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Concert: Anthony Braxton at Kennedy Center, Washington DC, 12-15-12

Some bolt for the exits, others exalt

Maybe every person who walked out in the middle of Anthony Braxton’s performance at the Kennedy Center on Saturday night, his first appearance there in 20 years, was a seed that had been planted.

The center’s audience is always full of Washington policymakers and legal sages, for whom jazz can represent not so much a method of conscious escape as an affirmation: of their stature, their urbanity, even their American-ness. They often don’t know what sounds they’re in for until they sit down. It seemed as if each abrupt exit (there were 48, by one critic’s count) was preceded by a question, sometimes whispered aloud, but more often, you can presume, asked internally. What are they doing? This is jazz? Will all the dissonance ever stop? Is he doing this on purpose? (Behind me, I heard a statement: “I can’t take this anymore.”)

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