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5 April 2010

Anthony Braxton/Joseph Jarman - 'Together Alone' (Delmark)

These two giants supposedly only ever recorded this one album together, but it's immense. The Jarman side is first, with three compositions that begin slowly. It's multi-instrumental as you'd expect, but the first half is a very slow awakening. Jarman and Braxton tease each other slowly, trying to pull out a strong direction but then darting away when the other commits. This is the title track, 'Together Alone', and I guess that's an apt description. By the end of the side things are jittery and ecstatic, with tons of chimes and percussion clanging about, like a small furry animal trashing about in a skip full of disaprate metal shards. The voices start to come in while you can still hear saxophones, which means - gasp! - overdubs! 'Morning (Including Circles' is the name of this piece and the awakening metaphor continues, though the psychobabble of speech layers up into an indecipherable tangle of fishing lines. When flipped over, there's Braxton's two compositions to ponder. 'CK7 (GN)-436", dedicated to David Berman, begins with some electroacoustic noises quite alien to the AACM aesthetic. There's a buzzing motor sound and some flanged-out space fuzz over the Jarman/Braxton interplay. Occasionally it explodes into a fingernail-on-chalkboard soup, though processed by the big computer in Giles Goat-Boy. I'm not sure if it's distracting to the saxophone duet at the core of these pieces or if it makes things more interesting. I think a whole record of this would be a bit hard to focus on, but when juxtaposed against the more "traditional" (ha!) duets on side A, it works well. So do we have a meeting of the earth-spirit-soul (Jarman) and the turtleneck-wearing technical innovator (Braxton)? Or are things a bit less definable than this? If we listen carefully to Braxton's sax when Jarman is flauting about (or at least I assume that's the breakdown since individual credits aren't listed), Anthony is totally kicking it warm, open and human. The electronic interjections do make it occasionally sound like a giant speck of dirt has just hit the stylus, but maybe that's what he intended. 'SBN-A-1 66K' is the closer, which is the least improvised and most dirge-like moment here. It's a slow, winding melody that stops to rest every few notes. Braxton and Jarman are in-sync, playing contrapuntal harmonies off each other while a triangle randomly clinks about. There's a dynamic of push and pull at work; the lock-step song over a haphazard triangle, sure - but also you can hear little bursts of air and taps behind it all. It's a strangely unsettling thing to listen to (like all of side B, really) but when the low reed tones kick in, it shakes my esophagus.

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