Tag Archives: Anthony Braxton

Anthony Braxton – Six Compositions (Quartet) 1984

Six Compositions (Quartet) 1984

Anthony BraxtonSix Compositions (Quartet) 1984 Black Saint BSR 0086 (1985)

Here is one of Anthony Braxton’s most accessible albums of the 1980s — at least, one of his most accessible albums from that era featuring all original compositions.  The opener “Composition No. 114 (+ 108A)” is a misstep, but the boppish nature of much of the rest of the disc is sure to please many.  This is one of the better places to start with Braxton’s 80s output.

Anthony Braxton – 3 Compositions (EEMHM) 2011

 3 Compositions (EEMHM) 2011

Anthony Braxton3 Compositions (EEMHM) 2011 Firehouse 12 FH12-01-02-020 (2016)

According to an official Braxton web site, “In this ensemble, all the musicians wield iPods [portable electronic music players] in addition to their instruments, while navigating scores that combine cartography and evocative graphic notation, creating a musical tapestry combining live performance and sampled sound from Braxton’s extensive recorded discography.”  He calls this his “Echo Echo Mirror House” (EEMH) musical system.  Some of the digital recordings played back by the performers are easy to spot, because they include excerpts of vocalists from Braxton’s operas (none of the performers here sing) and include big band recordings that obviously include more than the septet currently performing.

Seem confusing?  In the liner notes, Braxton says, “Don’t worry about it – have a fun listening experience in a music that more and more is like life itself”.  But what life is that?  If there is a comparison, it is like being in an apartment building or house in which people in different rooms are playing recordings and performing music, and the listener drifts around hearing bits of everything, which overlap in different ways most of the time.

This music bears some resemblance to the heyday of “free jazz” in the 1960s — one comparison might be The Marzette Watts Ensemble.  But the zeitgeist of that era is long passed.  So it says a lot about Braxton’s eccentric methods that they can so effectively recreate some of that same old feeling in a new way for a new time.

Anthony Braxton – For Two Pianos

For Two Pianos

Anthony BraxtonFor Two Pianos (Ursula Oppens / Frederic Rzewski) Arista AL 9559 (1982)

Not jazz, but modern composition.  Anthony Braxton does not himself perform on this record.  It is reminiscent of Arnold Schönberg, and also kind of presages things like Scott Walker‘s The Drift in its ritualistic elements.  The performers play piano as well as melodica and zither, and perform in floor-length hooded cloaks. This is one of the most effective recordings of a Braxton “classical” (non-jazz) composition, partly because with just two performers there are less rehearsal demands (or at least ones that fit into the recording budget).  Highly recommended.

Anthony Braxton – Composition for Four Orchestras

Composition for Four Orchestras

Anthony BraxtonComposition for Four Orchestras Arista A3L-8900 (1978)

The most notorious — some would say infamous — release from Anthony Braxton’s tenure on Arista Records.  It is a composition rooted in Arnold Schönberg and the serialists, with a multi-orchestra form similar to Karlheinz Stockhausen‘s works like Gruppen & Carré.  Brief passages even resemble the minimalism of Morton Feldman and Steve Reich.  This was recorded superbly, and the musicians perform well considering they were given only three hours to rehearse. It’s not terribly exciting though.  There is always a kind of nagging issue with grandiose works like this that the composer is really just trying to garner social prestige by demonstrating an ability to summon resources (four orchestras are fairly expensive and capital-intensive to assemble) rather than to make any particular musical statement….listeners should decide that for themselves on this one.

Anthony Braxton – Seven Standards 1985, Volume 1

Seven Standards, 1985, Volume 1

Anthony BraxtonSeven Standards 1985, Volume 1 Magenta MA-0203 (1985)

A pretty awful album.  Braxton leads his group through a plodding set of standards in an uncharacteristically boring fashion.  The horrendous 1980s production values don’t help matters at all.  Braxton must have needed the money or something.  Actually, he definitely needed the money.  Just don’t judge the guy by this pile of crap.

Anthony Braxton – Trio and Duet

Trio and Duet

Anthony BraxtonTrio and Duet Sackville 3007 (1975)

Good performances, but, like most Braxton stuff recorded around 1974, this has the feeling of only being at the brink of something big.  The opener “Composition 36,” a trio piece with Richard Teitelbaum and Leo Smith, is definitely cut from the same cloth as New York, Fall 1974, which was recorded at sessions just before and after this one.  The remainder are standards, with just Brax and Dave Holland.  Probably, those new to Braxton should start with Five Pieces 1975 or even New York, Fall 1974 and then work back to this if interested.

