December 13, 2008

Anthony Braxton Quartet (Moscow) 2008

Anthony Braxton Quartet: (Moscow) 2008 (Leo CD LR 518)

Diamond Curtain Wall Quartet:
Anthony Braxton: sopranino, soprano, and alto saxophones, contrabass clarinet, electronics
Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet, flugelhorn, piccolo and bass trumpets, valve trombone
Mary Halvorson: electric guitar
Katherine Young: bassoon

Recorded live June 29, 2008 at the DOM, Moscow, Russia

Why is this man smiling? Is it because, at age 62, he finally finds himself feted in Russia, land of mystics and revolutionaries? Or is it because, with the Diamond Curtain Wall Quartet, he is creating some of the most viscerally exciting – downright fun music of his career? Or is it because his friends at Leo Records were to rush release this document a mere months after its historic performance? Or is it because, despite the seriousness of his intent, Braxton is just a guy who wants to “kick it about and have some fun”? I suspect all of the above and more.

As you may know, I do love the Victoriaville 2007 CD (Victo 108). Here, the addition of Katherine Young’s throaty bassoon gives the drummer-less ensemble a distinctive flavor. Mary Halvorson continues to impress me as the most complete electric guitarist around – she can do it all, but still always retains her own, delightfully unique voice. Taylor Ho Bynum has taken up a range of brass instruments, in the spirit of AACM multi-instrumentalism, to splash vast washes of tonal colors from valve trombone to piccolo trumpet. As for Braxton himself, he is seemingly at the peak of instrumental prowess, his tone quality on the various reed instruments a burnished, glowing gem. Meanwhile, the Supercollider electronics emit intermittent swirls of noise like some interference in a broadcast signal from outer space. This is wild stuff!

The continuous seventy-minute performance contains such a wide variety of creative, endlessly evocative music that time feels suspended; it’s over before you know it. The music unfolds organically, each succeeding event flowing from what precedes it. The absence of percussion allows things to proceed from the players’ unforced inner rhythms and, over the entire expanse of time, a vast multitude of instrumental approaches are explored. Yet, the musicians’ vocabularies appear limitless and the ending, when it arrives, seems almost arbitrary, as if the music will continue even if we can no longer hear it. The brief encore picks up the intergalactic broadcast in midstream only to lose contact again at the three-minute mark. It is impossible for me to differentiate what is notated music and what is wholly improvised and from what I’ve seen from the scores, they consist of graphical symbols, colors and shapes that leave much to the performer’s interpretation. But the loyalty and dedication of these gifted musicians allows for a perfect union of freedom and responsibility; I mean, it still sounds like Anthony Braxton’s music, even when his voice is silent.

This CD gives us all reason to smile. Thank you Mr. Braxton!

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