Anthony Braxton Quintet (London) 2004: Live at the Royal Festival Hall (2005)
This concert was the undisputed high point of the 2004 London Jazz Festival. Braxton, appearing in the UK for the first time in years (decades?) played the first half of a double bill (the second half featured Cecil Taylor) and effortlessly stole the show. I was one of the 2,000-strong audience who cheered the quintet after a triumphant performance, so I have keenly anticipated this release ever since. Given that kind of anticipation, the actual CD was bound to be an anticlimax, and so it proves to be. That is not to decry the quality of the music, which is excellent; it is simply that the anticipation and thrill of the live event is absent (not to mention Braxton's bemused absentminded professor air, which is as endearing as ever).
Nonetheless, for those who attended the concert or listened to it on the BBC (this is the BBC's own recording), this release is a faithful record of the music. Those who have never heard it before have a treat in store. Composition 343 is as spiky and atonal a piece as any by Braxton. Yet he leads from the front, injecting life and energy into its realization. In his hands, it makes sense. He is in impressive form as a player; his solo passages are varied and never fail to enthrall; his finest moment comes some sixteen and a half minutes in with a prolonged, rapidly articulated solo that shoots adrenalin into the ensemble. All the other members deserve credit; in particular, the trumpet is a worthy partner to the leader's sax. Taylor Ho Bynum achieves the same sort of balance between articulation and unpredictability as Braxton himself. A special mention also for guitarist Mary Halvorson, who is a constant source of fresh ideas and interest.
Braxton has been on a roll recently; on this evidence it looks set to continue.
Track Listing: Composition 343, part 1; part 2.
Personnel: Chris Dahlgren: bass; Satoshi Takeishi: percussion; Taylor Ho Bynum: trumpet; Mary Halvorson: guitar; Anthony Braxton: reeds.