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It's never clear how to approach the music of Anthony Braxton. His intellectual compositions with their "numbered" names and mechanical drawings often call for Graham Lock's Forces In Motion book (Da Capo 1988) in one hand and a Ouija board in the other. But then Braxton comes at you playing furious piano (in a similar manner as fellow saxophonist Charles Gayle) and logic falls under waves of pure adrenaline. Digging into liner notes penned by the man himself reminds me of my attempts to get through James Joyce's Ulysses.
The best approach is to eschew intellectualism: just let it play, digest what you can, and let the rest wash over you. This lastest 4-disc release, a joint project between Rastascan, Limited Sedition, and Barely Auditable Records documents Braxton's further investigation of Ghost Trance Music. Broken into tentet, quintet, quartet, trio, and duo configurations, the music reveals itself like an onion (actually more like an artichoke), as players are peeled away the essence of GTM comes to light.
And what exactly, you ask, is that essence? Don't ask. I don't know. GTM's theory and application is "revealed" in the liner notes. You figure them out. The simple take on this curious approach is that it sounds like the music played in Bugs Bunny cartoons as characters are sneaking down hallways and up/down stairways. With that basis, the tentet applies differing compositions (like numbers 147, 20, 69D, 256, 173, 6J, A62, and 23A) in and around this theme. The 90-minute first track takes up two discs and features some stellar soloing by Gino Robair and Greg Kelley.
Had enough? Actually before tackling the tentet, smaller bites of Braxton's GTM, by way of his saxophone quartet of Jesse Gilbert, Dan Plonsey, Justin Yang and AB, is the way to go. You can groove throughout the theme and swallow some exacting yet outrageous solos. Then there are trio and quintet versions to draw you even closer. Paring the music down even further to a duet between Braxton and guitarist John Shiurba is nothing but delightful.
The only way to explain Braxton's theory of Ghost Trance Music is to paraphrase ;what the US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said about pornography "I can't tell you what it is, but I'll know it when I see it."
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.