Anthony Braxton, Dixieland-Style

Here’s an old-timey-jazz-style cover of Anthony Braxton:

It’s “Composition 23 J,” an earlier Braxton piece with a melody even my ear can recognize. The trumpeter is Bobby Spellman, who put on this show last year for Record Store Day.

Note To Self #1: If I’m ever in that Maine/New Hampshire coastal area, there’s a record store just over the state line in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Note To Self #2: I should check out what else Bobby Spellman has going on. The Revenge of the Cool nonet sounds like it’s got a good attitude. And here’s an album from Cryptozoology, a five-piece with a tuba.

And for good measure, here’s Braxton himself on “Composition 23 J.” Correlating the instrumentation with the discography, I’m thinking this is from Dortmund (Quartet) 1976 (hatArt, 1991) with George Lewis on trombone, Dave Holland on bass, and Barry Altschul on drums.

h/t Tri-Centric Foundation: @tricentricfdn on Twitter.

Braxton’s No. 255

Earlier this year, I saw Phillip Greenlief conducting Anthony Braxton’s Composition No. 255, at the In the Flow Festival in Sacramento.

A music fan named Charles has done dedicated work filming music concerts in that area. He got No. 255 on tape, and also recorded part of a rehearsal, for a feel of what it’s like preparing this kind of work.

I’ll embed both videos here. You don’t get to see these kinds of works live very often, so it’s nice to have a visual document to refer back to.

Echo Echo, ‘C’est Trop’

I was wondering about this latest music from Anthony Braxton. He calls it Echo Echo Mirror House, and it builds on his Ghost Trance Music by giving the players iPods (or similar playback devices) loaded with Braxton compositions. They can add these recordings into the mix, like another element of improvisation, another flavor in the spice cabinet.

The insertion of compositional modules was already part of Ghost Trance Music, or at least part of the hour-long pieces Braxton would assemble under that banner. I’d mentioned it recently here.

The iPod element of Echo Echo sounds riskier, though. Players would have to know those recordings awfully well in order to select precisely the best one for the moment, wouldn’t they? Or, is it left to chance: Start a playback, see what happens?

And is there tempo control enforced here? Ghost Trance Music doesn’t exactly work in march-time rhythms, but it’s got a march feel, and it seems like it would be disruptive to add another march in a different step.

Echo Echo Mirror House has gotten some live performances recently, including one at the Victoriaville FIMAV festival, so I cast about for any reviews. And I found a short remark on François Couture’s Monsieur Délire blog that would suggest he shares my concerns about the format. He describes the seven players’ iPods as an added layer of music. “C’est trop,” he writes: It’s too much.

I’ll be interested to hear for myself someday. The idea of modular composition and performance appeals to me, and I like that Braxton is still toying with the concept.

Mahler vs. Braxton

Gustav Mahler’s 10th Symphony went unfinished, and there are competing completed versions that vie for attention. The most radically speculative, by Clinton Carpenter, fleshes out the body with pieces of the other symphonies, apparently.

Which led to this interesting comment in a Gramophone review:

“For instance, there’s the ludicrous Clinton Carpenter version where he brings in themes from other symphonies to plug gaps… this is just not the way composers work.”

That’s a comment from the May 2008 edition, which was quoted in the March 2011 edition as part of a review of the latest Carpenter-version recording.

The relevance here? “Not the way composers work” made me smile inside and think of Anthony Braxton, whose mammoth compositions include/encourage spots for other compositions to be poured in. Take the 4-CD Six Compositions (Rastascan, 2001; see also here). It opens with “Composition No. 286 (+ 147, 20, 69D, 256, 173, 6J, 162, 23A),” a 92-minute piece performed by 10 musicians.

There’s a difference in intent between Braxton and Carpenter, I know. I just thought the comparison was amusing.

Mahler’s 10th is an intriguing study in history and musicology. You can read about it on Wikipedia, but I prefer the detailed account found on the Petzold Book Blog.

Sperryfest Wrap-Up

I didn’t make it to either of the concerts for this year’s Matthew Sperry Memorial Festival (blog notices here and here). But other folks, who write other fine blogs that track Bay Area creative music, did.

On the CatSynth blog, Amar Chaudhary offers a description and photos of the trio improv night,which sounds like it had a sublime and touching ending.

On HurdAudio, Devin Hurd reviews the modern classical (a.k.a. new music) night, which culminated in a one-hour Anthony Braxton ghost trance piece. Sounds awesome.

Heavy gratitude to those folks, and to photog extraordinaire michaelz1, who’s documented lots of great local shows on Flickr.  That’s a photo of his, above, taken during the trio improv show.

