Nearly forty years after the release of his groundbreaking For Alto
(Delmark, 1968), Anthony Braxton returns with yet another solo sax album, this time a concert recording, Solo Willisau
. Feeding off of the 1,500 grateful attendees, Braxton does again what he has done for so long, breaking down musical walls with his distinguished meshing of intellect and soul.
Most remarkable about Braxton's solo work is its endless stream of ideas. The inherent intimacy of a solo saxophone concert requires that much more precision and comfort on Braxton's part, but he has always sounded comfortable in this precarious position. Here again, the veteran soloist displays great artistic bravery in mixing a number of grating, harsher pieces with his more delicately introspective ruminations.
The concert opens with "No. 328c," which starts with a slow and vibrating drone on the opening note before moving cautiously into the breathy dissonance that the piece will come to inhabit. "No. 344b" starts, instead, with a flutter of notes slowly maneuvering their way in and out of recognizable territory; sometimes the notes are so high you can barely hear them; sometimes only the empty sounds of his keys frantically searching for their path remain audible.
The audience sure is quiet between piecesyou can here nearly every manic breath of Braxton, every tap on the saxophone. There is something so physical about these recordings, his presence so near. On the one hand, such is required for a solo alto saxophone recording, but rarely does one feel as if they are actually within the horn itself, feeling his warm breath as he slips into a rendition of Jerome Kern's "All the Things You Are," a standard in the hands of a lesser musician. His ability to abstract such pieces without ever losing their feeling or sense of purpose is remarkable, for the piece never sounds like it could be anyone but Braxton, and yet the song itself is not completely lost on the listener. The original tune, rather than becoming the basis for the piece, becomes the shadow of it, the reflection of Braxton's own inner reworking.
"No. 119m" is perhaps the most abstract piece in the concert. Starting with a high-pitched screech, Braxton begins to grunt and groan, sounding as if he were trying to sermonize with a saxophone stuck in his mouth. The piece eventually moves into breathier territory as he tests the limitations of the horn's range. His voice always returns though, attempting over and over to declare that which appears so important. "No. 191j," the final piece in the concert, opens with a similar attempt at proclamation, his horn morphing momentarily into a braying horse before settling down into an evocative back-and-forth between fast paced tinkering, momentary sputters and thoughtful claims.
Braxton's ability to push the limitations of his saxophone while still remaining in a compositionally-minded framework provides his solo saxophone explorations with a depth that few other musicians could achieve. is yet another fabulous example of his unique genius at work.