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Album Review

If ever a recording needed to be trumpeted from the rooftops, it's this one, and perhaps we all owe a debt of gratitude to John Zorn for making it happen. This initial trio meeting of saxophonist Anthony Braxton, drummer Milford Graves, and ubiquitous bassist William Parker is a vanguard jazz fan's dream come true. Beyond Quantum places these three modern legends in a completely improvised setting in producer Bill Laswell's studio for 63 minutes of pure inspirational, communicative fire. First is the fact that Graves performs seldom and records even less. Secondly, he's never appeared with either of these men before.

The five selections on Beyond Quantum are all "meetings," ordered one through five, showcasing the three individuals as part of one dynamic, dramatic, and profoundly inventive unit that moves inside and outside the constraints of modal, melodic, and harmonic improvisation with a seemingly effortless groove. So much so in fact, that even fans of straighter, more structured jazz composition and improvisation will almost willingly accept this as proof that not only is free jazz not "dead," but this entry into its historical annals may offer some proof of it entering a new phase of creativity. Braxton plays alto, sopranino, bass, and concert bass saxophones, one at a time — though he often employs more than a single horn in a selection. His playing is far from the more sparse theoretical articulations, and moves effortlessly between his more aggressive tonal investigations and spiritually (even cosmically) inspired expression. Check his wild bass clusters on "Second Meeting," his snake charming sopranino on "Third Meeting," and the nearly boppish blues sopranino streams on "Fourth Meeting." Parker uses all of his tricks here. Whether it's creating riff-like phrases or single high note pulses on his contrabass as he does on "First Meeting," the Eastern scalar repetitions as he does in the middle of "Second Meeting," the beautiful high chord repetitions near the end of "Third Meeting," or his amazing arco work in dialogue with Braxton on "Fourth Meeting," he is always the pinnacle of energy and focus, always supporting, always insisting on "further." Graves is just something else to behold here. He is a drummer who never pauses, each idea comes fluidly either from the one immediately preceding, or the one being articulated in the moment. He uses his sticks to be sure, but also brushes, his hands, and on "Second Meeting" in particular — though in other places as well — his voice as both a lyric(less) and percussive device. (Think of Leon Thomas with Pharoah Sanders, or better yet, Sanders and John Coltrane on Live in Seattle and you get the idea.) Graves is never overwhelming in his stream of "motion" ideas; he is a layered drummer, working cymbals and snares or toms with an instinctive — by this point inspired — lyricism inside one another in open-ended loops.

An added treat on this set is in the final or "Fifth Meeting," when Parker joins Braxton (on sopranino) on a double reed instrument. Both men begin speaking streams of lyric and chant-like ideas, accenting the spiritual fire between them. Graves moves into them both on his deep-toned tom toms as the horn phrases become a call and response dialogue. Though it's over an hour, Beyond Quantum is over all too quickly. It never once feels like an endurance test, and the flood of creativity, passion, and direct communication between participants leaves the listener not breathless, but astonished. This is a serious contender for vanguard jazz recording of 2008.


Born: 04 June 1945 in Chicago, IL

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Genius is a rare commodity in any art form, but at the end of the 20th century it seemed all but non-existent in jazz, a music that had ceased looking ahead and begun swallowing its tail. If it seemed like the music had run out of ideas, it might be because Anthony Braxton covered just about every conceivable area of creativity during the course of his extraordinary career. The multi-reedist/composer might very well be jazz's last bona fide genius. Braxton began with jazz's essential rhythmic and...
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