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5 April 2010

Anthony Braxton - 'New York, Fall 1974' (Arista)

This radio statio promo copy fails to put the graphical notation of the titles on the label, so I will use the same standards here. This is Braxton's move to a major label, and from listening to side one you'd think it was a blatant stab at commercial success. The three cuts here are based around a traditional rhythm section (Jerome Cooper and Dave Holland) and it swings quite nicely in post-bop quartet mode. The chord changes are somewhat golden, and it goes quite well with the ghostlike autumnal walk in the woods on the back cover. "Side One, Cut Three" gets the most intense, with a mind-numbingly repetitive bassline over which Braxton's alto and Kenny Wheeler's trumpet can scratch at each other. It's remarkably Apollonian but then again, Braxton is generally somewhat Apollonian (at least compared to other "difficult" composers). Side two introduces some crazyness -- a Braxton/Richard Teitelbaum clarinet/Moog duo opens up, and it's slow and exploratory, with lots of bubbling, gurgling sounds and fast/slow clarinet doodles. It's more of the push/pull we heard in the album with Jarman, but they occasionally lock into sync and make some amazingly mindmelded tunes. Overall, it's the highlight of the record and a nice entry into the Arista catalogue. "'Side two, cut two' is a predecessor to the World Saxophone Quartet, but with Braxton subbing for David Murray. The piece is kinda goofy, almost like an experiment of what they could get away with, with four saxophonists. Braxton's on soparino (which is even higher than soprano), leaving Hemphill to play alto and Oliver Lake on tenor. Hamiett Bluiett's baritone is quite restrained but occasionally it blasts a jarring jolt that makes me sit upright and pay attention. By the end it's an exercise in repetition with everyone playing staccato notes at the same time, and it's not the most enlightening of the man's works, to put it mildly. 'Side two, cut three' returns to the quartet of side one, but with Leroy Jenkins added. It's now 6 years since his contribution to Braxton's 3 Compositions of New Jazz and I daresay it shows a new sense of resignation. It's as slow as the duet with Teitelbaum, but this time there's a full band to enforce the misery. Maybe this bird gets unhappy when he leaves Chicago, or maybe he's anticipating the financial pressures that would virtually kill avant-garde jazz a few years later. Maybe I'm reading into it too much, but, my point is, it's a sad and oblique ending to a mixed grab bag of an album.

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