), Taylor was never a sideman again. The group played at the Five Spot Cafe in 1956 for six weeks and performed at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival (which was recorded by Verve), but, despite occasional records like 1958's Looking Ahead, work was scarce.
In 1960, Taylor recorded extensively for Candid under Neidlinger's name (by then the quartet featured Archie Shepp on tenor), and the following year he sometimes substituted in the play The Connection. By 1962, Taylor's quartet featured his regular sideman Jimmy Lyons on alto and drummer Sunny Murray. He spent six months in Europe (Albert Ayler worked with Taylor's group for a time although no recordings resulted) but upon his return to the U.S., Taylor did not work again for almost a year. Even with the rise of free jazz, his music was considered too advanced. In 1964, Taylor was one of the founders of the Jazz Composer's Guild and, in 1968, he was featured on a record by the Jazz Composer's Orchestra. In the mid-'60s, Taylor recorded two very advanced sets for Blue Note, but it was generally a lean decade.

Things greatly improved starting in the '70s. Taylor taught for a time at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Antioch College, and Glassboro State College. European tours also became common. After being awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1973, the pianist's financial difficulties were eased a bit; he even performed at the White House (during Jimmy Carter's administration) in 1979. He also recorded more frequently, delivering albums like 1976's Dark to Themselves, and 1979's Cecil Taylor Unit. Taylor also started incorporating some of his eccentric poetry into his performances.

The death of longtime associate Jimmy Lyons in 1986 was a major blow, but Taylor remained active over the next few decades, issuing albums on labels such as hatART, Soul Note, Leo, and FMP, including 1986's For Olim, 1993's Always a Pleasure, and 1996's The Light of Corona. He also formed a trio with bassist William Parker and drummer Tony Oxley. During the 2000s, the pianist slowed little, often working often with his various ensembles, including his trio, and his big band. Having never compromised his musical vision, Taylor's stature grew in his later years. He was the subject of a 2006 documentary All the Notes, and in 2013 was awarded the Kyoto Prize for Music. In 2016, the Whitney Museum of American Art hosted a retrospective of career titled Open Plan: Cecil Taylor. Taylor died on April 5, 2018 at his home in Brooklyn at the age of 89.

Max Roach, the master bebop drummer and one of the most most highly regarded percussionists in all of jazz, first worked with Taylor in 1979 and continued to duet with him into the 2000s. In 2001, he spoke to Howard Mandel about Taylor, an interview excerpted in the author's book Miles Ornette Cecil: Jazz Beyond Jazz. "Cecil is one of the most challenging musicians I've ever worked with," Roach said. "To put it in lay terms, it's like being in the ring with Joe Louis, Jack Johnson or Mike Tyson. It's like being on a battlefield," he continued. "But it's warm music."

I like early Cecil Taylor recordings – it doesn’t feel as though we need a PhD in musical physics to appreciate them. That doesn’t mean that I think Jazz Advance is better than, for instance, Conquistador! or Olu Iwa, but preparing to listen to his later albums can feel a bit like preparing to jump into an icy sea: you know it’s going to be exhilarating, but you have to get your nerve up and be in the right mood. Taylor’s earlier recordings were more open to mood: Jazz Advance is fun and (mostly) relaxing and I can listen to it whatever mood I’m in. That the first Cecil Taylor album opens with a Thelonious Monk tune is fitting: Monk’s influence on Taylor is obvious: both are lean, percussive, disruptive. And, as with Monk, the rhythm section, bass and drums, keep everything relatively simple: Taylor might want to jump and skip, but Buell Neidlinger and Denis Charles keep him on a clear road. But we should also note that while Taylor sounds as though he is influenced by Monk, he never sounds as though he is imitating Monk: his command and style and musical personality are formed and confident and unique: he sharply evolved over the next few years, but this was the platform. My favourite track is probably Charge ‘em Blues, one of the two numbers where Steve Lacy joins the trio. I know little of Lacy’s work other than his recordings with Taylor and he is a perfect partner, seemingly totally attuned to Taylor’s musical imagination. Perhaps the most interesting number, in that it is closest to Taylor’s later style, is the long solo response to You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To: there is an abundance of ideas, but maybe an overabundance because, at least for me, it never quite coheres into a consistent musical work. And if I have been emphasizing that this album sounds ‘normal’ or accessible compared to Taylor’s later work, maybe we should put Taylor’s playing back into the context of its times and imagine how weird it must have sounded to most listeners in 1957...that’s a couple of years before Ornette Coleman announced he had found the shape of jazz to come. It feels like Cecil Taylor was already laying the foundations.

The Transition label and the then new music of Cecil Taylor were perfectly matched, the rebellion in modern jazz was on in 1956, and the pianist was at the forefront. Though many did not understand his approach at the time, the passing years temper scathing criticism, and you can easily appreciate what he is accomplishing. For the reissue Jazz Advance, you hear studio sessions in Boston circa 1956, and the legendary, ear-turning set of 1957 at the Newport Jazz Festival. A young Steve Lacy is included on several tracks, and while revealing Taylor's roughly hewn façade, the few pieces as a soloist and with his trio of bassist Buell Neidlinger and drummer Dennis Charles are even more telling. At his most astonishing, Taylor slightly teases, barely referring to the melody of "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To," wrapping his playful, wild fingers and chordal head around a completely reworked, fractured, and indistinguishable yet introspective version of this well-worn song form. Taylor is also able to circle the wagons, jabbing and dotting certain vital notes on the melody of "Sweet & Lovely." When inclined to turn off putting dissonant chords into playful melody changes, he does so, turning around Thelonious Monk's "Bemsha Swing" delightfully, and then scattering notes everywhere in his solo. Lacy's soprano sax is more than up to the task in interpreting Taylor's personal "Charge 'Em Blues" or laying out the straight-ahead mood on "Song." Neidlinger is the hardest swinging bassist on the planet during "Rick Kick Shaw," boosted by the Asian flavored piano of Taylor and especially the soaring punt-like drumming of Charles. The Newport sessions allegedly sent the crowd reeling with stunned surprise, as the quartet takes Billy Strayhorn's "Johnny Come Lately" starkly further than Monk might have, while Taylor's original "Nona's Blues" sports a jagged edge in what he called a "traditional, shorter form" as they were "at a jazz festival," and his original "Tune 2" is a ten-and-a-half minute languid strut, most Monk like, and a departure from any norm previously established. With Jazz Advance, the revolution commenced, Taylor was setting the pace, and the improvised music world has never been the same. For challenged listeners, this LP has to be high on your must-have list.

Anthony Braxton 
Solo- Live At Moers Festival

01. JMK-80 CKN-7 8:10
02. NNWZ 48 K N 4:50
03. RORRT 33 H7T 4 5:18
04. AOTH MBA T 5:19
05. 106 Kelvin M-16 5:31
06. RZ04M(6) AHW 3:12

Recorded live, June 1, 1974 at 'III. New Jazz Festival' in Moers, Germany.

Saxophone – Anthony Braxton

Six years after his groundbreaking double album of solo alto saxophone compositions/improvisations (For Alto on Delmark), Anthony Braxton was just beginning to receive the wider recognition that would shortly land him a contract with Arista records. Just prior to that event, he recorded this live solo performance at the German Moers festival where he shows that he'd lost none of the fire and imagination evinced on that initial effort. Possibly unique among improvising instrumentalists, Braxton concentrates each piece on a relatively small, carefully delineated "sound territory," routinely uncovering vast amounts of detail and beauty in areas that might appear sparse or bare. Each piece receives its own personalized approach. If he's investigating the properties of stuttered attacks, he follows that particular alley to see where it leads. Probing into a bluesy figure results in a dissection of that theme, laying open to view multiple aspects of its form. His obvious and remarkable fluency on alto allows Braxton to command the subtlest shadings as well as the harshest split tones at will. At the end, the dramatic impact of his performance is clear from the overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic audience reaction. Not an easy recording to locate, Solo: Live at Moers Festival is a worthy companion to his other early solo albums, For Alto and Alto Sax Improvisations: Series F.

