Thursday, December 06, 2007

I've maintained before and I don't see any particular reason to change my opinion now, that the last great idea in jazz was Braxton's collage music, specifically his strategy of allowing members of his groups (initially the "classic" quartet with Crispell, Dresser and Hemingway) to introduce any of his compositions, at any time during a performance. Improvisation using compositions themselves as the elements, rather than phrases. You obviously need a few pieces to be in place before you can consider a strategy like this--one, a group thats pretty well attuned to your music and to each other and second, a "book" both extensive and known to the ensemble like the proverbial back of the hand. In addition, maybe most importantly, you need to have the confidence to allow whatever happens to happen.

I'm actually curious--maybe someone knows--exactly how much freedom in this regard Braxton allowed. Was it unlimited? If so, the other members would seem to have reined themselves in pretty well, usually integrating only one to three other pieces into the primary one. Could the introduction of "external" material only occur during the improv section? I don't think I ever heard a thematic portion interrupted. (The double disc by Splatter/Debris may have gone further here). Whatever, it's a wonderful idea, one that I'm sorry to see not used by very many others (at all!) Just think how much more interesting, say, Masada would be if the Zornian straitjacket was loosened.

Anyway, my first exposure to this was the 3-record set on Leo, "London (1985)". It's the only one of the three I own (Coventry and Birmingham are the others, I think?), probably because at the time, I admit to not being entirely taken with it. It took a few years to grow on me. Listening now, it does indeed sound markedly different from his prior work, far less streamlined in the themes, more billowing and amorphous in the improvs. Even those themes carried over from earlier recordings sound less regimented, more expansive.

I saw this quartet two or three times, once at a short-lived place on Canal Street--was it called New Music Cafe? That night, they did a remarkably difficult and diffuse set, offering little in the way of themes, nothing remotely catchy. It was severe and abstract all the way through, one of those concerts where you don't realize quite how good it was 'til you leave and are walking up a cold street thinking, "Wow".

A little surprised how good this sounds tonight, to tell the truth. But it does.


Caleb Deupree said...

Stockhausen used his own early compositions as transformational material in Prozession, written in 1967. IIRC, Braxton was fairly strongly influenced by Stockhausen, and I remember a solo piano album (by Marilyn Crispell?) on Hat, where one side was a couple of Stockhausen pieces and the other side was a Braxton piece.

Brian Olewnick said...

Caleb, I assume that Stockhausen didn't leave the choice up to the musicians as to which pieces and when to incorporate?

Caleb Deupree said...

I've never seen the score. Robin Maconie says that the material "is taken more or less freely from early Stockhausen compositions," and Harvey connects instruments in Prozession with events in specific earlier works (e.g., the tamtam uses events from Mikrophonie I). Interestingly, the viola uses events from Kontakte, Gesang der J√ľnglinge, neither of which was originally written with viola. The performer has considerable freedom as to how the events may be incorporated, although the transformation rules are fairly complex. There's several pages of discussion in Maconie's book.

Henry Kuntz said...

Hi Brian,
My understanding with the Braxton quartet pieces is that portions of different compositional material mainly ran alongside of each other, like parallel tracks. Particularly for the bass and drums, this was often in the form of Braxton’s “pulse tracks” rather than as thematic material as such. With his more recent Ghost Trance Music, that process opened up considerably and now more closely resembles something like collage form. My recent review of Braxton’s Irridium box mentions the difference:

“As he had done previously with his quartet, Braxton actively moved to include (as possibility) within the Ghost Trance Music all of the music that he had ever composed! But the implications of such a move with the GTM were more far reaching than with the quartet, for the effect was to now place all of his music within ritual time rather than within linear time; and whereas with the quartet, the different compositions that were played together almost always ran alongside each other, now pieces of pieces began to move continuously in and out of the music, restructuring the trance form along the way.”

The complete review is here: