22 May 2008

Enthusiasms (17) ~ Anthony Braxton

Anthony Braxton is an extraordinary musician (primarily reeds) and composer who teaches at Wesleyan University and has a long-standing association with the AACM. I will say that my efforts to appreciate Braxton's own compositions have been an abject failure. But I have lately been listening to a set of his CDs of "standards" that are simply wonderful. I have two largish collections issued by Leo Records a couple of years back. These are live recordings of Braxton's quartet - Kevin O'Neil (g), Kevin Norton (d), & Andy Eulau (b).

The same quartet - sometimes augmented by Paul Smoker (tr) and
Steve Lehman (ts) - also has recorded two really terrific CDs of (mostly) Andrew Hill compositions. These discs were released on the CIMP label.

It seems to me that these recordings elicit three pretty obvious observations. The first has to do with tiny, obscure labels - and the remarkable individuals who run them. That is the culture of jazz. One need not have access to the major labels (say, Columbia) and well-heeled donors at, say, Jazz at Lincoln Center, to make, record, and distribute great music. Resources help, to be sure. But there are lots of people out there working without anything resembling a big-time budget. Second, the compositions that Braxton covers in these recordings puts the lie to pompous pronouncements regarding what counts as "the" jazz tradition. Such attempts at legislation are truly laughable. In addition to the inimitable Andrew Hill, we get interpretations of compositions by Coltrane and Monk and Evans and Desmond and Brubeck and so on, as well as an ample sampling from the "great American songbook." Third, it is fair to say - if anyone needed a basis for doing so -that attempts to exclude Braxton from the jazz tradition are simply fatuous. These recordings show Braxton instead as a master of that tradition. What they show about those who've appointed themselves to the task of policing the boundaries of "the tradition" is another matter altogether.

Braxton has played over the years with - among others - Marilyn Crispell, George Lewis, Dave Holland, Barry Altschul, Dave Douglas, Mal Waldron, and Sam Rivers. But I first heard him on "Birth & Rebirth" (1978) released on Black Saint; it is a set of duets with the great Max Roach. Braxton does not need the say-so of anyone. But if he did, this is way more than good enough.

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Anonymous Cybasumo said...

I did not know that something like anthony braxton still existed. It's pretty hard to find something like that in stores.

23 May, 2008 02:20  

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