I had forgotten that I had this one... in not the best bit rate... but something better than nothing

Anthony Braxton - 1979 - Alto Saxophone Improvisations 1979

Anthony Braxton
Alto Saxophone Improvisations 1979

01. Comp. 77 A 7:30
02. Comp. 77 C 6:25
03. Red Top 6:13
04. Comp. 77 D 7:30
05. Comp. 77 E 4:25
06. Comp. 26 F 6:30
07. Comp. 77 F 6:19
08. Comp. 26 B 6:58
09. Along Came Betty 8:00
10. Comp. 77 G 5:15
11. Comp. 26 E 6:20
12. Giant Steps 6:20
13. Comp. 77 H 7:00

1978 – November 28 (A1, A2, B1, B4),
1978 – November 29 (A3, B3, C1-D1, D3),
1979 – June 21 (B2, D2).

Big Apple Studios
New York, NY (USA)

Alto Saxophone – Anthony Braxton

Side One, Cut One (pretentiously titled GNG
R (which probably stands for "Going Nuts Giving Braxton Reign--Nothing Registers") sounds like a wet-behind-the-ears kid just brought his brand new alto saxophone (a Vito student model) home and is attempting to "play" it for the first time: every squeak, every squawk, split-tone and non-musical, pre-amateur bleeet and blat imaginable is coming out of the bell of this horn. Give me an alto saxophone and I could do the exact same thing--today!

Side One, Cut Two (entitled RKRR[SMBA]W, which most likely stands for Resuming Krappy Record Re: Saxophone Making Bach Arpeggios-Whaaaa?) is the same student playing almost-proper Bach-like arpeggios from one of those saxophone method books we saw in High School. His tone has improved since track one.

Side Two, Cut Three (104 Degrees-Kelvin M-18): Now the kid has come across some scales and exercises he's having some problems with, so he becomes more and more frustrated, and ends up biting the reed and throwing the saxophone through the wall, it goes.

So why do I have to hand it to Anthony Braxton? Because the man is Brilliant: He has somehow figured out a way to GET PEOPLE TO PAY TO LISTEN TO HIM PRACTICE! He somehow convinced the suits at Arista that there are enough dumb people (like me!) who would pay to listen to 80 minutes of someone practicing at home (or in a New York studio, or where ever)! This is why I called him a "Genius." No one else could have possible gotten away with this! Every note: good, bad, or indifferent, every squeak, every squawk, every bleet, every blat, every blatz, every blitz, every zetz is here for your listening "enjoyment" (?). Brilliant! Braxton's part of the jazz Avant-Garde, so everything he does is brilliant, right? You don't need the high school kid just starting out on his horn living next door disturbing the peace if you have a copy of this thing.

And those Braxton-penned liner notes! These are written in the bizarre language I remember from college called "Professor Speak." I'm dizzy and astral-travelling from just trying to make sense of these notes! If anybody out there can drop me a comment and tell me a) What the heck these notes mean, and b) What language they are in (other than "Professor-Speak") I would greatly appreciate it.

Three stars? Yes, for all the laughs--this is almost like a comedy album with no words. There are "funny," albeit non-musical, moments here and there. But listening to 80 minutes of solo alto--some of the tracks like "Red Top" virtually cry out for a rhythm section--is overkill, no matter who the saxophonist is (I wouldn't even want to listen to Bird, Stitt or Rollins practice for 80 minutes, much less someone with a grating, unpleasent tone like Braxton). In essense, if you buy this album, you're paying to listen to someone practice, and not always successfully at that!

This double-Lp features Anthony Braxton playing his strongest horn (alto-sax) unaccompanied on ten of his diverse originals plus a trio of standards ("Red Top," "Along Came Betty" and "Giant Steps"). The thoughtful yet emotional improvisations contain enough variety to hold one's interest throughout despite the sparse setting; this twofer (as with many of Braxton's Arista recordings) is long overdue to be reissued on CD.

Anthony Braxton - 1978 - Solo (Koln) 1978

Anthony Braxton 
Solo (Koln) 1978

01. Composition No. 77a 8:30
02. Composition No. 138m 6:40
03. Composition No. 106d 9:20
04. Composition No. 77h 7:25
05. Composition No. 138p 5:14
06. You Go To My Head 7:16
07. Composition No. 26e 13:09
08. Composition No. 8d 6:31
09. Composition No. 26f 6:27
10. Composition No. 106f 5:15
11. Impressions 2:11

Recorded live in Koln, 1978.

Alto Saxophone – Anthony Braxton

Not released until 24 years after it was recorded, this classic solo album by one of the giants of the saxophone is a welcome addition to Anthony Braxton's discography. Performing solely on alto sax, there is a searing lyricism and a surprisingly jazz-oriented underpinning to even the most abstract of Braxton's improvisations. While most of the compositions are originals, the two that are not -- "You Go to My Head" and "Impressions" -- reveal Braxton's remarkable ability to delve deeply inside a song's structure and make it his own. In later years, Braxton often revealed a mellow tinge to his playing, even in solo performances. The instant release, though, reveals him in an energetic mood, and should satisfy those who appreciate his more radical side within the "mainstream" of the jazz avant-garde. He barks, screeches (though only occasionally and in characteristically good taste), and shows some outstanding technical skills, including incredible speed. While he has recorded some of these compositions elsewhere (for example, as Steve Day writes in the liner notes, four of the compositions appear on the impressive Alto Saxophone Improvisations 1979), Braxton is in peak form on this one and the results are uniformly excellent. Braxton enthusiasts (and others, too) will want this in their collections.

Anthony Braxton - 1978 - For Trio

Anthony Braxton
For Trio

01. Version I 20:22
02. Version II 20:56

Recorded on Sept. 22, 1977 at Streeterville Sound, Chicago, IL.
Mastering: Masterdisk, New York City.

Personnel / Side A
Anthony Braxton (Middle)
Henry Threadgill (Right Channel)
Douglas Ewart (Left Channel)

Personnel / Side B
Anthony Braxton (Middle)
Joseph Jarman (Right Channel)
Roscoe Mitchell (Left Channel)

Always one to try for something different, for this album Braxton organized two trios of well known avant-garde jazz musicians (he himself played in both groups) and recorded two side-long versions of the same composition, one of which has little to do with jazz, at least superficially. The piece, which is listed as "Composition 76" in the superb discography compiled by Francesco Martinelli (Bandecchi & Vivaldi Editore, 2000), is designed as a series of "routes" through a form, with agreed upon signposts along the way but with wide allowances for how the performers arrive there. These signposts include unison vocal refrains, staccato rhythmic lines and soft, sighing plaints from the horns. The extremely high caliber of the musicians which Braxton chose for this project guarantee some inspired playing and great imagination in working their way through this often forbidding territory. While admirers of his more jazz oriented work might find the music here daunting indeed, it repays careful listening and also strikes one as a seminal work that prefigures many of the concerns he would deal with later on in his collage-form structures written for his classic quartet of the '80s and '90s.

