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The second part of a two-pronged project, this disc both expands and sharpens the focus of its predecessor. Ten Compositions (Quartet) marked Braxton’s welcome return to melodic post-bop and a fertile mining of the songbooks of such pace setters as Wayne Shorter, George Coleman and Andrew Hill. The sophomore offering centers attention solely on the portfolio of Hill, drawing on another nine of the pianist’s seminal compositions. Smoker and young Braxton protégé Lehman are added to the core quartet on the majority of tracks fleshing out the group and adding two more distinct voices to the interplay. The at once familiar and experimental feel of the earlier disc remains intact with O’Neil and Lehman, the principal transcribers, staying for the most part true to the original compositions, but straying in clever and subtle ways. Both men remain sensitive to Hill’s architectures in their interpretations without resorting to sentimentality. The relaxed, but highly attentive way in which the assembled players pay homage to Hill makes the music both highly accessible and demonstrative of their own individual and collective talents.
Braxton, while the leader in print, is very much an egalitarian ensemble member and while he solos on virtually all of the tracks, his partners remain commensurately prominent in the pecking order. Seeming to lavishly enjoy the structured heads-solos surroundings his statements are full of carefully considered logic balanced with carefree loquaciousness. Lehman’s alto makes for an intriguing contrast, frequently playing faster and with more densely packed clusters of notes than those phrases chosen by his mentor. O’Neil’s piquant strums serve as chordal center and as on the previous volume, the restraint evident in his fretwork juxtaposes curiously with some of his previous work as a leader (see Sous Rature on Barking Hoop). Smoker’s timbral command is a significant asset in the textural rich environment of Hill’s musical milieu, as his beautifully controlled mute work displays on delicate reading of “Dedication.” The layered momentum of the hard bop classic “Euterpe” shows another side of the group with the horns and O’Neil digging forcefully into the theme with vigor to spare, completely upending the source material through a string of surprise outbursts. A slight flaw in the group dynamics rears up in the inaudibility of Eulau, who is at times lost in the denser ensemble sections where guitarist and drummer sound off boisterously. His recompense arrives with a clean-shaven solo on “Calliope.”
Overall this date is even more centered and successful than its companion (though both compliment each other and should obviously be considered for a tandem listening experience). The decision to focus solely on a single composer helps solidify both thematic continuity and group consensus. The result is a venerating tribute achieved. Those who have long since relegated Braxton to, at best, the experimental fringes of jazz will hopefully find their ears opened and their respect replenished by strength and conviction inherent in this music.