Braxton and Matthew Sperry

The Matthew Sperry Memorial Festival comes June 3 and 5 to San Francisco and Oakland: Rotating trio improvs on June 3; modern classical music on June 5. See earlier post.
Matthew Sperry played on a colossal Anthony Braxton album, Six Compositions (GTM) 2001, so it’s fitting to see a Braxton piece included in the Matthew Sperry memorial concert coming on June 5.

Man, does that album bring back some fun radio memories.

I love owning this 4-CD album, still available on Rastascan. I revel in its bigness, even though the Firehouse 12 label has since outdone it. I never liked those double-wide jewel cases that record labels used in the early days of CD formats — but in this case, it’s awesome, just sitting there on the shelf next to skinny, wimpy cases.

And inside, there’s more bigness.

The opening “track” is “Composition #286 (Tentet),” which lasts 92 minutes and had to be split between the first two CDs. They could have stopped there — but no! Two more CDs hurl Braxton goodness at you, in increments of 18 to 33 minutes. Don’t bother looking for the hit single.

And if the hugeness of the tracks wasn’t enough, there’s the music itself — and that’s where the radio thing comes into play.  We put this album into rotation at KZSU for the usual nine-week run. MU-HAHAHAHAHA!!

See, the music is from Anthony Braxton’s Ghost Trance period, which is vaguely influenced by Native American musics: ritual chants and the like. It’s characterized by a steady, steady pulsing of sounds — but it’s not a steady heartbeat. Lots of triplets and…multiplets (7-over-4 rhythms, that kind of thing) pepper the piece to keep some disbalance going. And because note choices are often left to the performers, there’s a constant shifting of harmony — and yet, because the notes collide so often, it can feel like the same harmony, unrelenting.

For an unsuspecting radio listener, the macro effect is like a hammer, an ongoing pulse that’s varying juuuuust a bit from one strike to the next. BLIP! BIP! BLIP! BI-BAP! BAP! BIP! BLIP! BAP! BI-BAP-BIP! BLEP! BIP! BIP!

I went out of my way to insert segments of this music into my shows. Most times, it was like a sudden, massive roadblock. I loved it.

The part that really blows my mind is that they’re following sheet music! For 90 minutes! I’m imagining an impossibly long scroll of notes, notes, notes, notes. (The reality, I think, is that Braxton used visual cues to conduct the group, keep them on the same landmarks, and jump to different parts of the piece. The concentration required is still impressive.)

As with a lot of experimental music, a deep listen has its rewards here.  There’s usually some saxophone or other that’s soloing over the pulse, darting diagonally across the grid in an exciting free-jazz dance. Ghost Trace Music has a lot more color than in minimalist classical. It’s not like watching someone recite pi.

There’s also the Braxton mix-mash thing.  “Composition No. 286” includes snippets of Nos. 147, 20, 69D, 256, 173, 6J, 162, and 23A.  (Braxton must work on multiple compositions at a time, so it’s feasible he’ll someday accidentally reuse a number. One only hopes this won’t rupture the time-space continuum.)

For more on Ghost Trance Music, check out this blog entry from Steve Smith, a music journalist for the New York Times and Time Out: New York. And take to heed his opening point: That this seemingly monochrome, pulsey music has a tie to the classic jazz bass walk. Hm.

Several Bay Area musicians worked with, or learned from, Braxton, and the Ghost Trance influence pops up now and again.  Dan Plonsey used a similar idea with his CD-long Daniel Popsicle compositions, which use a similar element of a rhythm that’s seemingly long-repeating but is varying just slightly from measure to measure. Two big difference are that Plonsey used a wider range of styles, and that he broke those pieces into segments that were clearly different — so there’d be a sudden shift into something pretty, or funky, or soft. There’s a evenhanded pleasantness to the Daniel Popsicle pieces, and they’re a good listen. But like the Braxton compositions, the sheer length and the near-repetitive nature could make for an endurance test of a concert.

That’s a long way from Sperry (although he probably played on a Daniel Popsicle piece or two).  The point: Be aware that Sperry got to play some challenging, serious music in some really fun settings.

Upcoming Live Shows: Early August

Some upcoming Bay Area shows of note. Always check the Transbay Calendar or Bay Area Improvisers’ Network first! Most of this info was cribbed from there.

Tuesday, August 4 — Mary Halvorson is coming to Yoshi’s Oakland with the same trio that performed on Dragon’s Head, the CD that garnered her so much attention last year. I’d noted this here. There’ll be only one set, at 8:00 p.m. So sad that they can’t put up two sets.

Corn moon. Source: space.fmi.fiThursday, August 6 — At the Luggage Store Gallery, Polly Moller is curating a monthly series of 12 shows, each celebrating the monthly full moon and dedicated to a particular type of full moon from folklore. This month, it’s the Corn Moon. First on the bill is the duo of Karl A.D. Evangelista (guitar, vox, misc.) and Margaret Rei Scampavia (piano/keys, accordion, flute, saxophone, vox, misc.), performing as Grex. They’ll be followed by Phillip Greenlief and David Boyce, a tenor sax duet, who will “explore the identity of corn in Native American Mythology and everyday life.”

Thursday, August 6 — Uh-oh, a conflicting, yet also terrific, show: Vinny Golia will be up from L.A. for a performance that happens to be titled “Up from L.A.” He’ll be performing his compositions with a local troupe that includes strings and a jazz grouping, so you might get to hear a mix of his free-jazz work and his more classical/abstract composing. At Flux 53.

Friday, August 7 — The Best of the East Bay party includes music from a few Bay Area standouts, including David Slusser and Damon Smith. You’ll also get to hear Phillip Greenlief again, this time with his trio Citta Di Vitti, which plays swingy jazz inspired by the films of Michelangelo Antonioni. This time they’ll perform alongside projections of the films, apparently. At the Oakland Museum of California.

Saturday, August 8 — I don’t know much about Ideal Bread, but they’re from New York, they play Steve Lacy music, and they’re at the Jazzschool this night. And Phillip Greenlief will be there, again. He’s on a roll (again).

source: sfsound.orgSunday, August 9 — Any sfSound concert is a treat. Modern classical music treated with respect, both from the performers and the audience. (You know: applauding the performers as they come out, holding applause between movements of a piece, that sort of thing.) Sunday night’s show includes Karlheinz Stockhausen’s creeping “Kreuzspiel,” Anthony Braxton’s “Composition No. 75,” two premiere works, one very recent composition, and improvisation(s) by the group. At ODC Dance Commons.

Monday, August 10 — Now comes the honesty: I won’t be able to make it to any of the shows listed here. And this one might be the most painful miss, because I really want to see Go-Go Fightmaster in action. They’ll be the first act at the Ivy Room tonight, for free! (See here.) Second on the bill is Ava Mendoza‘s Thrash Jazz Band; she’s done terrific, noisy stuff on her own and with Mute Socialite. The improvised jazz trio The Spirit Moves Us closes things out, shifting gears to a mostly acoustic grouping that’s probably less in-your-face but not necessarily quiet.

Shipp +2, Braxton +1

Matthew Shipp Trio — Harmonic Disorder (Thirsty Ear, 2009)

shippYou can almost forgive someone for mistaking this for “cool traditional jazz.” Shipp’s piano trio frequently slips into some standard-sounding club-jazz soloing, with brisk, bright keys and deliciously wooden thickness to Joe Morris’ bass plucking. Whit Dickey on drums adds a chattery jazz feel and some nice cymbals rhythms.

But this is still Matthew Shipp, even minus the electronica dabblings he’s worked on in the last decade. On “Quantum Waves,” he sledgehammers the low notes, while the standards, “There Will Never Be Another You” and “Someday My Prince Will Come,” get the flying-off-the-road free-jazz treatment. “Roe” is catchy, but its sinister low-register melody is less cocktail hour and more SxSW; same with the creeping rainy-day comfort of “Mel Chi 2.” And then you’ve got the band just spouting large on “Zo Number 2.”

Anthony Braxton and Kyle Brenders — Toronto (Duets) 2007 (Barnyard, 2008 )

BarnyardBraxton’s Ghost Trance Music is like a brick wall, and to some listeners probably just as opaque. Seemingly endless matrices of nonrepeating pokes and stabs, one clearly discrete note after another, makes for an abstract kind of march that really stands out when, say, played during a radio show. Everything slams to a halt while the beat pulses on.

There’s a lot going on under the surface, though, and a listen to the full 30- or even 90-minute pieces on Rastascan‘s Six Compositions (GTM) 2001 reveals passages of passionate, jazzy soloing and playful individual improv. You can lose yourself wandering the magnetic fields of the pulse.

But that’s with 10 players; how does GTM translate to just two? It turns out, those freer moments stand out even more, as Braxton and Brenders work through lots of mood changes. They’ll play in composed unison for a minute or two — rigid, then free, then fast, then a slow break then fast again … and then shift into “soloing,” or at least a looser, improv-spiced passage. Moods and speeds can change every couple of minutes. It’s like a series of tricks joined together with brief improv periods, and it can be engrossing.

Toronto (Duets) is a 2-CD set, one composition per CD. Disk 1 is noticeably faster and perkier overall, but Disk 2 is equally rewarding, with some nice gentle improvising in the quieter spaces.