Anthony Braxton - 1978 - For Four Orchestras

Anthony Braxton 
For Four Orchestras

01. For Four Orchestras - Composition {82} 20:10
02. For Four Orchestras - Composition {82} 18:52
03. For Four Orchestras - Composition {82} 16:14
04. For Four Orchestras - Composition {82} 19:29
05. For Four Orchestras - Composition {82} 20:25
06. For Four Orchestras - Composition {82} 19:20

Bass – Arthur Kell, Daniel Savage, David Seckinger, Jeffrey Hill, Jeffrey Soule, Leon Dorsey, Mark Shapire, Matthew McCauley, Michael Talbert, Mikkel Jordahl, Robert Adair, Suzanne Tarshis
Bass Clarinet – Carol Robinson, Cynthia Douglass, David Ballon, Mark Gallagher
Bassoon – Allen Smith, Ann Kosanovic, Deanna Kory, Mark Gross
Cello – Aaron Henderson, Carol Elliott, Carole Stipleman, Daniel Kazez, Dawn Wilder, Elizabeth Knowles, Elizabeth Warren, Kathy Kelly, Mattew Wexler, Michele McTeague, Sarah Binford, Steven Drake, Steven Harrison, Steven Wise, Suzanne Wijsman, Tom Rosenberg
Clarinet [Eb] – Bela Schwartz, David Bell, David Hostetler, James Colbert, John Guest, Marta Schworm, Marty Rossip, Michael Zakim
Flute [Alto] – Adam Kuenzel, Carol Goodwillow, Joel Karr, Wendy Tarnoff
Harp – Cynthia Mowery, Nancy Lendrim, Naomi Markus, Susan Kelly
Oboe – Bernard Gabis, Cameron McClusky, Carolyn Hove, Claudia Patton, Giselle Lautenbach, James Hois, Michael Harrison, Pamela Hill
Percussion – Andre Whatley, Andrew Collier, Charles Wood, David Wiles, Derek Davidson, Galen Work, Gregg Linde, John Gardner, John Kennedy, Philip Seeman, Stephen Pascher, Victor Thomas
Piccolo Flute – Betsy Adler, Celeste Johnson, Leonard Garrison, Virginia Elliott
Trombone – Ann Mondragon, Bradley Cornell, Brian Campbell, David Fogg, David Stocklosa, Eileen Jones, Erik Johnson, Kadie Nichols, Mark Adams, Mark Kaiser, Richard Ruotolo, Robert Asmussen
Trumpet – Alan Campbell, Chris Kerrebrock, Dave Rinaldi, David Driesen, James Kirchenbauer, John Bourque, Thomas Gotwals, William Camp
Tuba – Barry Jenson, Brian Bailey, John Lomonaco, Steven Box
Viola – Alex GuroffIgor Polisitsky, Amy Leventha, Beth Thorne, David Rogers, Dee Ortel, Helen McDermott, James Thomas, Jeffery Durachta, Kathleen Elliott, Nanci Severence, Naomi Barlow, Norin Saxe, Rachel Yurman, Sarah Bloom, Theodore Chemey
Violin [First] – Audrey Hale, Barry Sargent, David Wilson, Diane Cooper, Edward Shlasko, Francine Swartzentruber, Judith Bixler, Karin von Gierke, Lilyn Graves, Lorraine Adel, Mary Bolling, Monique Reid, Pamela Stuckey, Peter Jaffe, Robert Scarrow, Shelley Fowle, Stanislav Branovicki, Steven Schuch, Susan Demetris, Zabeth Oechlin
Violin [Second] – Alison Feuerwerker, Amorie Robinson, Andra Marx, Elizabeth Welch, Ellen Ziontz, Jane Moon, Jennifer Doctor, Jennifer Steiner, Johnathan Dunn, Julie Badger, Kathy Blackwell, Lauri Gutman, Lori Fay, Lynda Mapes, Marcus Woo, Margaret Morgan, Marriane Smith, Sally Becker, Shannon Simonson, Susan Brenneis

Four 39-piece orchestras from the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music.
{Comp. 82} (dedicated to the historian-writer-educator Eileen Southern)

Recorded at Hall Auditorium, Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio, on May 18 and 19, 1978

From Braxton's notes in the booklet: "Composition {82} is the first completed work in a series of ten compositions that will involve the use of multiple-orchestralism and the dynamics of spacial activity. This work is scored for 160 musicians and has been designed to utilize both individual and collective sound-direction (in live performance). Each orchestra is positioned near the corners of the performing space, and the audience is seated in both the center and sides of the space (around and in between each orchestra). The resulting activity has been constructed to fully utilize every area of the room--which is to say, each section of the performing space will give the listener a very different aspect of the music. The science related to how this multiple use of space is utilized, will also open another chapter in multi-orchestra activity, and hopefully this work will be viewed as a positive contribution to transitional multi-orchestralism--as we move to the next cycle.The nature of how {Comp. 82} extends the dynamic possibilities of multi-orchestra activity has to do with its use of spaciality--involving both the nature of how information is transferred from orchestra to orchestra (where the listener of this record can hear the actual movement of activity change speakers) with the addition of 'trajectoral-activity' (where, in a live performance, the listener can experience the route of a given transfer). More so, this composition has also been constructed to include the actual change of performance direction as well. In other words 'information' in {Comp. 82} would also involve how the rotation of a given ensemble (as that ensemble is playing) changes the actual direction of the group making the music. This has been accomplished by having all of the performers (with the exception of the percussionist and the harpist) in rotating chairs--where even the direction of the music is calculated. Thus, the nature of spaciality in this composition would encompass an additional dynamic inclusion, for the spacial implications of environment would thus take on added dimensions. Because, in fact, to experience the realness of this composition is to experience a living and breathing universe. ***The actual composing of {Comp. 82} took place in July of 1977, lasting until the middle of May, 1978 (with sequence corrections up until August). The piece is scored for 160 musicians and each orchestra is made up with the same individual components. The make-up of each orchestra is as follows: two flues (one doubling on piccolo), oboe, English horn, two clarinets (one doubling on soprano clarinet), bass clarinet, bassoon, two trumpets, two trombones, bass trombone, tuba, harp, five first violins, five second violins, five violas, four cellos, three basses, and three percussion. The original floor plan of the composition was not able to be used for this recording as the space requirement it necessitated exceeded what was possible for us, so an alternate seating arrangement was utilized. The actual recording of {Comp. 82} took place in May, '78, on the campus of Oberlin College and involved four intensive sessions in two days. For this reason, the composition was recorded in sequence-patches, rather than in sectional areas. The total material would also exceed two hours and a half and as such, I have taken out about thirty minutes of the music in order to preserve the sound quality of this record. There have also been other adjustments as well, for the problem of time and economics in a project like this has to be taken into account--but what is documented here is an excellent version of the 'essence' of the piece. The placement of activity in this project has been designed to totally utilize the spacial dynamics of the quadraphonic technology--each orchestra will be heard coming from a separate speaker, and the mixture of events in a given section should give the sense of sound movement through space--and this will also be apparent (though to a somewhat lesser extent) to stereo record players as well."

Braxton's contract with Arista during the '70s allowed him a unique opportunity to perform and record a number of projects that would normally have been, considering his financial state of affairs otherwise, impossible to even think about. The most monumental of these was the present set, a single composition spanning three LPs and performed by four student orchestras from Oberlin College. Unfortunately, the results don't live up to expectations. "Composition 82" is written in an extremely dry academic style with little differentiation of its course. It is quite conceivable that a performance by a more polished orchestra or, better yet, one made up of creative improvisers would be a substantial improvement. And one must keep in mind that the piece is designed to place the audience in a central position, surrounded by the orchestras, and thus able to hear musical ideas and fragments tossed back and forth from one group to another. Still, the musical material itself sounds routinely dreary and uninspired, as if Braxton was declaring that he too could write music as sterile and vapid as his European contemporaries. One might more charitably, however, write this effort off as an interesting experiment that failed; ideas appear herein that would bear far more beautiful fruit in later works, including the Ivesian notion of having individual members of the ensemble playing passages from different compositions simultaneously. There is one short section about 15 minutes into the piece where, unlike any other portion, the orchestras play and maintain an utterly gorgeous and complex chord for a minute or two. Buried within that deep structure seems to be a wealth of rich material that one would have hoped to be explored further. Alas, it is abandoned and left behind as an enticing prospect of what might have been. It's also amusing to note in passing the pieces Braxton was planning and the projected timetable for them; one, scheduled for 1988, was to be played by ensemble on three planets! Another, intended for 2000, was to span galaxies. Never let it be said that Braxton was short on ambition.

