James Joyce, Anthony Braxton
, and a music fan walk into a bar. The bartender says, "what is this? Some kind of a joke?" Joyce (okay, he died in 1941 but stay tuned) indicates, "this is no joke, and please send over the sommelier." The three patrons have come to this establishment to discuss Braxton's latest project, his House Of ZIM. Released as a sextet, septet, and nonet (save the quartets for another time) 12 COMP (ZIM) 2017
details eight performances and twelve tracks from 2017 and 2018 from WinstonSalem, NC to New Haven, CT, Montreal, Canada and London, UK. The music is released as a single audio only Blu-ray disc (or download) and contains ten and a half hours of music. Braxton's previous venture into a similar format is the DVDaudio Nine Compositions (DVD) 2003
(Rastascan Records, 2007), its single disc contained six hours of music.
The three patrons order a bottle of wine from the sommelier, a Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the Rhône Valley in France. Joyce and the music fan are keen to discover exactly what Braxton's ZIM Music is. Braxton explains that ZIM Music is the eleventh of his 12 Language Music System modules which detail his Tri-Centric Thought Unit Construct. Sure, but his two companions ask, is it jazz or new classical music? Braxton tells them about the gradient logic of the music. Like his other Language Music Systems, Ghost Trance Music, Falling River Music, Diamond Curtain Wall Music, Echo Echo Mirror House Music, and Pine Top Aerial Music, ZIM Music has its own logic which utilizes gradients of dynamics, density, and volume, peaking and subsiding in unpredictable sequences. Braxton explains that his 12 Language Music System modules are akin to Joyce's masterpiece Ulysses
, written in eighteen episodes which include varying styles, voices, and forms. The listener is like many a literature fan who can enjoy Joyce even though much of his writing is enigmatic and indecipherable. Same can be said of Braxton's graphic scores for his music. How do we relate these color curls, zig-zags, and lines on paper to what we hear in the music?
To help clarify, Braxton calls the sommelier to the table to comment on the Châteauneuf-du-Pape they were enjoying. The wine steward describes that the strawberry and leather notes with hints of herb and spice are due to the limestone soil "it's the garrigue," he explains. While one might not have the same 'nose' and sophistication of palate as the sommelier, anyone can still appreciate a fine wine. Same can be said of Braxton's ZIM Music, even if the graphic scores are indecipherable. His ensemble, while it lacks traditional jazz instruments, no piano, bass, or drums, does trade in a free improvisation experience, a freedom of expression Braxton listeners expect from skilled improvisers. But like all Braxton language systems there are guidelines applied to this freedom. The graphic scores (although indecipherable to most) prompt the various ensembles to address each nearly hour long performance playing "faster and faster, slower and slower, brighter and brighter, darker and darker." Braxton utilizes various reed instruments (mostly his alto saxophone), plus all of the ensembles includes his lieutenant Taylor Ho Bynum
, Dan Peck
(tuba), and Jacqui Kerrod (harp). Other lineups add an additional harp, Tomeka Reid
's cello, Adam Matlock's (accordion), and the nonet includes saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock
Braxton's notes included with ZIM Music read not unlike Joyce's Ulysses
, "2916. Combination-set ideas can also be viewed as a continuous state entry." Which is followed by, "3097. The baseball pitched Carl Erskine is a gradient logic master. (Oh yeah)! (smile)." With the wine flowing freely now, comprehension and interpretations of the sommelier's garrigue of Southern France, Joyce's writing, and Braxton's complex ZIM Music become nonessential. What we are left with is the ability to float in the space created by this beauty.
Composition No. 402; Composition No. 408; Composition No. 409; Composition No. 410;
Composition No. 412; Composition No. 413; Composition No. 414; Composition No. 415;
Composition No. 416; Composition 418; Composition No. 419; Composition No. 420.