David Braid Sextet: Zhen: David Braid Sextet Live Volume II (2006)
Zhen feels like an important record: the compositions make big impressions, the playing is intense, and the sound is joyous. On this live set, we are listening to David Braid's regular sextet, which has been together since 2001 and was recently heard on Vivid (2004). That album, together with Mnemosyne's March (2006), another live album with Braid and Mike Murley, and Zhen, paints a picture of Braid as a player and composer who is growing astonishingly quickly.
The part writing is both intricate and wide open, allowing plenty of room for the soloists. The effects that Braid gets out of this sextet are always surprising, yet they have an appropriateness that aids forward movement through the story the piece is telling. The scaffolding that has been composed allows the music to be played for the audience, rather than at it.
I have always experienced the Canadian scene as creating accessible, rhythmic, melodic yet deep music that is also very welcoming and open, inviting the listener to get inside. Braid is particularly good at this in both his composing and playing.
Much of the album is tinged with the sounds of the East, as epitomized by scales that expose different intervals than we are used to hearing. The most dramatic, and, because of its placement right after the opening blues, the most shocking, is "Lydian Sky." This melody is one of the most beautiful Braid has ever written, while at the same time exposing the function of the augmented fourth (as opposed to the flatted fifth of bebop). This music caresses the ear as it tickles the mind. While this review is not the best place for a discussion of George Russell's Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization, this piece captures what I hear as the core meaning of the theory.
After bass and piano establish the tonal center, Murley enters with a sultry soprano sax sound and plays a melody that starts with and repeats the augmented fourth, as if daring us to hear it as wrong. It just hangs there untethered until the harmony shifts underneath it as if being forced to resolve by the power of this note. The music then begins to unfold and grow, with gorgeous part writing behind Murley's solo. The pause for breath in the middle with a partial, normal-sounding cadence only reiterates that the strange sounds are really perfectly normal in the right context. This piece shows the mastery of instrumental forces and control of harmony that Braid now evinces.
The set ends with a version of Coltrane's "Giant Steps" that is so fetchingly different in both harmony and feel as to make one question the original, while tying together the harmonic concepts that "Lydian Sky" introduced with a familiar piece.
This band's longevity and cohesiveness allow Braid to develop knowing that he has a vehicle to play his musicoutstanding, superb musiceffortlessly.
Track Listing: Fishers of Men; Lydian Sky; Temptress; Dance of the Zinfadels; Andalusia; Sai Kung; Giant Steps.
Personnel: David Braid: piano; Gene Smith: trombone; John McLeod: flugelhorn, cornet; Mike Murley: tenor and soprano saxophones; Steve Wallace: bass; Terry Clarke: drums.