Knitting Factory ( Piano / Quartet ) 1994, Vol.2
Release date: 2000
|Double CD (audio): GBP 20.00|
Well, this double CD is a continuation of that phenomenal live recording in 1994 with Marty Ehrlich on reeds, Joe Fonda on bass and Pheeroan AkLaff on drums.
As Stuart Broomer writes in his notes: Braxton has created a kind of dream language, a utopian music that's an imaginative capture of a tradition and its complex emotional dynamic. It's history as cauldron or centrifuge, both a Heissenberg retrospect and an extraordinary form of musical autobiography.
The total times are: CD1 - 60'23 and CD2 - 74'19
|( Collapse liner notes )|
Adventures in Jazz
In the earliest days of 1990, in a note to his Warne Marsh tribute (Hat Art), Anthony Braxton wrote, "My hope in the coming decade is to continue to evolve my music/music system and to also, whenever possible, document some of the music of my early role models and influences." The 90s proved to be fruitful years for Braxton in both respects. He pressed into new compositional terrain with both the operas and the trance music, while that secondary aspect of his work, documenting his early influences, flourished as well, though it too was a project that was already well underway.
Earlier in the 1980s he had recorded the two Seven Standards 1985 albums (Magenta) and the 1987 Monk tribute (Black Saint), and one could reach back to the early years of his career for the two In the Tradition (Steeplechase) records and performances of Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag." The 1990s would include several heritage ventures, like The Charlie Parker Project 1993 (Hat Hut), 9 Standards (Quartet) 1993 with the Fred Simmons Trio (Leo), Seven Standards 1995 with Mario Pavone (Knitting Factory), and 14 Compositions (Traditional) 1996 (Leo). Of Braxton's numerous journeys to older music, though, there's something singular about the "piano quartet" that he launched in 1994, both for the breadth of repertoire he embraced and for his switch to playing piano. With Marty Ehrlich on reeds, Joe Fonda on bass and Pheeroan AkLaff on drums, the group cut a broad swath through the core repertoire of modern jazz, emphasizing Monk and Mingus but touching on Gillespie, Davis and some of the best known tunes of a host of others.
This set joins both the two CD Knitting Factory, Volume 1 and the four CD Piano Quartet, Yoshi's 1994 (on Music & Arts with Arthur Fuller in place of AkLaff) as documentation of the group's unique explorations, nearly ten hours of the jazz canon viewed with Braxton at the piano bench.
In many ways, jazz in America in the 1990s was seen in the rearview mirror, from the persistence of retro hard bop, to the repertory orchestras, to the increasing frequency of tribute albums. It's a context in which Braxton's piano quartet music takes on special significance, because it presents the canon (perhaps even jazz's greatest hits) in a genuinely original way, embracing it in the terms of free jazz as well as its own practice. There are, of course, histories of jazz with one (take your pick), two, or no George Lewises. Braxton's is the kind with two, and it's a history more interested in completeness than in proprietorship or exclusion, more interested in the vital organism than the cadaver. It's alert to the inherent qualities in a music without factional bias based on issues of race, style, popularity or the lack of it. Above all, as Art Lange pointed out in his note to Volume 1, Braxton is interested in "making it new." He's also interested in making it useful and making it personal.
The music created here is intrinsically tied to Braxton's early experience of jazz. Born in 1945, he spent his youth absorbed in the most creative and tumultuous period in the music's history, years when cool, hard bop, third stream and free jazz exploded. They could be mutually dismissive, but they lived beside each other, vied for attention, and more importantly, rubbed up against each other in myriad ways. Braxton's enthusiasm was and is as broad as his vision, and he was clearly alert to the music of Tristano as well as Coltrane, to the quality of a Benny Golson composition as well as one by Ornette Coleman. In many ways, free jazz emerged both inevitably and as a series of fractures or tears the clusters in Cecil Taylor's early piano recordings, an Eric Dolphy or Jackie McLean solo that worked its way through changes toward liberation.
