Four Compositions (GTM) 2000
Duets (Wesleyan) 2002
Anthony Braxton continues to add new recordings to his enormous pile. Four Compositions (GTM) 2000 (Delmark) finds the composer-reedist once again playing with a standard quartet-a setting he faithfully returns to despite no matter how much music he's conceived for amplified shovel ensembles or tuba choirs. Pianist Kevin Uehlinger, bassist Keith Witty and percussionist Noam Schatz didn't get to see the music Braxton composed for the session until they showed up at the studio, but these musicians sound confident and game despite some knotty structures. That said, the band also doesn't seem to stray very far from Braxton's structures for long. They are either a conservative group or Braxton's compositions left relatively little room for broad individual expression. The four compositions on tap for this one (numbers 242 through 245, for those of you keeping count) all open with an almost strident, marchlike pulse movement constantly falling over itself with stuttering, stumbling intrusions. From there, however, Braxton and the band range widely with these pieces, ending up sometimes at places of great subtlety and sensitivity. Uehlinger's economical touch is notable throughout, though he earns extra points for his atmospheric turn at the melodica on "Composition 244."
In an even more modest turn, Braxton performs a series of duets with trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum on Duets (Wesleyan) 2002 (Innova). Bynum claims the bulk of the compositional credit here, with themes based to a much greater degree on melody and that have a much more transparent structure. Two Braxton compositions bookend this performance, and the duo performs one conceived-on-the-spot improv for good measure. This focused, intimate concert works out so well because the players sound comfortable and engaged with each other's music. Braxton seems to enjoy himself on Bynum's bouncing themes, and the impish trumpeter, whose style and facility with the mute recalls Herb Robertson, nearly steals the show with his wild vocalizations on Braxton's "Compostion 304."