Following last year's warmly received duet recording of Anthony Braxton and Wadada Leo Smith, Organic Resonance
, Pi Recordings releases Saturn, Conjunct the Grand Canyon in a Sweet Embrace
. Like the previous recording, this disc basks in the intimacy of two old friends' conversations. Both AACM charter members, both thought quite mad by self-appointed jazz guardians, both exerting incalculable influence on succeeding generations of musicians as prized educators at prestigious art colleges (Smith at CalArts, Braxton at Wesleyan), both vindicate Varese's axiom on the present day composer: he refuses to die.
The set opens with Braxton's "Composition #316." The nearly half hour-long piece behaves like a suite with distinctly drawn segments. The nearly transparent structures provide a varied playground for these bottomless improvisers. Both Braxton and Smith function as dynamic performers as well as advanced music theorists. Braxton reimagines the alto, finding all manner of attack and phrasing, while creating branching chains of melody. Gifted with lightning quick musical wits, Smith also freely paints with space. He unblinkingly answers Braxton's sound explorations on soprano with new language for trumpet.
The title track has Braxton playing with a wide vibrato that invokes Ayler, but soon enough he roughs it up and Smith plays blunted long tones on flugelhorn. He lightly dances over Braxton's drones and serious reflections. At one point, the clack of the keys sound louder than the small tones the alto emits, and Smith punctuates with strong notes. After serious rough housing, they lower the intensity with mute and toneless blowing easing them out.
"Goshawk" offers Smith extended room to roam. Opening vigorously, Braxton on soprano plays tag with Smith, winding down to silence. Smith plays impressionistically with Braxton offering brief breath and keys on alto. After a second pause, Smith walks home alone waking up the neighborhood wielding fire.
Any project involving either of these two players is exhilarating and imaginative, but together in duet they pull aside the curtain to expose the wondrous machinations of the creative process.