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Anthony Braxton: 3 Compositions (EEMHM) 2011

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Taken together, Anthony Braxton’s three new box sets comprise 14 discs and as many hours of music, each set using a different ensemble and taking a different musical approach. But any one of the releases is by itself overwhelming. The shortest, 3 Compositions (EEMHM) 2011, is by no means the most accessible. Patience, then, is required for navigation.

That patience does reap rewards, if in varying degrees. The most demanding piece is Trillium J, Braxton’s four-hour, fully orchestrated opera about … well, if anything, it’s about “the concept of Affinity Insight number two,” which is explained throughout the opera without ever yielding a clue as to what it is. But each act changes settings and characters (which were never all that firm to begin with), the cast and aforementioned concept linking them. Act III, featuring a murder mystery within a haunted house, is damned entertaining, and Act IV’s villains are humorously over the top (“How could I possibly know that bringing 6,000 leprosy-infected ski caps to 248 National Township and playground areas would create a problem?”), but getting there necessitates slogging through a maddening, interminable first act and mildly amusing second. And the music contained therein is never very interesting. Most of it is dissonant accompaniment for the vocalists, whose melodies are shapeless and unmemorable; there are interludes with more substance but no more staying power. (That said, some of the visual spectacles accompanying them on the enclosed Blu-ray, in particular Act II’s “Princess of Curiosity” interludes, have a weird beauty.)

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