It's hard to say what is initially most striking about this group, whether it's Braxton's piano, Marty Ehrlich's alto, or the complex relationships between the quartet and the material. Braxton's piano playing is, simply, a strange and wondrous thing, a kind of fluttery cluster stabbing, with passages of complex rhythmic knotting, chord flights up and down the keyboard, and dissonant splashes thrown in. Sometimes he'll play with almost no rhythmic connection to the tunes, whether piling up chords on a ballad or slowing down his internal meter. He's genuinely interested in the individual pieces that he's playing, but he's also interested in pressing their harmonic underpinnings toward atonality. Whether it's as a saxophonist or an enthusiast of Charles Ives, he clearly enjoys the ease with which he can play a lot of notes simultaneously. There are no clear antecedents for what's he's doing here, though the process can in ways suggest Monk, Brubeck, Tristano, and Taylor. The term "arranger's piano" was once current for musicians like Gil Evans, Tadd Dameron, George Russell, and Charles Mingus; Braxton plays "deranger's piano," breaking up not just individual pieces but the body of conventions.
Marty Ehrlich turns in what may well be the most remarkable "mainstream" saxophone performances of the past decade. His sound is gorgeous, his lyric flow, phrasing, and sense of inflection stunning. And it's a "mainstream" performance in every sense, from the way it focuses every well-worn piece in this repertoire to the way it draws on the saxophone lineage from Johnny Hodges to Albert Ayler to Braxton himself. His sound is literally keening, the sound of loss and invocation, and there's a sense of the compounding in the tradition, including, in "Reincarnation of a Lovebird," Eric Dolphy's take on the sound of Hodges. Before he begins to "solo," Ehrlich has stamped these tunes with his sound, and he often invokes his "outside" forebears with a compressed imitation at the end of a relatively "tonal" phrase.
Or one might be struck not by those "individual parts," but by how that piano and that saxophone sound together, often insistently plural, worlds in collision the saxophone the master of every conventional gesture ("Did you ever go into an Irishman's shanty?") and the piano as the other. The saxophone is intensely focussed on the tune, the piano seemingly autonomous, self absorbed and responsive to its own development. There are moments when Ehrlich swings in a very orthodox way, while Braxton doesn't, adding another dimension to this music. The resilience of the tunes combines with the security of the players to develop a network of simultaneous approaches here, with Fonda and AkLaff creating an all-embracing common ground. While a dichotomy emerges between the approaches of Ehrlich and Braxton, there is no real sense in which one might succeed, the other fail. Group improvisation is just that, and what each achieves is dependent on the other. Braxton's approach to the piano, providing a surplus of harmonic possibilities, almost demands that Ehrlich over-assert the material at the same time that he explores it. His improvisations become melody based against Braxton's chromatic fantasia. Meanwhile, Ehrlich's focus facilitates Braxton's freedom. It's reminiscent of the early role of Jimmy Lyons with Cecil Taylor, particularly the recording that the Taylor trio made of "What's New?" in Copenhagen in 1962, in which Lyons' saxophone assumed the formal content.
Braxton's handling of large structures here is intriguing as well. The tunes are presented in continuous sets, one piece sometimes drifting into another, often after an extended free section, in much the way Braxton's different quartets have integrated his own varied pieces into continuously evolving works. The frequent absence of the recapitulated head is a new formal shape here, a free flow forward that resists the closure traditionally imposed in jazz. The practice suggests an expansion of the traditional medley, but these pieces are free to interact with one another in different ways. There are also the beautiful introductions to "Little Niles," "Blue Bossa" and "When Sunny Gets Blue" that seem to define their own new idiom. For the depth of Braxton's reading in the tradition, note that "Milestones" is not the later scalar anthem but Davis's bop tune from his first session as a leader in 1947 (Braxton's fondness for early Miles turned up, too, in the Charlie Parker Project's "Sippin' at Bells").
These performances are both about the canon and about the heroic break-up that took place in jazz in the late fifties and early sixties, the structural transformation that produced some of the most charged work in the music's history. Braxton has created a kind of dream language (parallel to the development of his trance music in the 90s), a utopian music that's an imaginative capture of a tradition and its complex emotional dynamic. It's history as cauldron or centrifuge, both a Heissenberg retrospect and an extraordinary form of musical autobiography.