This trio outing is one of Mr. Braxton's ambitious early projects, and we owe a debt of gratitude to Leo Feigin for bringing it to light. Braxton, trombonist Ray Anderson and guitarist James Emery present Composition No. 94 for Three Instrumentalists, the score of which features graphic notation. These symbols, according to the liner notes by Braxton's Boswell, Graham Lock, "allow a player to improvise on a sequence of shapes rather than, say, a sequence of chords, the chief difference being that the shapes offer the player a greater degree of interpretative flexibility." What's more, the trio here plays the composition forwards, and then they play it again backwards! The symbols, of course, allow in this event enough flexibility to ensure that this is not a mere gimmick or an occasion for tired repetition.
So what does it sound like? Braxton himself is in top form, soloing with extreme passion and favoring multiphonic areas more than he ordinarily tends to do. There are also areas in which he plays with great delicacy. Emery contributes electronic effects as well as guitar work. His guitars are rather Derek Baileyan, in that they both eschew easy rhythms and tonalities, although there are clear stylistic differences between the two. He occasionally complements Braxton's lines and occasionally contributes electronic sound effects that work to contrast with or blunt the force of Braxton's attack. Anderson, meanwhile, has some marvelous moments with Emery, when his skittering and squawking is underlined by rollercoaster lines from the guitarist. When all three men play together, it is a glorious free-for-all with surprising twists and nuances.
This is one of Braxton's more formidable works, in contrast to the relative accessibility of his quartet music and standards discs. However, like much of his music for larger ensembles - including the recent Ghost Trance ensembles - it is full of subtle splendors and rewards repeated listenings, if only for the easy magnificence of Braxton's soloing. Recommended.
Anthony Braxton, sopranino sax, ss, as, ts, contrabass cl; Ray Anderson, alto tbn, tenor tbn, cnt, slide tpt; James Emery, ac g, el g, electronics.