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Anthony Braxton: 4 Compositions (Ulrichsberg) 2005 Phonomanie VIII

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At the beginning of his career and for decades to follow, Anthony Braxton made exceptional recordings. Each seemed more inspired than the last, due in no small part to the cohorts he worked with: first, his contemporaries in Chicago’s AACM; later, younger New York-based free-jazz musicians who, while not as celebrated as Braxton, were nonetheless world-class improvisers. Over the last several years, Braxton has increasingly chosen sidemen from a pool of lesser musicians, few of them distinguished, many of them his students at Wesleyan University. Moreover, he’s become as likely to wield a baton as a saxophone, conducting his compositions for larger ensembles. As a consequence, his recent recordings (with some exceptions) seldom approach the level of his best work. These two live albums, made just weeks apart in May and June 2005, are flawed-in the case of the first, deeply so. Still, they occasionally hint at a return to form.

The four discs comprising 4 Compositions (Ulrichsberg) 2005 Phonomanie VIII present several of Braxton’s most recent guises. Disc one consists of “Composition 301,” a solo piano work performed by Genevieve Fouccroule. Braxton calls his piano music “a direct extension of my interest in the post Schoenberg/Webern school…including the great piano music of Karlheinz Stockhausen.” Indeed. Rigorously composed and at least partly serialist, “Composition 301” is remindful of Stockhausen’s Klavierstucke. Pianist Fouccroule covers the notes, but adds little in terms of interpretation. While packed with ideas, the composition’s formal obscurity and a general lack of dynamism work against it.

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