Getting 22 musicians into a studio to play creative big-band music is no easy feat, especially with as little rehearsal time as the ensemble apparently had. But improvisation was neither possible nor the point of Four Orchestras, recorded in Oberlin, Ohio with a grand total of 156 musicians. It is presented in two sections here chiefly because of its length (and probably because of what fit on the tape reels)—each part is just a hair under an hour. The original set spanned six LP sides and it was not the best-pressed or best-sounding of the Braxton Aristas. The music doesn't jump out of one's speakers here the way it does on other discs, but it doesn't need to—virtuosity, swing and improvisational/textural interplay are not present in the same way they would be in Braxton's jazz music. The work moves in cycles based around single chords, and though certainly a lot busier than Morton Feldman's later orchestral works, there is an affinity for instrumental flurries presenting themselves in relation to a steady and central pulse. 

Furthermore, though the number of musicians participating, one never gets the sense of an overbearing sonic weight. Rather, each orchestra operates as a separate but interactive living organism, conducted and arranged in specific relation to the others. Much like Rhys Chatham's 400-guitar army achieves a light coloristic synthesis on A Crimson Grail (Table of the Elements, 2006), Braxton's Four Orchestras expand a color field without pushing those colors too far out of the canvas' edges.

Max Roach featuring Anthony Braxton - 1978 - Birth And Rebirth

Max Roach featuring Anthony Braxton 
Birth And Rebirth

01. Birth 9:40
02. Magic And Music 6:36
03. Tropical Forest 5:05
04. Dance Griot 5:06
05. Spirit Possession 6:44
06. Soft Shoe 2:57
07. Rebirth 7:16

Recorded in September 1978 at Ricordi Studios, Milano

Alto Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Sopranino Saxophone, Clarinet – Anthony Braxton
Drums – Max Roach

The first of drummer Max Roach's two duet sets with multireedist Anthony Braxton consists of seven fairly free improvisations that they created in the studio. Each of the selections (particularly "Birth" which builds gradually in intensity to a ferocious level, the waltz time of "Magic and Music," the atmospheric "Tropical Forest" and "Softshoe") have their own plot and purpose. Braxton (who performs on alto, soprano, sopranino and clarinet) and Roach continually inspire each other, which is probably why they would record a second set the following year. Stimulating avant-garde music.

Richard Teitelbaum with Anthony Braxton - 1977 - Time Zones

Richard Teitelbaum with Anthony Braxton 
Time Zones 

01. Crossing 24:00
02. Behemoth Dreams 19:00

Side one recorded live in concert on June 10, 1976 at the Creative Music Festival, Mt. Tremper, New York and mixed at Sound Ideas, New York City.
Side two recorded on September 16, 1976 at Bearsville Sound, Woodstock, New York.

Sopranino Saxophone, Alto Saxophone, Contrabass Clarinet – Anthony Braxton
Synthesizer [Modular Moog, Micromoog], Composed By, Liner Notes – Richard Teitelbaum

"With Anthony Braxton" was a credit printed on this album's front and back cover in a typeface only a notch smaller than Richard Teitelbaum's name. Braxton is everywhere here, and has everything to do with this album. He plays in duo with Teitelbaum the electronics maestro on the entire album, and surely engineered the deal to make it possible for his buddy to release the record on Arista, which at that point held an exclusive contract with Braxton himself. It was also Braxton who basically promoted Teitelbaum within the confines of the avant-garde free jazz scene, talking him up in interviews and fitting pieces involving him into several different recording projects. There are tastes of the duos these artists have created splashed through the Braxton discography like ice cream stains on a rumpus room rug. This album combines a summer's evening live concert with a studio session cut the following fall, and is quite an accurate document of their work together in the '70s, complete with Braxton's usual dedications, this time to Roscoe Mitchell and Maryanne Amacher. This duo was one of the great instrumental combinations of the '70s, the reed arsenal of Braxton and seemingly unlimited sonic arsenal of Teitelbaum coming together like two great French chefs with a hall full of guests to feed. Each man never seems to stop listening, not only to each other but to a greater force as well, as if in complete understanding of the ramifications of each development. This album should satisfy a listener's desire to hear truly imaginative and successful improvisation involving both electronic and acoustic instruments. The album was later reissued, under Braxton's name, as part of a Black Lion package.

Anthony Braxton - 1977 - The Montreux / Berlin Concerts

Anthony Braxton
The Montreux / Berlin Concerts

01. Cut One: Z WBN D3B 8:50
02. Cut Two: H-46M...B-BW4 3:07
03. Cut One: 84 Deg. -KELVIN..G 7:03
04. Cut Two: CM=B05-7 6:33
05. Cut One: 72 Deg. -KELVIN..L 8:18
06. Cut Two: 337-4 46842 BFG-12 5:29
07. Cut One: 29 M 36 23:34

A1, A2, B1 recorded live on 20 July 1975 at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Switzerland.
B2, C1, C2 recorded live on 4 November 1976 at the Berlin Jazz Days, Germany.
D recorded live on 6 November 1976 at the Berlin Jazz Days, Germany.

Bass – Dave Holland (tracks: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2)
Drums, Percussion – Barry Altschul (tracks: B2, C1, C2)
Drums, Percussion, Gong – Barry Altschul (tracks: A1, A2, B1)
Saxophone, Flute, Clarinet – Anthony Braxton
Trombone – George Lewis (tracks: B2, C1, C2, D)
Trumpet – Kenny Wheeler (tracks: A1, A2, B1)

Sides A-C contain live material from the end of the Wheeler-Holland-Altschul combo (1975) and the start of the Lewis-Holland-Altschul combo (1976).  Side A starts with a relatively quiet piece that reminds me of the "conversation" in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"; the second piece has a driving, post-bop feel.  The first cut on Side B is reminiscent of bird calls; the second is very playful and frankly silly, sounding like a cross between demented circus music and the soundtrack to a surrealistic cartoon.  The first track on Side C reminds me of barnyard sounds -- Braxton uses the very bottom range of the contrabass sax to produce atonal grunts.  The second track on Side C is more driving post-bop, a bit reminiscent of the more manic side of Thelonious Monk.  Side D is Braxton and Lewis in performance with the Berlin New Music Group, and features some rather astounding solos by both.  (Note:  As is the case with many of Braxton's works, on the album cover and label, the compositions are denoted by diagrams rather than names.  To simplify matters, Braxton has settled on a system of opus-numbers to refer to his pieces.)

One of Braxton’s finest releases.  It pulls together a lot of what he was up to throughout his career to this point.  Everyone in each of his groups featured here is in dynamite form and willing to stretch on every performance, which removes the possibility of the compositions sounding merely academic.  The improvisation is unrelentingly fresh and inspired across the whole album, and never drifts into mediocrity and convenient formulas.  A classic.

The Montreux/Berlin Concerts is one of many highlights from Braxton’s tenure on the Arista Records label.  It features performances from two different European festivals in 1975 and 1976.  The recordings are mostly from two similar quartets with Dave Holland (b), Barry Altschul (d), and either Kenny Wheeler (t) or George Lewis (tb), plus one side-long recording with The Berlin New Music Group.  In many ways this is a culmination of many things Braxton was doing through the 1970s. Much like a comedian who will test out new material in various venues first and then repeat the best and most successful bits and routines for a big show or video/recording, Braxton is not so much trying out new methods here (with the exception of the orchestral track with The Berlin New Music Group) as much as delivering something with techniques he (and his bands) had already perfected.  What makes the album so special is that there are some very fine performances here.  Arguably, Braxton never led a small combo better than the ones here, even if he led other ones as good or nearly as good.  And these are stellar performances even from this impressive cast of characters.  In Braxton’s world, he deals with “musical informations”.  There is certainly a lot of information being exchanged on these sets.  Each performer is contributing — solo, spotlight time is shared fairly equally.

