Tuesday, April 07, 2015

CD Review: Anthony Braxton - Trio and Duet

Anthony Braxton
Trio and  Duet
(Sackville) www.delmark.com

Delmark continues their reissue series of albums on the Sackville label with a 1974 session that could have just as easily been called Two Sides of Anthony Braxton, due to the contrast between what appeared on Side One and Side Two. The side-length "Composition 36" finds him with his Creative Construction Company partner (Wadada) Leo Smith (trumpet, pocket trumpet, flugelhorn, percussion, small instruments) and Richard Teitelbaum (Moog synthesizer, percussion). Conversely, Side Two consists of Braxton and bassist Dave Holland tearing through standards like "The Song Is You" and "Embraceable You," never forsaking the chord changes but also maintaining their own musical identities.

"Composition 36" also blends elements of abstract, sometimes pointillistic playing with recurring melodic elements. It begins with Teitelbaum oozing out some metallic drones from his keyboard before a muted Smith and Braxton (playing only B-flat, and later bass, clarinet) state a long-toned theme that will reappear a few more times. The 18-minute piece never really falls into a full group improvisation nor do the players take typical solo spots. Overlap and support are key. Smith wrings life out from upper register squeals, the clarinet squeaks and grumbles through different registers. Teitelbaum creates noisy soundscapes but he also turns them into pedal notes that sound like a melodic vacuum cleaner, and he also unleashes some fast keyboard runs in a more conventional voice.

After hearing this on vinyl, one has the chance to ruminate on the contours of "Composition 36" while flipping the record over. With the reissue, we're propelled right into an upbeat, nearly 12-minute version of "The Song Is You" without much more than a chance to exhale. Holland's steady walking bassline keeps the structure in place, still leaving him time to solo. Braxton's alto has a delightfully gruff tone to it that treats the standards well. "You Go To My Head" is played a little more uptempo than normal, and not quite as legato; "Embraceable You" also sounds a little wilder and not quite as much like a ballad. "I Remember You" - one of two bonus tracks - takes liberties with the melody from the first measure, perhaps in homage to Lennie Tristano and his acolytes. As he continues, Braxton adds a few squonks to the tune, which might explain why this track was left off the original album (though length was also probably a major factor). In total, Trio and Duet offers a vast picture of the complexities that fueled Braxton's work.

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