May 18, 2008

Now Playing: Anthony Braxton

Anthony Braxton: Nine Compositions (DVD) 2003 (Rastascan)

Anthony Braxton: reeds; Liz Allbee: trumpet, electronics; Kyle Bruckmann: oboe, English horn, etc.; Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet, flugelhorn, etc.; Greg Kelly: trumpet etc.; Matt Ingalls: clarinet, bass clarinet, violin; Dan Plonsey: reeds, violin; Gino Robair: percussion, etc.; Scott Rosenberg: reeds; Jay Rozen: tuba, electronics, etc.; Sara Schoenbeck: bassoon; John Shiurba: guitars, banjo; Justin Yang: reeds,

Rastascan gives Braxton the deluxe treatment with over six hours of PCM audio at better-than-CD resolution (24 bit/48 KHz) on one standard DVD [FN1]. This expansive format suits Braxton’s prolific nature, documenting (with startlingly high fidelity) a mere three days of activity. The disc contains a complete 12tet concert at the Victoria Theatre in San Francisco from December 11, 2003 and an additional four hours of studio recordings from December 12th & 13th. That’s a lot of music.

What’s interesting about this recording is that Braxton’s large ensemble works of a recent vintage (Compositions 322, 327 & 328) appear side-by-side with much older pieces performed by trio and quartet (Compositions 23e, 72h, 74e & 75). Hearing these earlier compositions in this expanded context sheds some light on the mysterious goings-on of the Ghost Trance Musics (GTM). One of the key components of GTM is its collage-in-performance aspect wherein any part of Braxton’s enormous oeuvre can appear (either spontaneously or by design), played by any instrument and some of these early compositions can be heard, if fleetingly, within the GTM performances. Listening to these older pieces in situ also confirms that Braxton’s music has always been abstract, ambitious, and contingent on sympathetic interpreters. For Braxton, composition is more than merely notation as an end itself, but a means to guide improvisation. As the hour-plus long GTM compositions unfold, an astonishingly diverse and limitless music gushes forth from the musicians, who are all clearly inspired by Braxton’s admonishment to “kick it about, have some fun” [FN2] and totally dedicated to giving these pieces a proper performance - which means improvising with both force and empathy within the vast realm of Braxton’s complex written material. The inclusion here of two earlier GTM compositions (Compositions 190 & 292) demonstrates that, given committed performances by capable musicians, GTM can yield music of extraordinary richness and complexity.

Nine Compositions (DVD) 2003 is an essential document and an excellent introduction to Braxton’s unique musical vision. Highly recommended.


[FN1]: Everybody knows that the recording industry is in the dumps and everybody knows the myriad reasons for this sad state of affairs. What I don’t understand is why the recording industry has refused to take advantage of the DVD format with its better-than-CD sound unbounded by the 80 minute track limit. Sure, DVD-Audio and/or SACD have even higher resolution and sound better, but the standard DVD supports a stereo PCM track that can be played on any DVD player - you can have video too! The CD is dying (if not already dead); please give us something better. /end of rant.

[FN2]: Taken from the rehearsals for this disc, the full quote is instructive regarding Braxton’s aims with GTM: “Don’t worry about playing everything perfect. It’s not even about that; we’ll just do the best we can do. Kick it about, have some fun, try to work together. That’s what I’m interested in: the concept of the group as a family…where the musicians are working together, looking out for one another.” (From the liner notes).

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