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June 2008

Anthony Braxton
Trio (Victoriaville) 2007
12+1tet (Victoriaville) 2007

VICTO

The cover of Trio (Victoriaville) 2007 offers an interesting analysis of Anthony Braxton. As he blows his bass saxophone, his contrabass sax towers in the background next to its baritone counterpoint. The framing of the photo makes it look as if the mouthpiece of the former, gargantuan instrument is attached to the back of Braxton’s head, ready to bring sound to his next project. Considering his recent outpouring of work, including these two performances at last year’s Victoriaville Festival, the attachment makes sense.

Although the composer receives credit on the cover, the liner notes state his smaller group goes by the name Diamond Curtain Wall Trio. Guitarist Mary Halvorson and multi-brass player Taylor Ho Bynum join Braxton, who plays every saxophone in the family except tenor. The performance also marks his first excursion with laptop and electronics. On the first couple listens to the 59-minute “Composition No 323c,” it sounds more like a lengthy free improvisation, with direction coming arbitrarily. The way Braxton switches saxes so rapidly seems like an effort to get them all into the piece.

But further analysis reveals the nuances of the work, which finally comes off more like a series of vignettes where interaction and transition is key. Halvorson displays amazing technique whether she’s skronking, picking rapid melody fragments, or coaxing music out of volume-knob static. Bynum’s work ranges from subtle coloring to vocalized smears and shrieks. Braxton’s laptop adds electronic whines and drones that mainly stay in the background. The baker’s dozen of players on the second Victoriaville disc offers an ideal intro for anyone who couldn’t commit to the ensemble’s 2007 nine-disc-and-DVD box set.

In fact, anyone interested in Braxton would be advised to dig into “Composition No 361.” Braxton claims the piece is the culmination of his Ghost Trance Series, and he uses this platform to utilize all the possible combinations of sonic textures. There are plenty of moments of gruff, screeching reeds from the leader, but most of the piece avoids the harsh and dissonant group passages for that sometimes borders on lush. The opening moments, in fact, sound like the Ellington group going out on a limb. Various instruments break off into small sections throughout the 70 minutes but they never clash with other independent parts that occur simultaneously. Most impressive is the way the lines between improvisation and composition are nearly impossible to detect. In the massive Braxton discography, this is an ideal entrance point.

Originally published in June 2008
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