well, apparently the italian gtm piece is not yet quite ready to get finished... but in the meantime i wanted to make sure that i didn't completely lose momentum, so here's something else i had in the pipeline: some thoughts on this album, (*) a recent addition to the slowly-growing list of albums featuring b's music, (re)interpreted in this instance by three people who know it better than practically anybody. what follows is more in the way of remarks on the release itself, rather than an in-depth analysis of the music. (*)
crispell/dresser/hemingway play braxton (*) (tzadik 2012)
- john zorn apparently seized the chance to whisk these guys into the studio when they reformed for the 65th anniversary concerts in 2010; although that may be a slightly misleading way of looking at it. the label blurb actually phrases it thus: "reformed for braxton's 65th birthday concert, they
were recruited on the spot to record a CD of music for tzadik, and went
into the studio soon after...", which really makes it sound as if the recording came after the concert. it didn't, if the details on the cd are correct: the recording was made on april 19th 2010 (*1), and the concerts took place in june (naturally enough). ok, well, leaving that aside, it's a cause for celebration that this album exists in the first place, and i'm suitably grateful to jz for putting it together. as always with this label, the package is very tastefully designed, with a cover which seems to hint at a relationship between b's famous (and famously misunderstood) titular diagrams and the scores themselves: the angles and curves on the diagram which has been selected for the cover look almost as if they are themselves part of the written notes. that said, i don't know which piece is represented by the diagram or even if it's included on the album (*2): it's disappointing that the proper titles, i.e. the diagrams themselves, are not given on the cd, just the familiar opus numbers.
the title of the third track (listed as comp. 108c/110/69q) is incorrect, for several reasons. firstly, comp. 108c is - of course - a pulse track, and therefore by definition can never be a primary territory; it must always be played with, or against, another composition. listing it first is therefore both (technically) wrong and also somewhat perverse, since the pulse track itself does not make an appearance until the music has been underway for a while. what's more, strictly speaking there is no such thing as comp. 110 since this, too, is a short series comprising several pieces. the correct title for this collage, unless i'm mistaken, is as follows: comp. 110a (+108c)/comp. 69q.
now, as i said above, i'm happy and grateful that the album even exists, and i don't want to sound overly critical or negative about it... but for all the intelligent joy which is to be found in the playing, the choice of material is a bit of an eye-opener. the most obvious point to note is that the playing time is just under forty minutes, which is a perfectly acceptable length for an album (even if it seems a little short by the standards of the cd era - but that in itself is fine, if the programme is well-balanced), but which is noticeably light for a full set of braxton material; and this is especially true within the context of this band. the quartet's live sets would always last about an hour - like most dcw or gtm performances - and accordingly, the album really does feel as if it's short by at least ten minutes, even allowing for the difference between a continuous live suite, and an album consisting of several separate tracks. with this in mind, the inclusion of comp. 23c here seems really quite odd, not to say downright lazy: what do we really learn about these players by having this on here? absolutely nothing... yes, 23c is a delightful sweetmeat but we've all it heard it many times by now (me more than most, admittedly) and besides, with no horn it is clearly missing a crucial ingredient. playing it in the anniversary concert made some sense, where it fulfilled its traditional role as a palate-cleanser; but on the album, coming as it does just six minutes in, it really feels redundant to me and in a studio context the missing voice is glaringly obvious. so, for all dresser's nice unaccompanied intro on it, i can't understand what it's doing here. the inclusion of a repetition structure makes perfect sense, but then in that case why was comp. 40(o) not chosen instead? this is a favourite of crispell's (and of other pianists too *3) and offers room for improvisation; 23c is a very rare example of a braxton piece which is completely through-composed and like i say, we're not learning anything here by the fact that three expert musicians are able to negotiate the piece comfortably. and whilst it's also only fair to point out that showing off is not the idea here as such, far from it in fact, i still have to see the programming as very uninspired here.
comp. 40n is not so much an odd choice - again, far from it! - as just treated rather eccentrically, there being little evidence (or at least no substantial trace in my memory after three plays) of the rock-bed-rich arco tone sometimes associated with mr mark dresser; remember, this was a piece particularly well suited to dave holland and has been captured-crystallised by him for posterity; hearing it without the long drones really standing out in the ear-memory just seems very strange. so i had to go back and listen to this one again more closely (*) just to be sure: and well, the results of that were a bit of an eye-opener too. 'cos lo and behold, dresser uses the bow exclusively throughout the treatment of 40n, and sure enough, he never reproduces the long drone so successfully mastered - both live and in the studio - by holland all those years earlier. that is peculiar, an opportunity missed or a very weird selection at any rate, and i'm sure i read somewhere (so, within the last few weeks then) that the drone was precisely what led dresser back to it in the first place... anyway, heard in the background if not up-close, the piece is refined and pleasant enough but failed to captivate me and before i knew it, each time, the busy, deceptively-hard-to-reproduce comp. 40b is underway, crsipell suddenly deciding to get on the road hemingway's been flying along for a little while now. well, i am a sucker for hearing this number done by pianists, find it hard to get truly into without, these days; but this one does not actually add much to that. mmm.
rrrRRRRrrright... thus for all the astral expectoration if you know what i'm saying... it is not exactly too difficult to find much to like about the album, the opening comp. 116 is fiery and spirited and provides a great start, even if it is on the shortish side (and thus exacerbates the problem/s of following up with the repetition structure); and comp. 69b (8.2) - whatever that means - is thrillingly intense and powerful, for some time before it ends. every time i heard the album, i found it impossible to keep still with this piece on and it was definitely the highlight as far as i was concerned. the above-discussed "actual" collage as such - 'cos i don't think it's fully collaged at all (*4) - is good also, featuring (funnily enough) lovely arco work by dresser. and the whole thing is just, well, absolutely impossible to dislike, and i remained happy that i ordered the physical copy of the cd even as i downloaded the online rip (*). no questions there... i just think it could have been done better, with more care and time put into the programming (*5) and a little more to the packaging also. but i'm still glad to have it on my shelf, don't worry about that.
but here's an idea (assuming as always that zorn may already have somewhere-down-on-a-mental-list vague plans for vols. 2-x): next time, why don't we give these masters, these absolutely unquestioned and unquestionable masters, something which is NOT intimately familiar to grapple with..? three days, a handful of gtm scores each, and on the day just let them grab a smattering of pages at random, chuck 'em together and tear through the layers of mangrove together, fully-focussed and alert and with no relaxed smiles at all (until very near the end perhaps) - discovering new (to them) music, not the stuff they above all humans (probably, let's face it) know better than anyone else already. now who among us wouldn't wanna pay to hear that?!
* see first comment
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