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Quartet (London) 1985 (Live)

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Album Review

This two-disc set, recorded in November 1985 during the London stop of a European tour, showcases an Anthony Braxton project that the composer/reedsman dubbed the "Forces of Motion Quartet," consisting of Braxton, pianist Marilyn Crispell, bassist Mark Dresser, and drummer Gerry Hemingway. The group's name derives from the philosophy behind the tour: the quartet begins playing one of Braxton's numbered compositions, until one of the four members breaks away and begins playing a part — not necessarily one's own; so for example, Dresser might adapt one of Crispell's piano scores or even one of Hemingway's drum scores for bass — from another composition entirely, at which point the other musicians follow that lead until another one decides to switch compositions. It sounds complicated in précis — as always, Braxton's extensive liner notes detail the compositional and improvisational processes clearly and with only the barest minimum of jargon — but the resulting music is completely fascinating. The first disc covers the night's first set (starting with "Composition 122"), which for Braxton sounds downright accessible, at times no more challenging than the average post-bop quartet's improvisations and climaxing, around the 50-minute mark, with a simply outstanding Crispell solo. The second set (building upon "Composition 105a") is much more minimalist, with an extended section starting less than 15 minutes into the set that features solos by Hemingway and Braxton that at times are little more than long periods of silence broken by barely perceptible riffs. Even when the full quartet returns, this set is generally placid until a fierce, squealing, and unaccompanied solo by Braxton starting at around 43 minutes punctures the quiet. This set was originally released in Europe as a limited-edition, three-LP box set.

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