Anthony Braxton’s Small Ensemble Music (Wesleyan) 1994 was recorded at “Wesleyan University’s - Center for The Arts - as the great saxophonist unearths some of his older compositions and partakes in a series of “Duo and Trio based improvisations along with the extended piece titled, “Three Compositions For Sextet”. On “Trio Improvisation” we hear Braxton toggle between five different woodwind instruments along with saxophonist Andre’ Vida and Brandon Evans who performs on oboe, shenai and bass clarinet. Here, the musicians weave distinct fabrics of sound augmented by chamber-esque characteristics and explicit yet at times delicate lines that perhaps indicate spontaneous conversation accented by various levels of intensity and emotion.
Braxton utilizes his sopranino saxophone on “Duo Improvisation” with drummer/percussionist Eric Rosenthal as the drummer expounds upon a horizontal plane with spurious inventions amid his – snap, crackle and pop style of execution. With this piece, Braxton pursues linear and at times fragmented lines yet it is “Three Compositions for Sextet” that is the showstopper! Along with veterans such as bassist Joe Fonda, drummer/vibraphonist Kevin Norton and others, the saxophonist steers the band through multihued themes and textures surrounded by complex and hypnotic choruses yet an underlying sense of continuity prevails. During these three compositions, i.e. N 44 (1080+96) + 168, N 136 and N 43 + (96) + 168, we hear microtonal passages, mood shifts and heated flurries yet on the final sequence (N 43...) the band coalesces for punctual unison choruses and modern classical style motifs. Throughout, the musicians spew forth-fascinating themes that often convey a sense of fragility or innocence yet with Braxton, we tend to gaze in wonderment at the end results.
* * * * (out of * * * * *)
Anthony Braxton; Woodwinds: Brandon Evans; Bass Clarinet, Oboe & Shenai (Track 1): Andre Vida; Baritone & Tenor Sax (Track 1): Jeanne Chloe; Piano (Track 2): Roland Dahinden; Trombone (Track 2): Eric Rosenthal; Percussion (Track 3): Jason Wong; Violin (Track 4): Ted Reichman; Accordion (Track 4): Mike Heffley; Trombone (Track 4): Joe Fonda; Bass (Track 4): Kevin Norton; Drums & Vibes (Track 4).