Friday, February 11, 2005

Birth and Rebirth

Max Roach/Anthony Braxton: Birth and Rebirth. Posted by Hello

Black History Month at HurdAudio continues:

I can't think of a time when I wasn't aware of Anthony Braxton. My jazz piano teacher would occasionally refer to him favorably. The local jazz radio station once played a Rova Saxophone Quartet performance of "Composition 37" that caught my ear. At New Music America in Montreal in 1989 I saw him perform with David Rosenboom. All of these experiences impressed me. But from the moment I heard the New York Composer's Orchestra perform "Composition 92" on First Program in Primetime I became a fanatic. I suddenly realized that Braxton is a major intellect and extremely important figure in music composition of this or any century. Exploring his prolific output has been a joy.

One of those joys has been Birth and Rebirth from 1978. Max Roach is one of the great drummers of the genre and his recorded output is nearly as prolific as Braxton's. These two minds lock in and deliver a compelling example of extended improvisation between two instrumentalists. It also helps that the production quality is excellent. The clarity of Roach's playing is complimented by the great separation of the elements of the kit across the stereophonic field. Braxton's multi-reed instrument performance is also recorded with great spatial presence. The resulting sound places the listener up close to the interplay between two great figures in improvised music and allows one to almost hear the creative wheels turning.

In particular, I'm fond of the near-vocal quality of Braxton's clarinet work on "Tropical Forest." He starts with brief gestures that gradually build into longer phrases that elaborate on the inflections found in the earlier material. Roach begins with a "talking drum" type of sound with this work and gradually moves the rhythmic material over to the cymbals and then the full kit. "Soft Shoe" is another piece where Braxton's playing takes on a voice-like quality. This time he plays soprano sax while Roach supplies a steady 3/4 groove with brushes on the kit.

The thing that sustains Birth and Rebirth as a listening experience is the flexing and relaxing of intensity. The opening track is "Birth," the closing is "Rebirth." These two tracks are by far the most intense. In between are five tracks that ease up a bit and display the restraint evident in mature improvisers. This kind of balance and contrast is what keeps me reaching for this disc periodically.

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