Anthony Braxton – Four Compositions (Quartet) 1983

Four Compositions (Quartet) 1983

Anthony BraxtonFour Compositions (Quartet) 1983 Black Saint BSR 0066 (1983)

A good one for sure, but overshadowed by what came before and after.  This is a transitional album.  George Lewis is still around, but Braxton is essentially putting together a new quartet (Marilyn Crispell would soon replace Lewis).  New ideas are surfacing, but they aren’t quite fully developed yet.  This is a man who recorded and released music so prolifically that, for better or worse, you get to hear him evolve.  “Composition No. 69 Q” is the highlight here; it kind of looks back to Braxton’s 70s work.

Anthony Braxton – Composition N. 247

Composition No. 247

Anthony BraxtonComposition N. 247 Leo CD LR 306 (2001)

A pretty challenging extended piece from Braxton and co.  I like it, though it’s certainly not a casual listen and I don’t listen to it that often.  It’s pretty dense, even relative to other Braxton releases, which says a lot.  This will probably turn off many listeners.  It features a lot of circular breathing and even includes bagpipes — to excellent effect. It’s yet another entry into Braxton’s “Ghost Trance Music” series.  This comes more from the realm of modern composition than jazz, although it mixes elements of both.  As composition, it intrigues me most because of what it suggests for music that extends continuously without any real fixed reference points to distinguish beginning, middle, end, or anything else.  I also like the texture of the bagpipes, which you don’t often hear in this kind of setting.

Anthony Braxton – Six Monk’s Compositions (1987)

Six Monk's Compositions (1987)

Anthony BraxtonSix Monk’s Compositions (1987) Black Saint 120 116-1 (1988)

Anthony Braxton regularly played standards — some of those efforts from the 1980s being quite abysmal — but a whole album dedicated to one jazz composer was unique (even if Braxton returned to that concept later).  Six Monk’s Compositions (1987) is something of a doppelganger of Steve Lacy‘s Reflections: Steve Lacy Plays Thelonious Monk from almost three decades previous.  Consider this: four of the six tracks here appeared on Lacy’s album, and both Mal Waldron (p) and Buell Neidlinger (b) played on both albums.  Braxton is at his most approachable.  He strikes a pleasant balance between faithfully playing these great songs and twisting things about just a bit in his solos.  It helps that these are Monk‘s songs, where the winding melodies and jittery rhythms seem like a perfect fit for Braxton’s biting, intellectually playful style.  This is a rather good Braxton release, and really must be one of his best “straight jazz” outings.  “Reflections” and “Played Twice” are standouts.

Anthony Braxton Quartet – Quartet (Coventry) 1985

Quartet (Coventry) 1985

Anthony Braxton QuartetQuartet (Coventry) 1985 Leo CD LR 204/205 (1993)

Recorded on the same tour as Quartet (London) 1985 and Quartet (Birmingham) 1985, also documented in Graham Lock‘s book Forces in Motion: Anthony Braxton and the Meta-Reality of Creative Music (A/K/A Forces in Motion: The Music and Thoughts of Anthony Braxton).  This was the final show.  Supposedly the group made an extra effort to perform well in that last tour performance for the benefit of the recording.  Braxton had by this point clearly broken away from the sorts of things he was doing with his first great quartets with Altschul, Holland and Wheeler or Lewis in the previous decade.  His compositions and methodologies had undergone great changes too.  Each musician has a “territory” specified beforehand by Braxton, which serves to facilitate interaction and provide a starting point, but ultimately there is no limit on what each performer can do in his or her territory.  Like composer Ruth Crawford Seeger, he was also using material that could be played simultaneously — he called it coordinate music.  In hindsight, these methods laid the foundations for the more elaborate renderings of Braxton’s Ghost Trance Music of the next decade.  This double-CD set also includes recorded interviews between Braxton and Lock used as the basis for parts of Lock’s book.  The cover photo is of the quartet at Stonehenge, with Braxton wearing one of Evan Parker‘s old coats because he absentmindedly forgot to bring one of his own for the tour.