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17 April 2010

Anthony Braxton - 'Six Compositions (Quartet) 1984' (Black Saint)

Just a year later and we find Marilyn Crispell's piano replacing George Lewis's trombone. And what an incredibly different quartet this is, with just that one change! Of course, this could be attributed to Braxton's compositions, since these six compositions are much tighter and more darkly inflected than 1983's double-pair. At the end of the liner notes, the man thanks the performers for their contributions on this record, with the telling: "After all is plotted and theorized it is still the musicians who must in the final analysis 'make the music live'." My point is, these contrapuntal chord changes, heistations, and slow embarkations into modal melodies can only be written off as improvised to a certain degree. This was recorded in New York so maybe the ugly spectre of mid-80's Reaganism hangs over everything like a cloud. This isn't to say these pieces are miserable or depressing, just not as quirky and bombastic as the band with George Lewis. 'Composition No. 110D', or 'Nickie Journeys into the City of Clouds To Make a Decision' might imply something in its title; of these six pieces, this one straddles the dark and somber tones with some lively, snare-drum accentuated songclouds. Most of these pieces have these very unified moments where the musicians rise and fall together, turning on the same chords in a very regal, march-like manner. Repetition, when used, takes on an almost mind-numbing quality. And Braxton's horn has a much richer reverb on it than what we're used to -- and when he plays flute, it's practically ethereal. Pictorally, the titles are less based on geometric shapes but actually employing weird little icons - a bicycle, a dove, a trapeeze -- and a hooded figure giving a blessing, which also helps with the medieval vibe I get from this. (Just like the robes on the back cover photo of the 1980 piano record!). Side one is actually the slower side, as the last two pieces at the end of side two get into some fairly free-form and dare-I-say "jazz" moments - Hemingway and Lindberg lumber around but can't deny their impulse to swing. Solos are few but nice - Lindberg has a particularly knee-slapping, nervous one that has a pretty nice tinny underbite to it. And we like underbites here. But if this is the second part of a trilogy -- admittedly, not a real trilogy but one that I have invented, where these three album are linked by being a) all quartets, b) all on Black Saint in the mid-80s, and c) all purchased at the same time for £4 each -- then it's fine for the second part to be a bit ponderous.

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