When Braxton was the first jazz signing to the new major label Arista, he promised to be some kind of crossover success (see the liner notes to The Complete Arista Recordings of Anthony Braxton and a November 2008 essay in The Wire magazine discussing its release).  Leading up to his tenure with Arista, he had recorded works that extended into the territory of modern composition (of the likes of John Cage and the Fluxus movement), but he also worked with more traditional jazz material.  He drifted back and forth between the twin poles of traditional jazz and avant-garde composition.  But most of the time these were shifts between isolated modes, not truly a “crossover” in the sense of a meeting and melding.  On The Montreux/Berlin Concerts he does cross the divide between traditional jazz and modern composition, achieving a synthesis of both within any given piece.  There is definitely a sense of connection to traditional jazz throughout.  Often a bouncing, free-wheeling, syncopated beat as if from an old Fats Waller tune will be unmistakable.  Yet the speed and density of it all will not permit confusion with anything from Waller’s era.  The intervals, squeaks and new performance techniques also push this well beyond just the tradition.  Again, though, this is crossover music, and so this music is not completely of the “new music” realm of abstraction.  It inserts, modifies, expands, deconstructs, and borrows from the tradition at will, but never feels constrained by it.  It is the much talked-about but less frequently achieved notion of playing “inside” and “outside” at the same time.  This is an album by an artist who has developed techniques that allow a unique voice to emerge beyond and in spite of those techniques, that is enjoyable in a way that exceeds the moral limits of traditional musical structures.  It makes for an excellent listen.

As a general rule, free jazz (if Braxton's music is even jazz at all, which some mainstream jazz artists deny) is pretty challenging to listen to.  I would say that, by free jazz standards, this album is relatively accessible, but it's still pretty far out there.

Anthony Braxton - 1977 - In The Tradition Vol. 2

Anthony Braxton 
In The Tradition Vol. 2

01. What's New 10:01
02. Duet 3:39
03. Body And Soul 10:22
04. Donna Lee 6:24
05. My Funny Valentine 8:10
06. Half Nelson 4:27

Recorded at Rosenberg Studio, Copenhagen, May 29, 1974

Alto Saxophone, Contrabass Clarinet – Anthony Braxton
Bass – Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen
Drums – Albert "Tootie" Heath
Piano – Tete Montoliu

The second of two Anthony Braxton albums that team the avant-garde altoist with a conventional rhythm section (pianist Tete Montoliu, bassist Niels Pedersen and drummer Albert "Tootie" Heath) features Braxton exploring five standards ("What's New," "Body And Soul," "Donna Lee," "My Funny Valentine" and "Half Nelson"). Braxton pays tribute to each song's melody before making his abstract improvisations; the rhythm section mostly ignores what he plays. A short "Duet" (which teams the leader with Pedersen) is a change-of-pace and much freer. These two records are historical curiosities but feature much less interaction between the trio and Anthony Braxton than one would hope.

Anthony Braxton - 1977 - Four Compositions (1973)

Anthony Braxton 
Four Compositions (1973)

01. Composition No 1 - Dedicated To Richard Teitelbaum 11:35
02. Composition No 2 - Dedicated To Richard Abrams 8:25
03. Composition No 3 - Dedicated To Warne Marsh 9:55
04. Composition No 4 - Dedicated To Laurent Goddet 10:30

Bass – Keiki Midorikawa
Percussion – Hozumi Tanaka (tracks: B1, B2)
Piano – Masahiko Sato
Saxophone, Clarinet – Anthony Braxton

Recorded on 11, Jan. 1973

As much as it might sound like science fiction, there was a time when the Anthony Braxton section of the record pile was as thin as a half-eaten pop tart package. Now that the Braxton section threatens to topple the wings of apartment buildings occupied by record collectors, the value of this session might seem questionable, but when first made available as a Japanese import, these performances were highly valued, filling in a few important rows in this artist's often mysterious crossword puzzle. It features a session taped with Japanese players in one day in which four Braxton compositions are performed. The fact that Braxton had been invited to Japan and had made a superior-quality recording of his own pieces with three good musicians was considered quite important, and it was even assumed by some that the hip Japanese players might have had more success with Braxton's music than some of the squares who were floundering around with it back home and in Europe. A voluminous discography has removed much of the mystery that might have accompanied a listener's early exposure to these performances, in which the skilled and quite creative Japanese musicians confront the dynamic of Braxton. There is a sense of scrambling to some of the forward motion; one imagines Braxton leading the others down a trail that keeps getting steeper and steeper. "Composition No. 1," dedicated to Richard Teitelbaum, begins the album in a much different way, focusing on silence and so-called threshold sounds in a manner that was quite revolutionary for any music connected with jazz, a genre in which the quietest thing was the bass solo, and it was assumed that would be drowned out by rattling ice cubes and chit-chat. Speaking of jazz, the piece dedicated to Warne Marsh really features some lovely alto playing from the boss. As decades pass, documents such as this are audible pages out of the Braxton diary, memorable moments out of a lifetime of superb musical achievement. The pieces are identified as numbered compositions, but Braxton's actual title pictures are reproduced on the album jacket.

Anthony Braxton - 1976 - Live At Moers Festival

Anthony Braxton 
Live At Moers Festival

01. 6-------77--(NJD)--T AR--36K 26:23
02. 489M 70-2--(THB) M 21:50
03. 84°--KELVIN--M 1:42
04. 84°--KELVIN--M 9:00
05. BOR---N-K64 (60)--M 0 H S 18:15
06. F64-- H488 10:08
07. RBHM-F KNNK 10:59

Bass – Dave Holland
Drums, Percussion – Barry Altschul
Reeds – Anthony Braxton
Trumpet – Kenny Wheeler

Recorded at Moers Festival 1974, June 2nd.

Moers 2017!

1970s free jazz of was nothing like the black and orange Imuplse 1960s brand. In general, it used more open space, lighter textures, and often much less of a chord base than, say, John Coltrane or Pharroah Sanders.

Live at Mores Festival with Anthony Braxton, Dave Holland, Barry Ashtul and Ken Wheeler demonstrates this. If you made it to this review, chances are you know these musicians. Here, they begin with a pattern, but are soon off into complete freedom.

Interaction is the key element. The players don't all play at once but are able to play at any time. The whole album is made up of tiny brush strokes, little gestures on open air. Holland works off a five second, twenty note figure Braxton works, and Ashtul punctuates.

These players are nimble. There is lots of atonality, but it is more a function of complete improvisation than of abrasive surfaces or dissonance. Amazingly agile and completely brilliant.

Anthony Braxton With Muhal Richard Abrams - 1976 - Duets 1976

Anthony Braxton With Muhal Richard Abrams 
Duets 1976

01. Miss Ann 4:10
02. Cut Two (Graphic Title) 10:21
03. Cut Three (Graphic Title) 7:02
04. Maple Leaf Rag 3:38
05. 36-MK74-128 13:13
06. Nickie 3:12

Saxophone, Clarinet – Anthony Braxton
Piano – Muhal Richard Abrams

Recorded on August 1 and 2, 1976 at Bearsville Studios, Woodstock, N.Y.

