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2 Compositions (Jarvenpaa) 1988 Ensemble Braxtonia

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Album Review

How will Anthony Braxton be regarded 50 years from now, after the polemicists of today are dead and/or no longer interested, when something like an objective and knowledgeable evaluation of his work becomes possible? For all his undeniable brilliance as a composer, Braxton's seeming indifference toward the craft of composition will undermine his reputation to a significant degree. Which might not be fair, actually. Perhaps Braxton's problem is that he suffers from a condition virtually unprecedented in the history of Western art music — he writes music for a type of musician that does not exist. Braxton writes the most technically demanding music of any composer working in a jazz-related idiom. His written lines are often incredibly difficult to play; their serial-like contours do not fall naturally under the fingers. His rhythms are irregular in the extreme and presumably very elaborately notated. Braxton's music calls for players who can read and interpret the written note in a manner of the very finest classical players, yet who can also improvise in a free jazz vernacular on a very high level. Such players are very rare, to say the least; improvisers rarely read especially well, and good readers rarely improvise, so Braxton is inevitably required to strike a balance. For obvious reasons, he almost always leans toward the improvisers when forming his large groups. Occasionally, he catches lightning in a bottle, and manages to harness a team of good free improvisers who can also read down his difficult written passages. This album is a fairly good example of that. Recorded with a septet of Finnish musicians that manifests a pronounced affinity for his music, Braxton's Compositions No. 144 and 145 are given a vigorous, warm, and reasonably tight rendering, of a sort made difficult by the usual lack of rehearsal time and scarcity of appropriate collaborators. The soloists, including and especially the leader, are uniformly excellent, but most importantly, the written parts are realized in a way that does justice to the concept. That said, Braxton's command over large forms is uncertain. One might not always be convinced of the necessity for so many extended group improvisations, for example. Yet this is a work of striking and substantive originality that should not be underestimated.


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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