Monday, October 20, 2008

Falling River and Soaring Brass

Anthony Braxton/Falling River Quartet
Friday, October 10, 2008
Settlement Music School, Philadelphia, PA

Composition 367a + 366b + 364c + 366d
Anthony Braxton: reeds
Erica Dicker: violin/viola
Sally Norris: piano
Katherine Young: bassoon/contrabassoon

Anthony Braxton conducting pieces for brass
Saturday, October 11, 2008
St. Mark's Church, Philadelphia, PA
Anthony Braxton: compositions/conductor

Composition No. 103 (for seven trumpets)
Taylor Ho Bynum, Tim Byrnes, Forbes Graham, Sam Hoyt, John McDonough, Nicole Rampersaud, Nate Wooley: trumpets

Composition No. 169 (for Brass Quintet)
Taylor Ho Bynum: trumpet
Nate Wooley: trumpet
Jeremy Thal: french horn
Reut Regev: trombone
Jay Rozen: tuba

Viewed from in front of the stage, the score on Anthony Braxton's stand appeared to be a large sheet of paper bearing three flesh-toned shapes. The top shape having the approximate shape of the inner ear taken from an anatomy text book. The second shape taking on the rough cylindrical form suggestive of the trachea. The large sheet on the piano had the appearance of a Rorschach Test in blacks and grays against the white background. "How would you play that?" the drummer seated next to me asked, almost rhetorically. It's Anthony Braxton's music. It's a graphic score. There's clearly some improvisation involved.  

With minds focused upon the colorful splotches the Falling River Quartet proceeded to improvise for over an hour. Working a promising cross-section of creative improvised music and chamber jazz. The young students performing with Braxton had the feel of an apprenticeship with the accomplished professor and improvisor. While this is(are) his composition(s), his aesthetic, his unique language and clearly his direction Braxton has an uncanny ability to push these players toward creative extremes even as his own, staggering ability feels remarkably unforced by comparison. The emergence of group staccato passages, contrasted by threads of legato polyphony and fluctuations in pulse structure suggest a compositional logic consistent with Braxton's "tri-centric" approach. The timbral diversity from each performer - accomplished through both extended technique and use of multiple instruments - kept the sonic fabric engaging and unpredictable.

Upon examining the scores after the performance the shapes turned out to be brush strokes applied to paper with Braxton's characteristic graphic diagrams of dotted lines and short-hand symbols that correspond to different types of melodic lines and phrasing. The emergence of cross-quartet textural convergence being a combination of notation and responsive improvisation. For this performance the players were reading from scores from different compositions from the mid 360's: 366b for violin/viola, 367a for saxophones/contrabass clarinet, 366d for bassoons and 364c for piano.  

"To experience this work is to enter a universe of sound and movement that gives a demonstration of the beauty of brass music and performance synchronization. To experience this work is to enter a reality context of changing moment focuses and inter-sound relationships that actualizes a state of being for creative discovery." Anthony Braxton's description of Composition 103 could describe the experience of both works on the program the following evening. Within the old world interior of St. Mark's Church there was a heady tinge to the composed structures behind these pieces.

Composition 106 featured seven trumpet players in costumes designed by Rosemary Kielnecker standing at variable heights at the front of the chapel. With extensive use of mutes along with a recurring thread of bull fighting music the ears were lulled into the interior of a trumpet sound multiplied. Composition 169 for brass quintet presented a textural study of prolonged, static textures punctuated by improvised details. Both were striking, intense works that thrive within extended durations worthy of focused listening.  

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