Anthony Braxton took major advantage of his few years with Arista to record a number of projects that, at the time, would have been very difficult to undertake on his own, as their commercial potential was nil. One of these was a duo project with AACM founder and guiding force Muhal Richard Abrams. The results are mixed, with a somewhat ragged approach balanced by enthusiastic playing and an intriguing choice of material. They open with a fine, rollicking version of Eric Dolphy's "Miss Ann" and later launch into, of all things, Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag." Now, Abrams had been playing and performing Joplin and other ragtime composers for many years, predating the early '70s revival occasioned by the movie The Sting, and he glides through the piece with flair and ease. Braxton, however, seems either uncomfortable playing catch up or, perhaps, simply unwilling to perform the music in a straightforward manner. In any case, it makes for a jerky, awkward rendition. Three of Braxton's compositions are also included, two of which are spare, probing sonic investigations while the last, "Composition 40B," is a hugely fun, pulsing number featuring the composer on his superbly unwieldy contrabass sax. The album closes in lovely fashion with a soft, romantic improvisation by the duo, dedicated to Braxton's wife.

Anthony Braxton - 1976 - Creative Orchestra Music 1976

Anthony Braxton 
Creative Orchestra Music 1976

01. Cut One 5:10
02. Cut Two 7:36
03. Cut Three 6:43
04. Cut One 6:26
05. Cut Two 7:19
06. Cut Three 6:40

Recorded in February 1976, at Generation Sound, New York City.

Anthony Braxton - sopranino saxophone, alto saxophone, contrabass saxophone, clarinet, flute
Roscoe Mitchell - flute, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, bass saxophone
Seldon Powell - alto saxophone, clarinet, flute
Ronald Bridgewater - clarinet, tenor saxophone
Bruce Johnstone - bass clarinet, baritone saxophone
Leo Smith - trumpet (tracks 2-5), conductor (tracks 1, 3 & 5)
Cecil Bridgewater, Kenny Wheeler - trumpet
Jon Faddis - trumpet, piccolo trumpet
Garrett List, George Lewis - trombone
Earl McIntyre, Jack Jeffers - bass trombone
Jonathan Dorn - tuba
Muhal Richard Abrams - piano (tracks 1, 2, 4 & 5), conductor (track 6)
Frederic Rzewski - piano, bass drum
Richard Teitelbaum - synthesizer
Karl Berger - glockenspiel, vibraphone, xylophone, chimes
Dave Holland - bass, cello
Barry Altschul - snare drum, bells, chimes, gong, percussion
Philip Wilson - cymbal, percussion
Warren Smith - drums, tympani

This disc represents my first opportunity to have compositions for large ensemble available on record and I am grateful to the many people who have made this possible.  All of the compositions on this record were composed for this particular date and represent a cross-section of my work in this area.  I refer to this medium as Creative Orchestra Music both as a means to seperate this activity from my work in notated Orchestra music and also because I feel the phrase Creative Orchestra Music best describes this medium.  For to understand what has been raised in the progression of creative music as it has been defined through the work of the Ellington-Hendersons-Mingus's-Colemans-etc., is to be aware of the most significant use of the orchestra medium in the past hundred years (and some).

It is difficult if not impossible for me to write about how I see by work in creative music, for I have never felt that words are meaningful when aplied to creativity\and yet something has to be written—for many of the mis-conceptions that surround creative music are still with us today.  For that reason I have written briefly on each composition with the hope that even a structural analysis can give the listener some idea as to how I conceived the compositions which comprise this record.  I would also like to thank the musicians on this record.  I consider myself fortunate to have had the chance to work with these people.  Who else would have played this music with so little rehearsal time (the average rehearsal time for each composition was a little more than two hours) and nobody had seen the music in advance.

Anthony Braxton, Summer, 1976

This is one of Braxton's most interesting recordings. Six of his compositions are performed by groups ranging from 15-20 pieces and featuring such soloists as trumpeters Cecil Bridgewater, Leo Smith, Kenny Wheeler and Jon Faddis, baritonist Bruce Johnstone, trombonist George Lewis, reed player Roscoe Mitchell, bassist Dave Holland, pianist Muhal Richard Abrams and Braxton himself. There is a lot of variety on this set. One of the pieces finds Braxton combining free elements with a Sousa-type march while another one looks toward Ellington. There are quite a few memorable moments on this program.

Anthony Braxton - 1975 - Trio & Duet

Anthony Braxton
Trio & Duet

01. HM 421 (RTS) 47 19:00
02. The Song Is You 12:00
03. Embraceable You 5:39
04. You Go To My Head 8:33

Recorded at Thunder Sound, Toronto, Canada.

Anthony Braxton - alto saxophone, clarinet, contrabass clarinet, chimes, bass drum
Leo Smith - trumpet, flugelhorn, pocket trumpet, percussion, small instruments (track 1)
Richard Teitelbaum - Moog synthesizer, percussion (track 1)
Dave Holland - bass (tracks: 2 to 4)

This is a well-rounded album that features the remarkable Anthony Braxton in two separate settings. Braxton (on clarinet, contrabass clarinet and percussion) interacts with trumpeter Leo Smith and Richard Teitelbaum's synthesizer on an abstract original for 19 minutes. The remainder of the program has Braxton (on alto) performing three standards ("The Song Is You," "Embraceable You" and "You Go To My Head") in duets with bassist Dave Holland; those successful interactions are superior to Braxton's earlier "In The Tradition" projects. Recommended.

Anthony Braxton - 1975 - New York, Fall 1974

Anthony Braxton 
New York, Fall 1974

01. Cut One 8:50
02. Cut Two 3:07
03. Cut Three 7:03
04. Cut One 6:33
05. Cut Two 8:18
06. Cut Three 5:29

Recorded at Generation Sound Studios, New York City on September 27 and October 16, 1974.

Alto Saxophone – Anthony Braxton (tracks: A1, A3), Julius Hemphill* (tracks: B2)
Bass – Dave Holland (tracks: A1 to A3, B3)
Drums – Jerome Cooper (tracks: A1 to A3)
Baritone Saxophone – Hamiet Bluiett (tracks: B2)
Synthesizer [Moog] – Richard Teitelbaum (tracks: B1)
Tenor Saxophone – Oliver Lake (tracks: B2)
Trumpet [Muted] – Kenny Wheeler (tracks: A2, B3)
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Kenny Wheeler (tracks: A1, A3)
Violin – Leroy Jenkins (tracks: B3)

Any good review of an Anthony Braxton album should begin with a diatribe about how under appreciated and under-rated he is, and this review will be no different. After the passing of the Coltrane/Dolphy generation, Braxton should have been next in line for “jazz legend” due to his abilities as both a composer and performer, but people were put off by his preppy collegiate appearance, and his oblique song titles and presentations that didn’t fit the mainstream or the ‘in crowd’ of the avant-garde either. Unfairly, Braxton was labeled as overly intellectual, and his music was considered cold and academic. Certainly there is a very intellectual side to Braxton’s music, and he can easily work in contemporary concert hall mediums, but there can also be a lot of humor in his music, as well as deep down to earth blues roots. From crazy bar room gig to Stockhausen, its all here.

“New York/Fall 1974” was a fairly high profile album for Anthony in that he would be given bigger distribution than usual for an avant-garde jazzist. His career was on a bit of a roll at this time and he was releasing very creative albums that baffled everyone with their song titles that featured odd geometric diagrams, hence all the tracks on here are referred to by their track numbers. Side one consists of three very bizarre hard bop numbers, with the first being the best with its crazy repetitive melody and high energy free middle section. All of these tunes sound like nobody else, with latter period Eric Dolphy being one possible reference. 

Side two gets more into Braxton’s ‘concert hall’ approach. The first track is an excellent duet with Richard Teitelbaum who plays an old analog synthesizer. Before synthesizers became commercially viable and tunable, they were magical bundles of barely controllable oscillators and filters that were used for some very creative sounds by certain experimental composers. This track captures a rare period in experimental music that is hard to re-create anymore. The following track presents one of the first avant-garde saxophone quartets, an idea that would grow in popularity until there would be many successful modern saxophone quartets all over the globe. This track gets into repetitive notes that recall Xennakis’ stochastic music. 

