Anthony Braxton’s musical cosmos has no limits, is colorful and moves tumultuously. In the world of jazz, he made his debut with the solo double-LP, For Alto. The first unaccompanied saxophone solo jazz record was a provocation. Anthony Braxton has not stopped breaking through the conventions of jazz and placing his own, original alternatives up again it. Now, after forty years, the master takes stock of his work with his new recording, Solo Willisau (Intakt CD 126). In the large hall, alone on the stage, he enthralled more than 1,500 listeners. “An unheard-of variety of sound,” wrote Rainer Kobbe in the German Jazzzeitung. “His solo on the alto sax was concentrated and never lost itself in quotations. During an intoned march, a looseness briefly swept up that quickly lost itself in a fantastic improvisation on ‘All the Things You Are’.”
Regardless of how grandiose or fantastical Anthony Braxton’s compositional goals, his periodic solo recitals remain sources of reliable solace - dispatches where that fervent and often gloriously impractical imagination boils down to the comforting kernel of a man and his horn(s). Braxton’s recorded work in the format commonly comes in the form of concert dates rather than studio sessions. Following the blueprint of his first double album release on Delmark, alto remains his principal implement in such settings.
This new Intakt set, recorded at the Willisau Jazz Festival in 2003, follows the prescribed mold in presenting eight pieces, all of relatively uniform duration. Colorful ink squiggles distinguish the graphic schema used to codify the compositions. The program opens with the air and force of a Brötzmann record, Braxton blowing shrill split tones and tonguing in lots of gravely vibrato on “No. 328c”. The amplitude of his articulation is striking, ballooning into the space and sounding exponentially larger than the capacity his horn would normally dictate. He explores permutations of “328a” and “d” later in the program, leavening coarse exhalations with surprisingly delicate curlicues of melody. The former piece contains a passage limited to little more than keypad clicks and circulating breath while the latter alights on simple Aylerian repetition.
Sandwiched between the succession of stark numerical compositions sits an eight-minute meditation on “All the Things You Are”. Braxton builds off the mothballed melody, alternating recognizable variations with flurried asides and huffing inhalations of air. The opening minutes of “No. 119m” consist of a comically labored wrestling match with his reed, malformed notes squeaking past his muffled speechifying like those of an orator holding court from the confines of a paper sack. “No. 106p” returns to gently rippling melodic territory with Braxton exploring a suitably serpentine line with a lightly aerated intonation. The pristine recording gives percussive presence to peripheral sounds of his instrument. Even the pursing of saliva-moistened lips is audible. The set winds up as it started with another nod to staccato Brötz-speak through the whinnying flutter tonguing of “No. 191j”.
As with Intakt’s solo Cecil Taylor release from a few years back, this set distills its subject’s art and intentions down to diamond sharp clarity. Braxton’s available solo sets now number into the double digits, but this one still succeeds in illuminating significant insights into the ever-evolving mind behind them.
Derek Taylor, Bagatellen, November 27, 2007
released January 1, 2007
Anthony Braxton: Alto Saxophone
All compositions by Anthony Braxton except «All the Things You Are» by Jerome Kern. Recorded live at Jazzfestival Willisau, September 1, 2003 by Martin Pearson for Radio DRS 2. Radio Producer: Peter Bürli · Cover art: Niklaus Troxler. Graphic design: Jonas Schoder · Produced and published by Intakt Records. Executive production: Patrik Landolt
The music of Cecil Taylor is, in my mind, a grand codex to the hidden (occult) corners of the universe and mind. He had this ability to tap into what appeared to be chaos but in truth was not. We, the listeners, are invited to welcome the challenge of understanding his decryption. This monolithic slab of recordings is evidence of the incite and talent he possessed.
Challenging is a word I don't use lightly and this comes from a lover of extreme metal. But, without challenge life is bland. Obstacle of Affliction