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16 April 2010

Anthony Braxton - 'Composition No. 95 For Two Pianos' (Arista)

Here's a departure from the fun, jazzy sounds of Anthony Braxton - a lengthy piece for two pianos, but actually also for zither and melodica, recorded in an Italian studio in 1980. Thirty years ago! Mr. Braxton himself does not actually appear on this record, but rather we get Ursula Oppens and Fred Rzewski, who are adorned in medieval cloaks at the pianos. I wonder if this title means that Mr. Braxton has composed 94 previous pieces for two pianos, or that this is just his 95th composition overall, which happens to be for two pianos. Plus the other instruments, but I suppose Composition No. 95 For Two Pianos, Two Melodicas and Two Zithers doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. But neither does this record! This is total 'head' music, a very structured interplay of pianos that gets a bit tiresome at points. When I feel the stone breath atmospheres it works, though it's far too easy to stop listening. But the melodica really saves the day with it's weird tightening circles, and the zithers are scratchy and tinny in a good way. This is exactly the type of record I would play someone if they wanted to know what "new music" sounded like - neo-classical, overly composed and full of the cold/distant character that people often think about in relation to Braxton. The thing is, the excellence of the past few LPs here have certainly proven that Braxton is capable of the other extreme - of warmth, colour, and expression that is stridently innovative yet reflective of the past simultaneously. These angular, brain-driven compositions have their place but they're not exactly what I reach for when I'm wanting some Braxton. This has stayed on my shelf for so long because I generally love the sound of piano on vinyl, and this is two of them -- and honestly, I dig the cloaks. That this contains Rzewski is perhaps of mild interest, though if you come looking for dirty, mind-expanding MEV soup you won't find it here. I saw Tony Conrad play once and his assistant was wearing a similar medieval robe, ringing some large hand bells occasionally over his dense drones. So maybe this is the hybrid of Renaissance Faire fashion with 20th century avant-garde composition - or wait, that's actually quite a lot of prog.

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