The variety of music on here would be hard for anyone else to duplicate. On the first side Braxtion plays feirce alto sax like the second coming of Eric Dolphy, and on the second side we get successful concert hall electronics and a saxophone quartet with a lasting influence on the history of jazz. The members of the quartet that Anthony assembled on here; Hemphill, Lake and Bluiett, would all go on to play in other high profile quartets formed after the release of this album. 

Anthony Braxton - 1975 - Five Pieces 1975

Anthony Braxton 
Five Pieces 1975

01. You Stepped Out Of A Dream 7:09
02. G - 647 (BNK - [ ] 4:35
03. 4038 -- NBS 373 6 8:05
04. 489 M 70 - 2 -- (TH - B) M 17:17
05. BOR - - - - H - S N - K64 (60) - - M 3:23

Saxophone, Clarinet, Flute – Anthony Braxton
Bass – Dave Holland
Drums – Barry Altschul
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Kenny Wheeler

Recorded at Generation Sound, New York City, July 1 & 2, 1975.

One of the downsides of being a fan of music that has a very small fanbase is that very often music simply goes out of print. Like many, I have always simply assumed that as the CD came into vogue and later digital releases, music would simply be re-released. And while I can understand physical releases going out of print, it seems to be my simplistic view that once a release is digitized it should just be added to a publisher’s catalog and stay there in perpetuity.

Of course reality is never so simple, and through the years I have watched music come in and out of print. There are some that came out as a single CD run – some I caught, others I missed. Every now and then I will look back at a recording that has never formally made the transition from vinyl to the digital age.

When Wynton Marsalis and the ‘Young Lions’ arrived in the early 80’s, they heralded a new mainstream for jazz. The music ignored pretty much everything that had happened in ‘free jazz’ and ‘fusion’ from the late 1960’s to late 1970’s, instead using the Miles Davis ‘second great quintet’ as a basis. As a result, much of the great music made in the 1970’s has remained largely ignored. Pat Metheny’s early works have found popularity due to his later success, and Miles Davis 70’s work has found renewed critical success.

But some of the more ‘out there’ artists who recorded in the 1970s have never seen some of their greatest works languish without a re-release on CD or in digital format. One in particular is Anthony Braxton. I have always loved his ‘Five Pieces 1975’, which he recorded with Kenny Wheeler on trumpet, Dave Holland on bass and Barry Alstchul on drums.

Braxton, Alstchul and Holland were familiar with each other from past work together, including a personal favorite – Circle, which had released two live and one studio recording. Alstchul and Holland then formed
the core of Braxton’s working quartet starting in 1972, joined in 1974 by Kenny Wheeler. While Braxton (and the others) maintained active collaborations elsewhere, their tightness and communication as an ensemble continued to grow through their sessions and dates together.

Five Pieces 1975 is a snapshot not just of a band, but of an era in music. This was a time when arena rockers like The Who, Led Zepplin, Styx, Kiss and so on ruled the world … and the most popular jazz came in the form of loud fusion music from Return to Forever, Weather Report, Jeff Beck, and so on. Everyone wanted to be a rock star … or so it seemed.

Yet there was the ECM label producing the likes of Keith Jarrett’s ‘The Koln Concert’. Many artists were finding success there. Then there were folks like the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Steve Lacy, David Murray and others worked between the AACM and ECM organizations. That is where Anthony Braxton lived. While the ‘ECM sound’ was distinctly European, refined and nearly classical in many ways, the AACM was more … earthy. It was raw and direct, and while the approach was ‘free’, that often meant more that the artists could pull influences from anywhere than being a comment on the approach of the musicians.

Five Pieces 1975 consists unsurprisingly of five compositions: the first is the standard “You Stepped Out of a Dream”, and the other four are compositions by Anthony Braxton. Three are part of Composition 23 (sections H, G and E), and the album closes with Composition 40 M.

Anthony Braxton is a musical genius in many ways, from his playing to his compositions to the way he helps others find their own greatness (he has recently mentored Mary Halvorson among others). On this song he cuts through the abstract, mainstream, fusion, funk and 20th century classical in a way that represents his ideal of ‘freedom within structure’ … and it succeeds on all levels, in no small part to the amazing ensemble working with him.

You should already know and love the classic works of Anthony Braxton before seeking this one out. It is harsh, demanding and NOT an easy listen.

This out-of-print album features one of Anthony Braxton's great combos, a quartet with trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Barry Alstchul. Braxton (who switches between alto, clarinet, sopranino, flutes and contrabass clarinet) explores four of his diverse originals plus the standard "You Stepped Out Of A Dream." The tightness of his very alert and versatile group and the strength of the compositions make this one of Anthony Braxton's most rewarding records of the mid-1970's.

Joseph Jarman / Anthony Braxton - 1974 - Together Alone

Joseph Jarman / Anthony Braxton 
Together Alone

01. Together Alone 5:39
02. Dawn Dance One 13:46
03. Morning (Including Circles) 2:18
04. CK7 (GN) 436 6:10
05. SBN-A-1 66K 14:53

Recorded December 29, 1971.

Contrabass Clarinet, Alto Saxophone, Piano, Flute, Voice – Anthony Braxton
Synthesizer, Flute, Soprano Saxophone, Sopranino Saxophone, Alto Saxophone, Bells, Voice, Mixed

The album opens with three Jarman compositions. The title track finds both Braxton and Jarman on alto saxophone spinning long, languid, serene, and melancholy unison lines; the path eventually forks and Braxton takes on a more rugged and jagged trail while Jarman's remains smooth and flowing. Despite the musical separation, the saxophones remain inextricably linked. One of the AACM approaches Radano surely refers to on this recording is the integration of silence and space. At times, the music goes against the grain of time, and other moments it rejects it altogether. Leaving the music strewn with gaps of silence rather than opting for a total sound density, the AACMers were among the first in jazz to exploit space as a compositional tool.

The opening track flows into "Dawn Dance." Braxton moving to piano and Jarman picking up his flute. Oblique, spacious keyboard punctuations-including some compelling inside-the-piano tinkling—provide a bed for Jarman's outpourings which range from gentle, highly lyrical dreamweaving to almost sharp, stuttered jags. The brief "Morning (Including Circles)" leaps from a soothing peal of hand bells into dense cacophony. Amid myriad layers of sound, the static bells become suddenly abrasive, Braxton and Jarman shouting out of sync, while their shrill horns seem to simulate electronic white noise. It's an exhilarating, early ascent into coarse textural exploration.

Braxton's "Composition 21" ("CK7 [GN]") elaborates the textural layering on a grander scale. Flutes, piano, contrabass clarinet, alto sax. whistles, and abstract, sometimes jarring sounds on electronic tape provide an extremely dense sonic collage, yet once one abides by the superficial level of chaos, it becomes obvious that Braxton's sound sculpture is most certainly ordered and well-conceived. Finally. Braxton's lengthy "Composition 20" ("SBN-A-1 66K") constructs a fine tension between lyrical horn lines (his contrabass clarinet and Jarman's soprano saxophone) and an almost static but changing ring of jingling bells. The bells develop in complexity throughout the composition, providing an increasing tension with the horns. Although the bells suggest no melody, their pattern becomes more and more dense harmonically, while the attack of the horns doesn't fluctuate.

Aside from being the only duet recording there is between these two masters. Together Alone is far more than just a curious meeting. Elaborating on AACM concepts with lessons learned in Paris, its exciting combination of one-on-one collaboration with through-composed material sounds more vibrant and vital than ever, over four decades since it was recorded. 

A rare set of duets between these two Chicago avant jazz giants – recorded in 1971, when the influence of the AACM's time in Paris was being felt strongly in their return to the windy city. Apart from the usual mad array of instruments that you'd expect from these players – like Braxton on clarinet, alto, piano, and voice; and Jarman on saxes and percussion – some tracks also feature Jarman playing synthesizer, which adds in a very strange element to the session.

