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11 April 2010

Anthony Braxton - 'Five Pieces 1975' (Arista)

Despite the smokiness of the cover image, this is a record of clear skies and full-steam ahead sailboat ventures. The whiteness of the rhythm section (Holland and Altschul) doesn't hold back the groove, and despite Braxton's usual cryptic symbology in his titles (defended somewhat in the liner notes), the tone is really set by the opening track, 'You Stepped Out of a Dream' (penned by Macio Herb Brown). This is an upbeat record, with a loud, crisp recording quality that brings out Kenny Wheeler's trumpet and flugelhorn, and lets Braxton show off his sharp turns and warm sonorities. This is some of the most straightforward Braxtonisms I've encountered, which is pretty funny since it comes sandwiched between the Derek Bailey duets and the third-stream explorations of Creative Orchestra Music 1976. Maybe this shoulda been called Five Easy Pieces 1975 though maybe the makers of that film would have sued. If you're thinking about countercultural matters put them aside; this is a record that really strikes the balance between accessibility and new composition. Side two in particular ends with a very edgy, nervous bassline from Mr. Holland; the brass trumpet feels like fingernails on a chalkboard at times, but it's driven ahead almost like a Neu! track. Toe-tappin', hip-slappin', yeah all those things - I dig it, it's my pick of the LP for sure - and it's certainly a brighter spot than we've heard in awhile here. This of course recalls the Circle band on ECM which is just so so good, except minus Chick Corea and with Wheeler -- but it's similar how that Wayne Shorter tune sets the tone of that, and this also opens with a 'standard'. The Circle record is a bit more exploratory, but it's not like Braxton has anything to prove by this point. No murky clouds here - it's sunbeams, not icicles.

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