On paper, the pairing of one of the architects of bebop percussion with one of the most iconoclastic (at least in '79) reedmen of the post-Coltrane age might seem a bit strange. And both artists are certainly known for a few failed collaborations: Roach's playing with Cecil Taylor in more recent years has been as conversational (or, rather non-) as one might expect, and Braxton's engagement with the standard repertoire leaves a bit to be desired. Nevertheless, the latter half of the seventies found Roach playing with such powerhouse reedmen as Braxton and Archie Shepp, and this brought about some of the most inspired playing from these improvisers during this period.
Culled from performances at the '79 Willisau Jazz Festival, the same bill that featured Shepp and Roach in concert (and which led to their Hat Hut recording of The Long March ), One in Two/Two in One was for Roach not a surprise. A year earlier, Roach and Braxton went into the studio to record Birth and Rebirth, a much more inside affair, for Black Saint, and a few seasons prior to that, Shepp and Roach recorded their firey duos for Uniteldis, Force. Always one of the most innovative percussionists among the architects, Roach was taking the decade of the '70s to grow into a freer mode of playing. Just as he learned from Charlie Parker and Bud Powell in the '40s that swing is nearly the inverse of propulsion, so playing with Braxton et al. thirty years later is an even greater extension of this concept into pure sonic exploration.
From alto-and-drums kinetics to a surreal contrabass clarinet/chimes duet (and for an even more mind-melting c-bcl solo, dig Braxton on Jacques Coursil's '69 Black Suite ), to a clarinet solo that channels Richard Dufallo, Rolf Kuhn and Giuseppi Logan in the span of a few minutes, it is safe to say that this is Braxton at his most inventive. For despite the grandeur of many of his own compositions and concepts, he is at his freest when others are at the helm, whether that is playing the music of Coursil and Alan Silva, or laying it on the line in conversation with innovators like Roach and Philly Joe Jones. Roach, too, stretched by his work with vanguard reedmen and having extended his palette with M'Boom, knows what buttons to push to keep Braxton on his toes and (somewhat) under control.
One in Two/Two in One is truly a conversation among two innovators. Far from the typical free saxophone/drums duo, the breadth of each musician's arsenal, both sonic and conceptual, takes this music from freedom into the realm of possibility. What more could a conversation hope to be?
Track Listing: One in Two / Two in One (part one) - One in Two / Two in One (part two)