Braxton band members Mary Halvorson and Taylor Ho Bynum urged their leader to collaborate with guitarist Joe Morris and, following a booking at the Crowe Auditorium, Wesleyan University, the twosome proceeded to immerse themselves completely. Braxton was impressed by the results and decided that only a four-disc box set would suffice. Fortunately, Clean Feed is a heroic releaser of such ambitious projects, hence this substantial offering. Each of the four discs contains a single improvisation, around an hour in length.
It's unusual for Braxton to improvise with complete freedom. Ordinarily, he'll fly off within some preordained structure. This was the first time that Braxton and Morris had played together and were both marveling at their instant rapport. This is not to say that these pieces waft around in a perpetual state of abstraction. Before too long, both players are naturally forming rhythmic progressions and even constructing instant melodies, sometimes within a vaguely jazz-chording line, but often following a more serpentine pathway.
Braxton can't help but seek out structure, while Morris consciously sets out to avoid any tendency towards preplanning, or even instantaneous planning. This makes the guitarist's almost constant chording activities quite remarkable, even though these are not chords normally known to jazz. Morris plays like Derek Bailey would have, if he'd kept closer to his original dance band rules. It's as though Morris sees himself as an avant Wes Montgomery or Charlie Christian. Braxton too solos in the jazz manner and this makes their duo development a descendant of a traditional coupling, even though it frequently sounds extreme in its guttural death throes. Braxton is usually the extremist.
At first, they tentatively probe each other's methods, Morris carefully padding, Braxton threading tiny filaments on alto. Where Morris has a single guitar, Braxton has arrived with his complete truck of saxophones, from midget sopranino down to monster contrabass. He's soon growling on bass saxophone, but the alto allows greater smoothness, a more lyrical liquidity. Morris scrapes dryly and it sounds like Braxton's standing in front of his most powerful horn, the contrabass, while Morris picks fast speckles. Around 13 minutes into the second improvisation, Braxton makes a brief pause and it's pleasing to hear Morris on his own, although this solitude doesn't last for long. They enter a tuneful phase, with Braxton spontaneously creating a melody line. The guitar's spidery deftness contrasts with Braxton's hippo snortings, but Morris is nowhere near as sonically varied as the reedman. He seems content to provide rhythmic patterns for most of the course, leaving Braxton to guide a tour through his wonderfully diverse array of horns, textures, speeds, tones and tunes. When Braxton climaxes and withdraws, Morris often appears uncertain when suddenly placed under the spotlight, but it's never too long before the saxophonist returns. About twenty minutes into CD3, Morris sets up a repeat phrase that sounds like something from Fred Frith's prepared table guitar. He's definitely interested in the art of structure- establishment, as Braxton rages off into another extensive growling session. This is ironic, given that each player's actual results sound like the end product of each other's avowed improvising intentions. A day's pause between airing each disc is advised, but this fine set is well suited for dipping-in at leisure.