Time and Anthony Braxton
Softcover; 146 pages
ISBN: 1551281449 Mercury Press
The Anthony Braxton aesthetic is a lot to comprehendthe man has written pieces to be performed by orchestras on different planets, so it's understandable if the vision is a little daunting. And it's also understandable that the two primary works on the man's music should find ways to constrain their efforts: Graham Lock, in 1988's Forces in Motion, centered his study around an 11-day UK tour by Braxton's quartet. And in the new Time and Anthony Braxton, Stuart Broomer circumnavigates his subject, tearing at the veil of genius to give us glimpses of the methods and motivations within.
After a brief discussion on the nature of time and perception, complete with a complexity theory analysis of the musicianship of Art Tatum and Evan Parker, Broomer goes on to view Braxton through the separate lenses of solo performance, the bass register, jazz standards and 20th Century classical music, using the trees, in a sense, to get a view of the forest. The approach gives his slim volume (146 pages plus notes and appendices) a readable and easily digested structure. A conversational quality allows him to enter more easily into the headier waters, such as Braxton's systems for spontaneously combining and overlapping different compositions.
Following Broomer's storyline from the jazz tradition to orchestral music to Braxton's "Ghost Trance Music" period is a pretty full sweep and it's in the last two chapters that things start to unravel. A Q&A with Braxton helps to fill in some gaps, but there are opportunities missed and bridges unbuilt. Broomer has a keen understanding of jazz and classical traditions, as well as, of course, Braxton's music and he comes close to what would have been a fascinating discussion of the intermingling camps of composition and improvisation. As good as Broomer's book is, one can't help feeling it would be twice as good with double the pages. What Broomer hasn't done is to write a book about music theory. It's less about how Braxton's music is made than about why it should be loved. Which ultimately is for the better. There's a lot of heart in Braxton's four decades of innovation that too often is left unnoticed.