Picture Miles Davis
finishing a solo and stepping off the bandstand to smoke, while John Coltrane
steps up to the microphone to play. I'll bet that never happened with the legendary Anthony Braxton
Quartet (1985-1994). His quartet with pianist Marilyn Crispell
, bassist Mark Dresser, and drummer Gerry Hemingway
may be the best vehicle to appreciate Braxton's conceptions as they relate to the jazz tradition. That period was the turning point for Braxton. His hardscrabble existence ended as he was awarded a MacArthur Foundation grant in 1985, and he established a base as a professor of music at Wesleyan University. These changes have allowed him the freedom to expand his concepts and output without sacrificing a roof over his head.
Although we can't discount Braxton's more recent crop of cohorts that have included Mary Halvorson
, Tomas Fujiwara
, Taylor Ho Bynum
, and Ingrid Laubrock
, this quartet may have been Braxton's finest assembly of improvisers, and each has gone on to become elder statesmen in jazz. Their exploits and beginnings were documented in a sort of travelogue book of interviews by Graham Lock, Forces In Motion: The Music And Thoughts Of Anthony Braxton
(Da Capo, 1989).
Originally issued (now long out-of-print) as a four disc set, Willisau (Quartet) 1991 -Studio/Live
(hatART, 1992), you guessed it, contained the quartet's studio, plus live June performances at Mohren in Willisau, Switzerland. This remastered edition separates sessions, and along with the two remastered (Santa Cruz) 1993
(Hatology, 2015) discs, reestablishes this quartet in a historical context. Recall that the 1991 Grammy Award for jazz winner was Oscar Peterson
, which followed a string of conservative wins by the traditionalist Wynton Marsalis
. Jazz as forward-thinking, creative music was struggling to find an audience. Okay, it has always struggled to find listeners, and Braxton's music is especially complex. These quartet sessions, like his Charlie Parker
Project, are a great introduction to his concepts. Let's think of this band as the next progression of, say, John Coltrane
's famous quartet. Braxton stretches jazz conventions (like Coltrane) with the full participation of his quartet. There is no hesitation by any member, and although there are solos, each becomes part of the whole, with all listening and contributing. If Braxton was (is) ahead of his time, journeying back to 1991 today might be about time.
Anthony Braxton: alto & sopranino saxophone, clarinet, contrabass clarinet, flute; Marilyn Crispell: piano; Mark Dresser: double bass; Gerry Hemingway: drums, marimba.