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17 April 2010

Anthony Braxton - 'Four Compositions (Quartet) 1983' (Black Saint)

The closing trilogy of our Braxton collection all comes on the Black Saint label, and they keep the flame alive in those dark 1980s. All three of these smaller group compositions pair Braxton with Gerry Hemingway on percussion, and this one with George Lewis on trombone and John Lindberg. It's a smaller lineup than the orchestra madness we just saw, but the side-long 'Composition - No. 105 A' that opens the record is pretty astounding in how diverse and, well, fruity it sounds. Braxton and Lewis explode in a cornucopia of sounds, and the rhythm section alternately prods and propels them, making the whole thing feel a bit like one of those Willem Breuker Kollektief records despite being only a quartet. It's notated to death but it feels so alive, bubbly, and strange that it can't really be placed into any easily definable category. It certainly feels more European than American, and it was recorded in Milano so maybe that has something to do with it. By the end of the 20 minutes you've been taken through flowering, natural gardens and calculated, man-made constructions - but you've never had to leave the tour bus. Side B slows things down a bit, allowing some more emphasis on technique though there's still a fairly plotted map to follow. Lindberg does some good slow sawing on the first track, and the second track ends with Lewis sputtering about his mouthpiece in a Derek Bailey style of liminal catharsis. The parts that circle around a theme are the most enjoyable, because there's a real sense of sugar-coated fun, even as the musicians try to pull each other away from sensibile behaviours. The lock-step 'band' moments, when they gel, are all the more powerful when juxtaposed against the games. But why this description should apply to this record any different than another (by Braxton, or anyone really) I can't really say; this is a time where words fail to sum up what I'm hearing and feeling. This is another recommended one, particularly for those looking for a mashed-up cocktail with a flame underneath.

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