Anthony Braxton + AIMToronto Orchestra/William Parker Ensemble @ River Run Centre, Guelph, Ontario, Canada
Friday, September 7, 2007
Anthony Braxton: composer, conductor, reeds
Christine Duncan: voice
Rob Piilonen, Ronda Rindone, Kyle Brenders, Evan Shaw, Colin Fisher: woodwinds
Nicole Rampersaud: trumpet
Scott Thomson: trombone
Ken Aldercroft, Justin Haynes: guitar
Parmela Attariwala: violin
Tilman Lewis: cello
Rob Clutton, Victor Bateman: bass
Tania Gill: piano
Nick Fraser, Joe Sorbara, Brandon Valdivia: percussion
The headlining performance of the Guelph Jazz Festival followed up the morning dose of Anthony Braxton as lecturer with an evening of Anthony Braxton as composer and conductor as the 18-piece AIMToronto Orchestra played an early species of Braxton's Ghost Trance Music. The multitude of musical influences at work were clearly evident as a thick synthesis of several traditions. With an assortment of notations, hand gestures and messages written on a portable white-board displayed to the ensemble at key moments this performance was an elaborately orchestrated group improvisation. And the sonic colors were stunning.
The presence of text, performed by vocalist Christine Duncan, was an unusual element I've not heard in Braxton's Ghost Trance Musics before. The words and sentences shared similar qualities to the melodic phrases that rippled throughout the changing textures. This was a thick, detail-rich sound that benefited from the energetic and earnest approach of this large ensemble.
The interchangeability of the roles of conductor and performer added a democratic quality to this music as performers would occasionally take over directing responsibilities for sub-groups within the ensemble and Braxton would occasionally pick up a saxophone to insert a short layer into the overall sound. The role of conductor was not taken up by most members of the ensemble, and for all the appearance of democracy the overall sound of this music was pure Braxton as the individual performers submitted to the overall collective sound. The lack of individual "solos" (in the traditional sense) in favor of a group sound construction seems to be a conscious mark of Ghost Trance music. In an odd way, it feels like Braxton's soloist logic projected into a group dynamic. The sound masses that result are fascinating.
William Parker: composer, bass
Amiri Baraka: poetry
Leena Conquest: voice, dance
Dave Burrell: piano
Lewis Barnes: trumpet
Darryl Foster: tenor saxophone
Sabir Mateen: tenor saxophone
Hamid Drake: drums
"The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield"
This extended, single-movement suite - loosely constructed around the civil rights themes from the songs of Curtis Mayfield - contained many compelling component parts.
Hamid Drake, in particular, was the strongest element as his intense, joy-filled drumming and Max Roach inspired solos (the performance was dedicated to the late drummer) was simply incredible to behold. It was nearly impossible not to focus on his playing throughout this performance.
Amiri Baraka launched into a "Who Broke America?" diatribe that was a relentless laundry list of rage and grievance over centuries of American failures and short comings. Woven in over steady wall of improvised sound from the ensemble this long list was powerful and sobering.
Each member of this ensemble contributed some incredible playing toward this sound. And Leena Conquest even launched into some dance that flowed beautifully over the dense textures. But the overall work felt rough and under-rehearsed. Dave Burrell played some brilliant solos early on before getting completely buried underneath the sound by the end.
The use of physical space was particularly puzzling. Hamid Drake occupied an island of space all to himself in the center of this large stage. While the horns were at a distant stage right, the vocalist and poet at front stage left-center, William Parker lurking well behind the horns and the pianist way out at stage left. There was a lot of empty space between these players that resulted in a disconnect between the strengths of the individual parts.
There was a great piece within this composition waiting to be coaxed out with more practice and interplay between these impressive talents that just begged for the individual parts to merge into a cohesive whole.