If, as an Anthony Braxton listener, you are confounded by his numeric compositional titles and and hieroglyphic scores, finding this music dedicated to rock, blues, funk and country music legends may give you some relief, albeit temporary. Quartet (New Haven) 2014 is a one-off meeting of the avant-garde's avant-gardist and today's heroes of both rock and creative musics, Nels Cline and Greg Saunier, plus long-time Braxton collaborator Taylor Ho Bynum. The four roughly hour-long pieces here are dedicated to Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, James Brown, and Merle Haggard but, like much of Braxton's oeuvre, making direct connections between titles and expression is not viable.
At the 2013 Willisau Jazz Festival in Switzerland, Braxton and Bynum witnessed Wilco guitarist Cline and Deehof drummer Saunier performing a duo set of improvisations. Inspired by the pair, this session at Firehouse 12 in New Haven, Connecticut was scheduled and recorded over two days. After proposing, then tossing aside compositions, the four musicians settled on the free improvised music heard here.
Braxton's association with Bynum stretches back over 20 years and more than 70 recordings, from duos to orchestral works. Their ongoing dialogue is that of a steadfast and well-balanced partnership. Introducing Saunier, a rock (but let's not limit him to that genre) drummer and Cline, who was highly regarded as a jazz and free improvisation guitarist long before his gig with Wilco, creates new possibilities for Braxton. If anything, he loves new possibilities. Each of the four dedications is like opening up a folded paper map that is larger than your wingspan. As with a sprawling map, it is quite impossible to take in this music from close inspection. There are too may twists and changes. Braxton himself switches between six saxophones from the tiny sopranino to the massive contrabass, Bynum hoists five brass horns, and Cline brought along his trick bag of guitar effects. Try listening for "Purple Haze," "Hey Joe," "Me And Bobby McGee," "Sex Machine," or "Sing Me Back Home." You won't hear them here. This music is more about the possibilities created in popular music by these four legends. Those possibilities are expanded into these improvisations. The sounds are noisy and quiet, rhythmic and stuttering. Solos give way to duos and trios. The improvisations are an ever ongoing response to another player. It is always a revelation hearing Braxton with new partners. With Cline and Saunier, the fit is uninhibited, as if Braxton has been collaborating with the pair for years. His music flows effortlessly with Cline's use of feedback and effects, and Saunier's unique clang and clatter. Musicians have come a long way improvising free music and the untidiness of its origins are not at issue these days with this quartet. That said, there is much to discover in the surprise here both in a micro and macro listening session.
Improvisation One (For guitarist / composer Jimi Hendrix); Improvisation Two (For vocalist / composer Janis
Joplin); Improvisation Three (For vocalist / composer James Brown); Improvisation Four (For guitarist / composer
Anthony Braxton: sopranino saxophone, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, baritone saxophone, bass saxophone,
and contrabass saxophone; Taylor Ho Bynum: cornet, flugelhorn, piccolo and bass trumpets, trumbone; Nels Cline:
electric guitar; Greg Saunier: drums.
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