Anthony Braxton: Trio and Duet

Forty years later, 1974’s Trio and Duet remains one of Anthony Braxton’s best albums. If anything, it’s even more compelling today because of its weight in Braxtonian history. The trio (side one of the original album, and what would eventually become Braxton’s “Composition No. 36”) is the multireedist and composer’s first of many collaborations with electronic experimentalist Richard Teitelbaum, and its third player, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, evokes his and Braxton’s earlier Creative Construction Company trio. The duet side, with bassist Dave Holland, another frequent collaborator, is among the first of Braxton’s occasional standard-repertoire excursions. (The re-release includes two previously unissued standards, “On Green Dolphin Street” and “I Remember You.”)

The trio/experimental side compresses into 19 minutes all the moods, motifs and spaces of a film score. Opening with various settings of the white-noise generator on Teitelbaum’s Moog and a delicate lyrical passage for Smith’s trumpet and Braxton’s clarinet, it cycles through solos and variously combined interactions that include drone, introspection and violent expectoration. (Between Teitelbaum’s myriad sounds and Smith’s penetrating shout, Braxton is often the least interesting player.) It’s a textural adventure, made thrilling by its daring use of silence.

Braxton switches to alto saxophone for his Holland duets, which find the two at the peak of their chemistry-it’s hard to tell who’s following whom. Braxton’s alto doesn’t pursue his much-vaunted love of Charlie Parker, but a more idiosyncratic approach (with echoes of Konitz, Dolphy, Gordon and-especially on “Embraceable You”-Coleman) that nonetheless adapts itself to bebop conventions with occasional freeform digressions. The new tunes fit beautifully therein, with “I Remember You” joining “The Song Is You” as the session’s best. Though this experimental vs. traditional sequencing suggests a dichotomy far too simple to capture Braxton’s art, it’s still an apropos and riveting specimen.