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Anthony Braxton: Sextet (Parker) 1993

Mark Corroto By

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Is the music of Anthony Braxton impenetrable? Frankly yes, and absolutely not. There are entire wings of his musical house, for instance his Trillium R operas, Echo Echo Mirror House, and Ghost Trance Music, that listeners find untraversable. Some folks cannot reconcile one approach with another or choose to listen solely to one Braxton musical system, such as his work with computer audio programs, or his free improvisational work. With the sheer volume of Braxton's recorded output, a listener's passion for just one musical system is a just and noble endeavor.

That said, his many projects are not mutually exclusive, and the key to unlocking the sometimes mysterious music of Braxton is his work in the jazz tradition. These 11 CDs, all music associated with Charlie Parker, were recorded in Cologne, Amsterdam, Zürich, and Antwerp during a brief tour in 1993. The music was originally released as a two-CD Anthony Braxton's Charlie Parker Project 1993 (Hat Art, 1995) and remastered by Hatology in 2004. The original release featured Braxton on alto and soprano saxophones and contrabass clarinet with his sextet of drummer Pheeroan AkLaff, saxophonist Ari Brown, trumpeter Paul Smoker, and pianist Misha Mengelberg. The second disc swapped Pheeroan AkLAff for drummer Han Bennink.

All the original music (15 tracks) are here, some expanded from their edited form, plus 53 others on these 11 discs. We also hear Braxton performing on flute and at the piano, an instrument he favored in the mid-1990s. Yes, 11 hours, 17 minutes is quite a lot of music, and who needs six versions of "Klactoveedsedstene"? Charlie Parker fans for one, plus Braxton devotees, especially those that revere his "in the tradition" covers. This collection gives us samplings of many aspects of the great man's approach to music.

Charting a course through Braxton is like walking the Dharma path, albeit a secular one. It is said that those that approach enlightenment expand their awareness of a single moment into hundreds, maybe thousands of moments. Like Charlie Parker's perception of harmonic structures and chord progressions that exploded the simple swing music his peers were making, Braxton's music expands those singular moments of Parker into thousands of moments.

Before we get all woo-woo cosmic here, let's just say there is something for everyone in this box set. He pulls out his contrabass clarinet on "Sippin' At Bells" and "Scrapple From The Apple" just as he did with "Ornithology" back in 1974 for the What's New In The Tradition (SteepleChase) recordings. With both compositions the ensemble pares down the sound to parse out the minute characteristics of the music. Not a fan of the deliberate approach? Braxton's scorching take on Dizzy Gillespie's "Bebop" certainly would have outgunned the young lions of the early 1990s. Where another musician might have mimicked, Braxton maintains his self while speaking the language of bebop. Ari Brown's saxophone plays the straight man in this duo, but a straight man like Dean Martin to Jerry Lewis with perfect timing and beautiful tone. We can't fail to note Paul Smoker's trumpet here, rich with growls, high wire gymnastics and a thorough knowledge of bebop.

The seven takes of "Klactoveedsedstene" give the best examples of Braxton's Parker-plus approach. He allows each version to deconstruct and follow its own improvised path. The most entertaining might be the take with Han Bennink aboard. The drummer replaced AkLaff for just one date, and his natural chemistry with fellow Dutch swing pianist Misha Mengelberg is quite evident. His freewheeling pillage of the pulse opens the sextet into wordless song and it coaxes Mengelberg's pugnaciousness. Like Braxton is to Parker, the pianist is to Thelonious Monk. We understand Monk is where he begins, before flowering into a language all his own.

Braxton himself plays piano on five tracks. Again, this aspect of his music is itself a métier championed by some and dismissed by others. His raw percussive attack brings to mind another saxophonist, Charles Gayle. Both horn men distinguish themselves by their idiosyncratic style.

If you are a timid listener, start with the more straightforward approaches like the sextet's take of "An Oscar For Treadwell" and then venture into the multi-faceted 34-minute "Parker Melodies" that plays like a stream of consciousness. The music is an Anthony Braxton dream of Charlie Parker. Braxton's music might be best described as a life choice, by the nature of it's magnitude. New listeners will find this set a great entry point to the indulgent rabbit hole experience that is Anthony Braxton.

Track Listing: (CD1) Confirmation; Quasimodo; Don't Blame Me; Repetition; Klactoveedsedstene; Relaxin' At Camarillo; (CD2) Darn That Dream; Hot House; Laura; Scrapple From The Apple; Bebop; Charlie’s Wig; Klactoveedsedstene; (CD3) Autumn In New York; Parker Melodies; Yardbird Suite; Ari/Mischa Duo; Charlie's Wig; Klactoveedsedstene; (CD4) A Night In Tunisia; Another Hair-Do; Sippin' At Bell’s; An Oscar For Treadwell; Bongo Bop; Blues For Alice; (CD5) Dewey Square; Mohawk; Repetition; An Oscar For Treadwell; A Night In Tunisia; Quasimodo; Cardboard; Koko; (CD6) Milestones; Hot House; Klactoveedsedstene; Yardbird Suite; Passport; Repetition; A Night In Tunisia; (CD7) Hot House; A Night In Tunisia; An Oscar For Treadwell; Dewey Square; Repetition; Klactoveedsedstene; (CD8) Hot House; Another Hair-Do; April In Paris; An Oscar For Treadwell; (CD9) Repetition; Don’t Blame Me; Confirmation; A Night In Tunisia; Dewey Square; Klactoveedsedstene; (CD10) Darn That Dream; Autumn In New York; Sippin' At Bell’s; Bebop; Another Hair-Do; Koko; (CD11) Repetition; Cardboard; Blues For Alice; Confirmation; Don’t Blame Me; Cheryl.

Personnel: Anthony Braxton: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute, contrabass clarinet, piano; Ari Brown: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Paul Smoker: trumpet, flugelhorn; Misha Mengelberg: piano; Joe Fonda: bass; Pheeroan AkLaff: drums; Han Bennink: drums (CD7)

Title: Sextet (Parker) 1993 | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: New Braxton House

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