Thursday, May 6, 2010

Hail Hail Braxtonia!

I am lucky to live close to Middletown, Connecticut home to Wesleyan University where Anthony Braxton lives and works. At the end of each semester he gives two recitals, usually a small ensemble and a large ensemble. I've heard quite a few of these in the past 9 years and they are always beautiful and different. Anthony Braxton never ceases to amaze me. Since the first time I saw him perform at Paul's Mall in Boston in 75' or 76', I can't remember exactly, I've been completely surprised and inspired by his music. To those who think that he has stopped growing, or is stuck in a Tri-Axiom rut I invite you to check out the Wesleyan University calendar and then travel to Middletown for one of his free concerts in the great Crowell Concert Hall on the campus. If you do that you will understand that this amazing musical genius is anything but stuck and is in fact thriving, growing and expanding his work, his community of musicians and his overall artistic progression. He is simply too open, too interested, too compelled to make music to settle, plus his system is organized in such a way that surprise and the allowance of new material, new people, new ideas is built in as a requirement, indeed is an axiom, in his artistic point-of-view.

Two weeks ago I attended his small ensemble recital. He conducted a group of musicians that included Kevin O'Neil on guitar, Adam Kubota, on bass and others (sorry there was no program for the concert) two pianists, a second guitarist, alto, cello, and a drummer who played a floor tom with tremendous precision and musicality. They performed Composition 169 and Composition 96. Tough pieces indeed, beautifully played.

Afterward, I went backstage to say hello. Braxton, who is just one of the most positive and welcoming people I have even had the pleasure to know, was quite happy with the great performance. It was great as always to see him, and made even better by the presence of Kevin O'Neil and Tom Crean, two guitarists who have worked quite a bit with Braxton. Although I did make a four CD duo with the man I had never performed a concert with him. Great to be there as one of three guitarists. Long story short, I was invited to play the next recital. Last Thursday April 29th we did the concert and it was as unique as I could have ever expected. After all these years on my first public performance with Anthony Braxton I participated in another first-ever kind of AB realization.

The assembled group consisted of Braxton on saxophones, Tyshawn Sorey on drums, piano and trombone, Tom Crean on dobro, electric guitar, banjo, etc, Kevin O'Neil on guitar, Adam Kubota on bass and yours truly on guitar. I am not a reviewer of anyone's music and certainly not one of my own or of a concert I was a part of, but I will say that the music was as contemporary an example of what a group of improvisers can do as anything I have ever been a part of, and then some. Any chance I get to play guitar next to Braxton is a highlight of my life. Things happen that cannot happen anywhere else. There is a quality of lyricism and articulation like no other I have experienced. Later, when I ask "Braxton what is it with your articulation?", he answers "I was trying to keep up with you!" A spectacular example of his personality and also of recycled/recursive musical material, because of course I have been trying to keep up with him for 35 years, which is the only reason I can get close to keeping up with him.

Anyway, Tom and Kevin and I were a great team of compliment, and juxtaposition, they played some beautiful, surprising stuff as did Adam. Tyshawn on trombone is something that has got to be heard more by more people. We know him on drums and piano, but add that trombone for a whole new dimension. He told me later that he's played it for 20 years.

The group performed Braxton's "Falling Water Music" scores. Each of us were given two unique pages which consisted of symbols meant to suggest sound, form, line and dynamic possibilities, the latter especially suggested in the expressive brush-strokes of deep color. For me the amazing and most successful elements of the scores was the way they immediately allow and support the value of collective independence/juxtaposition and dynamic presentation through their explicit/implicit, design/notation. Another perfectly realized and successfully rendered accomplishment by one of the greatest artists on the planet at this time.