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Anthony Braxton: Quartet (Santa Cruz) 1993

Recorded at Santa Cruz’s Kuumbwa Jazz Center, this exhausting yet fascinating two-disc adventure transports the listener to a cubist realm of terse tonal manipulations, extreme volume dynamics, and controlled collective chaos. Although the ratio between dissonance and consonance will have the most diehard free jazz listener begging for 4/4 swing, the sometimes fanciful, sometimes foreboding interplay that Braxton cajoles with pianist Marilyn Crispell, bassist Mark Dresser and percussionist Gerry Hemingway will pique the curiosity of anyone with gusty ears and expansive imagination.

Hyperactive and sonically intense, the first program ebbs and flows at a glacier pace. After 15 plus minutes of volcanic cacophony, the ensemble eventually nestles into lighthearted conversations with marching motifs, snippets of swing, and twilight wonderment. Less sardonic and more seductive is the second disc, which opts for a comparatively more relaxed environment. Still ethereal and searching, this program offers some piercing lyricism from Braxton on clarinet and haunting balladry. With the energy level tempered, the ensemble’s interaction becomes more emphatic than telepathic, which allows the listener to hone in on the more beautiful side of outness.

Originally Published