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Anthony Braxton & Lee Konitz: Chess Match

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Anthony Braxton & Lee Konitz: Chess Match
Anthony Braxton and Lee Konitz were hardly strangers by the time they appeared together on Dave Brubeck's LP All The Things We Are (Atlantic), on the track "All The Things You Are." Prior to that 1974 session, the men had met, found common ground and planned to record together in Copenhagen, though that session evidently did not come to fruition. During the Brubeck session they discovered a mutual love of playing chess and got together for regular chess games when both were in town.

Naturally, this led to some informal jams in their respective apartments and, finally, a recording session courtesy of a studio owner who had lost his share of chess matches to Braxton over the years. Braxton was good enough to make a living as a chess hustler when times were lean. He was often spotted in a local park, playing for various stakes per game. Konitz was obviously no slouch, as experienced chess players quickly get bored playing patzers (unchallenging opponents) and avoid rematches. Both men brought multiple saxophones to the studio, Braxton playing alto, baritone and soprano, with Konitz alternating between alto, tenor and soprano.

"Opening Gambit" introduces this match with Braxton on alto and Konitz on tenor, a furious piece incorporating a melodic bop line that implies an accepted pawn sacrifice and White's rapid development. "Pawn Picking" is a childlike waltz, as the gambit offers multiple pawns to lure his opponent into a lion's den. "Fianchetto" is short and a bit humorous, with Konitz incorporating a lick from Rossini's "The Barber Of Seville," provoking a laughing response from Braxton's alto.

As the middle game is reached, the intensity increases as they both switch instruments. The striking "Pinned Piece" is introduced by Braxton's potent baritone, with Konitz's soprano answering with a shrill vamp. "O-O-O" has a laid-back almost pastoral setting, with Konitz's whimsical inclusion of Mussorgsky's "The Old Castle" (from Pictures At An Exhibition) as Braxton plays a moody background, hinting at lurking danger.

Then the fireworks begin. Braxton, now on soprano, plays a striking dissonant line to open "Knife Fork," backed by Konitz's tense alto vamp. The tempo increases with the dramatic "Queen Sack" as Braxton's long held note pierces the clutter with Konitz's frenzied abstract accompaniment. Both are on soprano for the miniature "Pawn Race," which segues into the majestic yet curious "Under Promotion." With Braxton back on baritone, his humor comes to the forefront in "Time Trouble" as he quotes the standard "Just In Time" with Konitz responding with "Now's The Time." The two men go fully free-jazz on alto with "Zugswang," with each alternating between a jagged vamp while the other plays an insistent line which indicates that there is no solution to be found, segueing into the abrupt conclusion, "White Resigns." Critics will agree that such a battle between two masters resulted in a draw.

Track Listing

Opening Gambit; Pawn Picking; Fianchetto; Pinned Piece; O-O-O; Knife Fork; Queen Sack; Pawn Race; Under Promotion; Time Trouble; Zugswang; White Resigns.

Personnel

Anthony Braxton
woodwinds
Lee Konitz
saxophone, alto
Additional Instrumentation

Lee Konitz: tenor saxophone; soprano saxophone; Anthony Braxton: alto saxophone; soprano saxophone; baritone saxophone.

Album information

Title: Chess Match | Year Released: 2024 | Record Label: April 1

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