Sunday, July 22, 2007

Listening through my remaining Braxton LPs on Arista...

"Five Pieces (1975)" (aside from introducing parenthetical year markings in AB album titles) seems a bit like a reheating of the previous album, though on lower flame. The first cut on Side Two gets back to that dirge-like area I like very much though not nearly as intensely as on the earlier recording. Altschul gums things up a bit.

Of course, the Creative Orchestra recording perked up everyone's ears back then, particularly the parade track. There's actually a hint of that approach on the sax quartet piece, Braxton on sopranino emitting a Sousa-like line briefly. It's still fun, as is much of the disc, though once the surprise factor has worn off...If I'm not mistaken, this was George Lewis' first recording and he does indeed shine. Always enjoyable to hear dueling bass and contrabass saxes as well.

The duo with Muhal begins with a sprightly take of Dolphy's "Miss Ann" then arcs out into some fairly dry territory, never my favorite aspect of Abrams' playing. The brutally motoric piece at the end of Side One with the contrabass sax is still a fair amount of fun though the awkward run through of "Maple Leaf Rag" isn't. Nice ballad, "Nickie" (a rare--sole?--AB piece with a non-formulaic title, though I guess that's attributable to its being an improv between the two) to close things out.

Can't bring myself to listen through the 3-LP orchestral set. As I've mentioned before, aside from a lovely complex chord about midway through Side One that lasts for a minute or so, the entire piece is unrelentingly tedious. I've heard tell that the blame lies with the student orchestra and maybe so. But damn is the piece boring.

The last one is "For Trio" (Composition 76), an intriguing idea for an album wherein the same sidelong piece is performed twice by different trios, each with Braxton, the first with Threadgill and Ewart, Side Two with Mitchell and Jarman. It certainly falls into AB's "difficult" area, very abstract in a contemporary classical way, more concerned with instrumental color than anything else (the musicians all wield an enormous array of reeds and percussion). It's a recording that, at the time, gave me all sorts of problems but which, today, I enjoy pretty much as well as anything else he produced in this period; really very nice. The enclosure gives a rare (?) example of the real world aspects of his diagrammatic titles, in this case referring to the spatial situating of the musicians and, more abstractly, the flow of the music between them.

If Mosaic or whomever get around, one of these years, to issuing the Braxton Arista recordings in toto, the critical re-evaluation will be interesting to see.


Doug Holbrook said...

The orchestral work is indeed a tough row to hoe. It took me the better part of a month to finally listen to the whole thing.

As ambitious as it is it's ( in my feeble opinion ) his worst stuff..

peter breslin said...

For Trio was a very important recording to me when I heard it soon after it came out. I hadn't understood space and silence in music very clearly, and my personal taste at the time leaned toward unrelenting density. On first listen For Trio just seemed to be barren, abstract, cold and distant, without anything ever "getting started." My favorite section was in the Mitchell/Jarman trio where those low unison post-bop composed lines rang out complemented by doo-wop singing. It took me several years to get closer to the rest of the album.