Anthony Braxton, Leroy Jenkins, Leo Smith - 1974 - Silence

Anthony Braxton, Leroy Jenkins, Leo Smith 

01. Off The Top Of My Head 17:10
02. Silence 15:37

Recorded on 18 July 1969 in Paris.

Reeds, Instruments [Misc. Instruments], Producer – Anthony Braxton
Trumpet, Instruments [Misc. Instruments], Producer – Leo Smith
Violin, Instruments [Misc. Instruments], Producer – Leroy Jenkins

Further collaboration with Leroy Jenkins and Leo Smith resulted in the two long improvisations of Silence (1969). Written by Jenkins and Smith respectively, the compositions were squarely placed in the traditions of the free jazz suite. The concern was the development of novel textures upon a theme as well as the movement towards, and from, silence, so incorporating the contemporary classicism of John Cage. The trio sought to peel back the material to its thematic centre whilst propelling it through shifting timbres and instruments.Title track got that Proto-Quartet Onkyo swag. Get it!

Anthony Braxton - 1974 - In The Tradition

Anthony Braxton
In The Tradition 

01. Marshmallow 7:50
02. Goodbye Pork Pie Hat 4:53
03. Just Friends 9:58
04. Ornithology 7:22
05. Lush Life 12:00

Recorded at Rosenberg Studio in Copenhagen, Denmark on May 29, 1974.

Alto Saxophone, Contrabass Clarinet, Liner Notes – Anthony Braxton
Bass – Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen
Drums – Albert "Tootie" Heath
Piano – Tete Montoliu

The great avant-gardist Anthony Braxton threw the jazz world a curve with this album (and its second volume). Braxton, filling in for an ill Dexter Gordon, was joined by pianist Tete Montoliu, bassist Niels Pedersen and drummer Tootie Heath for a set of five jazz standards. After playing the melodies fairly straight, Braxton tears into Warne Marsh's "Marshmallow," "Just Friends" and "Lush Life" with very complex and abstract improvisations that are generally ignored by the rhythm section who go about playing in their usual bop-oriented style. An exception is a duet with bassist Pedersen on a very spooky "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," one of two songs on which Braxton plays contrabass clarinet. His solo on "Ornithology" on that instrument is a bit silly, for the contrabass clarinet is so low that one has difficulty telling some of its notes apart from each other. A historical curiosity, this set is not as essential as Braxton's explorations of his own music.

Anthony Braxton & Derek Bailey - 1974 - First Duo Concert

Anthony Braxton & Derek Bailey
First Duo Concert

01. The First Set - Area 1 8:22
02. The First Set - Area 2 3:12
03. The First Set - Area 3 (Open) 8:44
04. The First Set - Area 4 (Solo) 2:43
05. The First Set - Area 5 5:21
06. The First Set - Area 6 6:08
07. The Second Set - Area 7 6:48
08. The Second Set - Area 8 6:23
09. The Second Set - Area 9 (Solo) 5:56
10. The Second Set - Area 10 4:29
11. The Second Set - Area 11 (Open) 15:29
12. The Second Set - Area 12 3:57

Recorded live in London at the Wigmore Hall on June 30, 1974.

Derek Bailey: Electric Guitar, Acoustic Guitar
Anthony Braxton: Flute, Soprano Clarinet, Contrabass Clarinet, Saxophone

Anthony Braxton and Derek Bailey first met in London in 1971, and first played together in 1973 when Bailey guested at a Braxton quartet concert in Paris, which opened with a duo piece. The Wigmore Hall concert of 30 June 1974 was their next public performance, and Braxton’s first official date in Britain.

This reissue presents the entire show – 77 minutes of analogue concert recordings – minus the rehearsal extracts that were included on earlier vinyl editions: these are now available on the “scrapbook” album Fairly Early with Postscripts (Emanem 4027).

These rehearsals, held the previous day, established that Bailey didn’t want to play notated compositions, and that Braxton wasn’t comfortable with free improvisation. So a compromise was reached. Each set would feature a sequence of six predetermined ‘areas’ of improvisation—staccato sounds on “Area 2”, sustained sounds on “Area 6”, repeated motifs on “Area 10”, and so on, with just one ‘area’ per set left open for duo improvisation plus one designated solo: “Area 4” for Bailey in the first set, “Area 9” for Braxton in the second. Each set was played without a break.

Some improv is conversation, some negotiation. If “Area 1” falls in the latter category, then it’s Bailey who makes the most concessions. Where Braxton is flighty and lyrical, Bailey is barbed as per usual but seemingly reticent, excepting brief irruptive pedal-swells of volume. The same rapport is sustained in the quieter “Area 2”, Bailey now abrading Braxton’s birdcall clarinet.

When Braxton switches to tenor for the open-form “Area 3”, Bailey responds with chopped-out chords and violent picks around softer finger lifts. But these initial spikes of energy soon dissipate, and the duo seek rapprochement through intense low-temperature dialogue. The tempered dynamics of the exchange make it compulsively listenable. When performers are this alert and mutually attentive, their efforts translate directly to beguilement.

Bailey’s solo, “Area 4”, is taken as an opportunity to sift and scrutinise the moment. Braxton, rejoining on contrabass clarinet in “Area 5”, underscores the close grain of Bailey’s flicks, flecks and stippling. Bailey now sounds more melodic, Braxton more and more accommodating with silences for Bailey’s fretwork.

“Area 6” locates stillness of a sort – wavering, tensile swells of electro-acoustics from Bailey’s pedals and tight-lipped trilling from Braxton. For performers of such forceful and contrasting personalities, the ending of the first set is remarkably close to ambient.

At the opening of the second set, in “Area 7” and “Area 8” only, Bailey played a guitar with, as the liner notes say: “about nineteen strings, two of which were ‘contra-bass’ ones that went around his feet”. This he fed through a small practice amplifier. On “7” Braxton plays flute in airy abstractions, and reeds breathy as pan pipes to accompany the metallic rustling of those apparently loose, looping strings.

On “Area 8” Bailey plays while de- and re-tuning, Braxton hesitantly pecking around, moving form trilling to conjoined lyricism. Bailey refocuses on a taut response, only for Braxton to take flight, briefly essaying a jazzy swing feel. His alto solo on “Area 9” alternates chewiness with a thin drizzle of notes that all, ultimately, compacts to a kernel of hoarse constricted blowing.

“Area 10” lightens the mood. Braxton reverts to flights of liquid lyricism, while Bailey more quietly dissects underlying complexities. But the open-form “Area 11” is the longest, most expansive section, the duo initially sounding comfortable, but soon pushing back on one another. Bailey curt and concise as ever, Braxton swaps soft flutings for rilling alto saxophony.

And so to the last piece, “Area 12”, which Braxton surveys with puckered sourness while Bailey exploits small-scale amplification to abstract crabbed picking – a future-proof conclusion, notably free of any hint of conclusion or compromise.

These twelve duets between African-American avant-gardist Anthony Braxton and Brit Derek Bailey are remarkable for several reasons, not the least of which is that this is the first recording of these two seminal figures performing in tandem. For this live concert, Braxton brought his array of horns: contrabass, soprano, and Bb clarinets, flute, and sopranino and alto saxophones, while Bailey alternated between amplified and acoustic 19-string guitars. Coming from entirely different traditions of free music, Braxton emits a more melodic, tonal approach, while Bailey exemplifies an atonal, abstract concept. The results are hugely successful, with the two meeting halfway. As an indication of Braxton's remarkable diversity, it is worth noting that he recorded his two mainstream In the Tradition albums for SteepleChase just the month before. The duo recorded here with Bailey is surprisingly accessible, and contrasts two complementary approaches within the free music genre.