Anthony Braxton’s engaged in some eclectic collaborations over the years, but this disc with self-styled comedian/vocalist Alex Horwitz has to rank as one of the strangest. According to Braxton Horwitz is “poised to make a real impression on the third millennium.” A member of a comedy troupe at Wesleyan University where Braxton is a faculty member, he seems but while his humor and wit are often evident their applicability to Braxton’s improvised accompaniment is often suspect. Braxton gives his usual verbose explanations of the material at hand couching them in the context of his Tri-Centric philosophy. But there’s something about the project, at least on the surface, that makes it seem vaguely like a sham.
The ‘compositions’ collectively serve as rambling discourses on the absurdity of modern society and popular culture. Each one is dedicated to a ‘master comedian’ and the roster of honorees includes Jonathan Winters, Henny Youngman Lenny Bruce and Flip Wilson. Horvitz takes specific zinging shots at the tendency of ascribing human attributes to technological referents and idiocy of certain advertising slogans. Musing at length against the at times stringent canvas of Braxton’s various reeds he experiments with vocal inflections and object manipulations. These transitionary cues include the crumpling paper and megaphone interjections, which signal shifts in topic and direction.
Reading snippets from newspaper clippings on “Composition No. 282” Horvitz improvises summary remarks to each article whilst Braxton generates tone colors and twisting lines in tandem. Even the multi-reedist’s most virtuosic moments as during an excoriating multiphonic exercise midway through the aforementioned piece are denuded by Horwitz’s litany of recitations. But there are also numerous sections infused with oddly ingratiating effectiveness. Such moments, as when Horwitz reads from horoscope and movie show time sections, suggest that successful and beguiling improvisation can be accomplished with even the most innocuous of catalysts.
Casual followers of Braxton are likely to take pause with this offering. I count myself among this crowd and I had difficulty sticking it out until the end. A leap of faith is certainly required and not completely rewarded. But Braxton’s never seems to savor playing it safe and these conversations between voice and instruments definitely fall under his tendency to circumvent the status quo.