By reputation, saxophonist Anthony Braxton may be most closely associated with the avant garde, but he is also firmly steeped in traditional jazz, and he has recorded a fair bit of it as well. 20 Standards (Quartet) 2003 is a four-CD set of live performances of standards in a quartet setting; Braxton is joined by guitarist Kevin O'Neil, percussionist Kevin Norton, and bassist Andy Eulau. Much of the repertoire featured here was integral to the cool jazz of the fifties, but the quartet tears into it like it was written yesterday.
Bill Evans' "Waltz for Debby" and the Kaper/Washington song "Green Dolphin Street" are presented in both faithful and visionary renditions, divesting the material of much of the sentimentality that has accrued from decades spent as cocktail performance fare. The latter tune is particularly stunning, with swirling soprano saxophone runs from Braxton and a dazzling solo from O'Neil.
A twenty-minute workout on the Kern chestnut "All the Things You Are"which Braxton also recorded in a seemingly unlikely pairing with Dave Brubeck back in the seventies (on the album All the Things We Are)points out the saxophonist's command of the changes. Braxton negotiates various twists and turns, substitutions and extensions, through an exciting and thoroughly fresh-sounding solo. Two Brubeck tunes are also included on the recording, "Blue Rondo a la Turk" and "The Duke," as well as the DBQ's most famous composition, the Paul Desmond-penned "Take Five." Both Eulau and Norton excel in the alternate time signatures and complex structures of this material, playing with scintillating energy.
Even the venerable ballad "Moonlight in Vermont" is given an articulate and taut performance. Braxton plays its melody with a combination of poise and affecting (though restrained) lyricism. If you want to hear your favorite old standards sounding brand new again, this set fits the bill.
Track Listing: Disc One: All the Things You Are; Lines for Lyons; April in Paris; Green Dolphin Street;
Blues for Alice. Disc Two: Alone Together; Waltz for Debbie; For Heaven's Sake; Freedom
Jazz Dance; The Song is For You. Disc Three: The Duke; I Love You; Lonnie's Lament; Blue
Rondo a la Turk; Invitation. Disc Four: Tune Up; Remember; Moonlight in Vermont; Take
Personnel: Anthony Braxton: saxophones; Kevin O'Neil: guitars; Andy Eulau: bass; Kevin Norton: