Saturday, October 06, 2018

StLJN Saturday Video Showcase:
The music of Anthony Braxton

This week, let's check out some videos by multi-instrumentalist and composer Anthony Braxton, who will be making his St. Louis debut in a concert presented by New Music Circle this coming Monday, October 8 at St. Louis University's Xavier Hall.

He'll perform in a duo with harpist Jacqueline Kerrod, and then is scheduled to give a post-concert talk after the performance.

Though this will be his first gig ever in St. Louis (!), Braxton has been a major figure in creative music for the past half-century, first gaining wide attention for his groundbreaking 1969 solo recording For Alto and subsequent membership in the short-lived band Circle (with Chick Corea, Dave Holland, and Barry Altschul).

From there, he's gone on to create a huge catalog of music - literally hundreds of hours of recordings - ranging from free improvisations to distinctive, sometimes-skewed interpretations of jazz and popular standards, as well as hundreds of original works . Some have titles resembling math equations or cubist drawings (these days, to the relief of music journalists, he mostly just numbers them) and more recently, he's taken to writing music derived from highly specific compositional systems with names like Diamond Curtain Wall, Ghost Trance Music, and ZIM.

Given the range of Braxton's work and the length of his career, it's impossible even to begin to cover it all in a single blog post; indeed, it seems likely that his music will be the subject of considerable academic study in the future.

What we can do, though, is help you at least get acquainted with his music, starting with a couple of clips from early in his career, when he was still leading a band that at least superficially resembled a small jazz combo, followed by some performances from the past decade using some of the ideas he's developed for the 21st century.

The first clip up above shows Braxton with the first band he put together after the demise of Circle (because Corea had gone off to form Return to Forever). It included trumpeter Kenny Wheeler plus Holland on bass and Altschul on drums. Here, they're playing Braxton's "Composition 40M," as recorded in July 1975 at the Montreux Jazz Festival.

After the jump, you can see Braxton offering his take on Coltrane's "Impressions," recorded in 1981 at the Woodstock Jazz Festival with Miroslav Vitous on bass, Corea on piano and Jack DeJohnette on drums.

Fast-forward to July 2008 for the third video, which features Braxton's Ghost Trance Septet performing his "Composition 348" at the San Sebastian Jazz Festival in Spain. The leader/composer is on various reeds, along with Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet, flugelhorn), Jessica Pavone (viola), Chris Dahlgren (bass, cello), Aaron Siegel (drums, percussion, vibes), Mary Halvorson (guitar), and Jay Rozen (tuba).

Next up is a a recording of the Braxton's 12+1Tet, made on October 13, 2012 at the Festival Internazionale di Musica Contemporanea in Venice, Italy. The piece is called "Composition 355," and it features Braxton, Bynum, Pavone, Halvorson, Rozen and Siegel, plus Ingrid Laubrock (alto sax, tenor sax), Andrew Raffo Dewar (soprano sax, tenor sax, clarinet), James Fei (alto sax, soprano sax, sopranino sax), Sarah Schoenbeck (bassoon, shenai), Reut Regev (trombone), Erica Dicker (violin, baritone violin), and Carl Testa (bass, bass clarinet).

That's followed by a set of just Braxton, Halvorson and Bynum, aka the Diamond Curtain Wall Trio, recorded in January 2015 at Jazzhouse in Copenhagen, Denmark, and one from Braxton's ZIM Sextet, featuring many of the same musicians mentioned above, recorded in 2017 at the Moers Festival in Germany.

The final video is a nearly hour-long interview with Braxton, done in 2013 by percussionist Gerry Hemingway, who toured and recorded with Braxton in the 1980s and 90s.

For more about Anthony Braxton, read the interview with him done by trumpeter and Sound American editor/founder Nate Wooley and published in 2014 by Bomb magazine; the 2016 feature article about him from Red Bull Music Academy; and the recently published guide to his discography from Bandcamp Daily.

You can see the rest of today's videos after the jump...

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