Anthony Braxton: 3 Compositions of New Jazz

Trevor MacLaren By

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Anthony Braxton
3 Compositions of New Jazz

In the 1960s a new fuse had been lit under the ass of jazz. As musicians of the bop era drove out hard bop, free jazz and modal works, avant-garde was slowly taking root as well. Growing from the seeds of luminaries such as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Albert Ayler, Eric Dolphy and Cecil Taylor came wild and turbulent sounds. Nowhere else in the history of jazz was there such ferocity and angst. Melody was scrapped and replaced with articulated chaos. In the process the jazz's ideology was wiped from the charts. Taking cues from the avant-garde composers, jazz reset the bounds of experimental composition. Standing at the forefront in the late sixties with another new vision of composition was Anthony Braxton.

As understated and misunderstood today as it was upon its release, 3 Compositions of New Jazz can be cited as a masterpiece of western music's deconstruction or a glaring opus of misdirected noise. I believe it is in fact a masterpiece! Many, including myself, see Braxton as genius who threw caution to the wind and created complex and intricate pieces that can still challenge and provoke controversy even close to forty years later. Fusing ideas of jazz's avant-gardists with Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage, Braxton created a new sound that stepped even further ahead than what his jazz predecessors had done. Though Coltrane may have channeled LaMonte Young on My Favorite Things , 3 Compositions of New Jazz tackles jazz from the view of deconstructionist western-based models. With this record and Braxton's career we have the New York Uptown Jazz scene featuring such notables as Bill Frisell, Joey Barron and of course Braxton's most notable heir John Zorn - his Naked City was profiled April 2003 - and America's answer to the European avant-garde take on third stream jazz.

Piled with layers complex pieces written for a variety of instruments clashing together is the first sound that comes to mind. The music hits like sheets of gnawing power, tearing into your head. Borrowing Coleman's melodic ideas, Braxton allows the rips of violinist Leroy Jenkins fill in for the brass' normally lyrical performance. Leo Smith's trumpet on the other hand works much in the same way as Don Cherry's did for Coleman, bending around the space and melody without filling any of it in. As well Muhal Richard Abrams uses the piano as a percussive instrument as John Cage and Cecil Taylor have. But Braxton's methodical composition style is where this record differs greatly from his peers. Braxton uses mathematical based methods for composing. This idea of using math as a foundation appears throughout the work of post-modern composer Iannis Xenakis who utilized graphs and architecture to create pieces. Although it may seem bizarre, music's structure is based in a numerical idiom itself, these composers merely twisted that foundation to different applications of mathematical ideas and created some of the most innovative sounds.

The argument begins here, is Braxton a genius or fraud? Listening closely to the pieces takes a great amount of effort. There is no use in even denying it. But as the sounds individualize themselves the cohesive idea begins to form. Once you are able to get by the seeming randomness of the instruments, it easy to see why many consider Braxton among the last great visionaries of jazz. Though artists like Zorn surely deserve credit for their innovative ideas, they were certainly not the first to push jazz into such a wild frontier. 3 Compositions of New Jazz is without a doubt one of the hardest records to win over, but its style, tone and ideas are also some of the most influential in modern music today.

Tracks: 1. (840m) -Realize-44M-44M, 2. N-M488-44M-Z, 3. The Bell

Suggested Spins:
Anthony Braxton - For Alto - Delmark 1968
Anthony Braxton - Quartet (Dortmund) 1976 - hatART 1976
Anthony Braxton - Performance (9-1-1979) -hatHUT 1979
Albert Ayler - Spiritual Unity - ESP 1964
John Coltrane - Live at Birdland - Impulse! 1963
John Coltrane - Ascension - Impulse! 1965
Ornette Coleman - Shape of Jazz to Come - Atlantic 1959
Ornette Coleman - Free Jazz (A Collective Improvisation) - Atlantic 1960
Eric Dolphy - Out to Lunch - Blue Note 1964
Charles Mingus - Presents Charles Mingus - Candid 1960
Charles Mingus - Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus - Impulse 1960
Archie Shepp - Music for Trane - Impulse! 1964
John Zorn - Spy Vs. Spy: The Music of Ornette Coleman - Nonesuch - 1988
John Zorn - Naked City - Nonesuch - 1989
John Zorn - I.A.O. - Tzadik 2002


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