Having the opportunity to watch woodwind multi-instrumentalist/composer Anthony Braxton perform one of his compositions in concert provides a distinct insight into just how directed his pieceswhich sometimes give more of an impression of random activity when experienced on recordreally are. Looking at one of them on paper can be even more revealing. While standard notation may be a component of the score, one is equally likely to find odd graphics which clearly have significance to the performers, but seem completely unfathomable to the uninformed observer.
Braxton is one of the past forty years' great radical musical thinkers, someone who can be cordial and clear in conversation one moment, equally warm but obliquely abstract the next. But truthfully, he simply operates on a different plane than the vast majority, and his compositions reflect the kind of rich complexity that is so beyond the conventional that one really has to listen to them with a different set of ears.
Indeed, Braxton's two compositions on 2 + 2 Compositions, titled "324b and "327c he avoids any kind of nomenclature that might prejudice the listenerreflect a disposition towards texture and timbre, as opposed to melody and harmony. Indeed, the only words in the legend of his scores for these two pieces are "sound rather than pitch. Braxton and his bandmatesdouble-bassist Zach Wallace, percussionist Aaron Siegel, and saxophonist/clarinetist Matt Bauder, a young composer who contributes the other two compositions on the discwere recently seen as part of Braxton's sextet at the 22nd FIMAV festival in Victoriaville, Canada. They are clearly capable of interpreting the kind of directed improvisation that Braxton's compositions represent.
Bauder, whose "Dots was inspired by John Cage's "Atlas Eclipticalis, translates the aleatoric system (music characterized by chance or indeterminate elements) into a jazz quartet context with a score that consists of dots scattered across a page with straight lines running through them to group them into musical staves. "Scaffolding is divided into four sections that break the quartet into four trios, which cycle through a variety of sound classes, such as "isolated non-resonant impulses and "continuous resonant.
The description of these compositions implies a challenging listen, which is true in part. By avoiding traditonal musical constructs, these pieces offer little precedenceexcept, perhaps, if one is already familiar with Braxton's compositional approach to improvisation. Still, if one can expand one's horizons and absorb these pieces as purely textural entities, then not only does each piece represent its own inner development, but the four pieces, sequenced together, create a narrative that builds from the more spacious "Scaffolding to the busier "Composition No. 327c.
2 + 2 Compositions isn't apt to win a lot of traditional jazz fans overthe music, despite its improvisational nature, leans more towards a contemporary classical sensibilitybut it can be a revealing listen and an open window to the ideas of Anthony Braxton, for whom fresh approaches often mean dispensing with convention.
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Personnel: Anthony Braxton (F saxophone, Eb clarinet); Matt Bauder (tenor saxophone, clarinet); Zach Wallace (double-bass); Aaron Siegel (percussion)