Any record by Anthony Braxton, no matter whether it is a repackaging of an old stage or studio date, or an entirely new disc, automatically sets itself up for album-of-the-year. The reason is that listeners are treated always to such genius; Braxton’s boundless invention, wide, expressive range and technical challenges, not to mention the works (in question) monumental status and intellectual cachet. No matter how overpopulated the realm of contemporary music is, any work by Anthony Braxton always offers so much to admire – especially in his own playing. The warm sonority, clean technique and penchant for vivid ornamentation are only some of the aspects of Braxton’s music to cherish.
It is time to examine afresh, on this (second) release of his Quintet (Basel) 1977, the Anthony Braxton of that period before and after and in between his free-improvised and ghost-trance, both of which are laced with music in-the-tradition (which appears like puffs of idiomatical smoke in both streams of consciousness). Here, as always, Braxton’s myriad virtues include (“Composition 69 N/G”) insouciant rhythmic snap, the inner ‘swing’ of (“Composition 69 M”) and the focussed harmonic ebullience of (“Composition 69 J”)’s rapidly deployed patterns. Naturally this spurs long-time Braxton musical associates especially pianist Muhal Richard Abrams’s cogent shaping of left-hand lines, which, in turn frame both Braxton’s and trombonist George Lewis’ paths forward. There is also no doubting the genuine musicality of bassist Mark Helias and the recently deceased (January 2017) and all-too-little-known drummer Charles “Bobo” Shaw. Their instinct for the idiom of Braxton was refreshing and remains so at this hearing forty years later.
The artistic patina of Braxton’s music prevails throughout the “69” variations as well as in “Composition 40 B” a robust piece of music emblazoned with elaborate rhythmic embellishments tattooed into the heart of the piece by Shaw. Here, too, Muhal Richard Abrams’ fingerwork is as ear-catching as the oddly-protracted pauses between ensemble and solo sections, always impressive in its lightness and control. Here too we are left breathless by Lewis’ steely handling of his bellowing and gloating instrument as well as Braxton’s own dazzling rubato stretches as he scales the seemingly infinite possibilities of the winds’ registers. In the three musicians’ artistic expositions are perhaps the most deeply-felt blues of the black aesthetic. Few musicians in any era communicate both the emotions and the poetics of The Music with a higher degree of finesse and specificity.
With the dynamic inflection and tapering off at cadences; and bass-lines that acquire a firmer presence in ‘freer’ movements and with pulses that thin and thicken the sonority in the ‘swingiest’ sections there is no more genius to be heard in any form of music that in that of Anthony Braxton. The way that Braxton ravishingly fuses elasticity of line and eloquent proportion in his melismatic playing is worth the price of admission. It is musicianship for the ages.
Track Listing: Composition 69 J; Composition 69 N/G; Composition 69 M; Composition 40 B.
Personnel: Anthony Braxton: alto saxophone, sopranino saxophone and clarinet; George Lewis: trombone; Muhal Richard Abrams: piano; Mark Helias: double bass; Charles “Bobo” Shaw: drums.
Label: hat HUT Records
Release date: November 2016
Running time: 1:13:37