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2 + 2 Compositions
Paris Transatlantic
Nate Dorward
Braxton continues to make waves in the jazz community: his recent appearance onstage at Victoriaville with Wolf Eyes had excited fans bouncing emails back and forth for days, and his recent monumental eight-CD set of standards released in two installments by Leo Records has been getting lots of buzz too. It’d be a pity then if this more modestly scaled disc from 482 Music got lost in the shuffle. As with many recent Braxton releases, it finds him in dialogue with some of the young players who’ve flocked to him at Wesleyan University, in this case tenor saxophonist/clarinettist Matt Bauder, bassist Aaron Siegel and drummer Zach Wallace (who perform as a trio under the name Memorize the Sky). You know something’s up from the opening moments of Bauder’s “Scaffolding”: it’s very quiet music, making use of drones and minimalist repetitions, advancing so slowly and patiently it’s like a leisurely walk around a sculpture that pauses to take in the view from each side. It’s rather like hearing the gentle clarinet/percussion soundscapes of Scott Fields’ Christangelfox (a previous 482 Music release) filtered through the contemporary electroacoustic improv aesthetic. The rest of the album is a bit more identifiably Braxtonish, though it has a feathery lightness of touch that’s unusual in his work. All the pieces work from visual scores containing little or no actual notation. Bauder’s “Dots,” for instance, is a rather Cagean piece involving a lightly dotted page and a transparent sheet of lines that the musicians lay over it to convert it into notes on staff, a gently pointillist musical space which the players can stretch out or compress at will. Braxton’s two compositions (324B and 327C) are part of his new “Falling River Musics” sequence of graphic scores. One of the few explicit directions Braxton gives for their interpretation is “sound rather than pitch”. Rather than the feast of scribbly, gritty nonidiomatic improv those directions might suggest, the results are airy structures made up out of twists and crumbs of melody – the musical equivalent of a sketch made out of countless faint, suggestive pencil-strokes. This is certainly the calmest and most relaxing Anthony Braxton album I’ve ever heard – and that's meant as praise, not criticism – a music where every gesture however small seems perfectly rounded in itself. It remains to be seen whether it represents a major change of direction for Braxton, or whether its aesthetic owes more to his playing partners; in either case it’s an extraordinary document, and worth hunting down.

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