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5 April 2010

Anthony Braxton - '3 Compositions of New Jazz' (Delmark)

And thus we begin the Braxton gauntlet, one that runs back-to-back with the Brinkmann gauntlet. What a stunning debut! And even when compared to the other gems of AACM sound resonance emerging around this same era (1968) -- such as Roscoe Mitchell's Sound or the early Art Ensemble stuff on the box set -- 3 Compositions of New Jazz is an incredible explosion of creativity, a new direction for music yada yada yada. But really, as someone who owns ten Anthony Braxton LPs, all of which we are going to explore in the next week or so, this is the one that really started it all and it still sounds great. Maybe we can say that this is a Braxton still exploring his own voice, because these three compositions are modular and fluid, moving from instrument to instrument with nary a pause to reflect. The Art Ensemble of Chicago are of course kindred spirits, but a difference here is a focus on composition rather than group interaction. It's hard not to think some bits of this are improvised, but the vocalisin' is so in tune with the harmonica or violin or trumpet that you know Anthony's kept the reins held tight. The band, by the way, is Braxton, Muhal Richard Abrams, Leroy Jenkins and Leo Smith, and that's about as powerful of a collection of Chicago artists as you'll get. The track titles are unrepresentable in Google Blogspot's UTF-8 limitations, but side 1's a mission statement if I've ever heard it. Jenkins and Smith lock into some dazzling contrapuntal runs, but then also Braxton comes in with a reedy, woody tone that darts around the convetions of blues and jazz to express his youth and wide eyes. Percussion is limited but oh-so-effective - a sharp click of a wooden block can just bite through everything. Side two begins with some a long piece built around duets. At times Jenkins is sawing away while Abrams is creating circular patterns up and down the piano board, and it's manic and calm at the same time. How does he do it? There's never any impulse for "all in" -- instead this while album is a collection of miniatures. Abrams is a constant throughout the side 2 piece, and when everyone else drops out it becomes an impulsive, honest vision into the misty industrial skyline. 'The Bell', composed by Leo Smith, closes things with a somewhat more attenuated sense of dissonance and drama. There's still an emphasis on open spaces and open forms, but that's kinda what we expect from this gang , right?

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