Thomas Chapin: Alive [disc 3]: Insomnia. 1992. Knitting Factory Records.
If it has been a while since you gave this one a spin, do yourself a favor and go put it on right now. This is a feast of texture that soars with the killer combination of Thomas Chapin's excellent trio of the early 1990s, Chapin's compositions and some jaw dropping horn arrangements added to the mix. This set opens with one of Marcus Rojas' tuba solos and if that doesn't get you excited then we can't be friends anymore. There is also the unmistakable presence of Curtis Fowlkes on trombone in yet another example of why his recorded output inspires so much awe and reverence for the music he has been involved with. There is also Frank London on trumpet. So this is a host of New York's heaviest hitters augmenting the chemistry of the classic Thomas Chapin, Mario Pavone and Michael Sarin trio. The title track is just one of the Chapin originals that continue to live in my own DNA. The brass arrangements using a mix of instruments and mouthpieces in cross-rhythmic bliss at the end of "Pantheon," the choral arrangement of tubas and flute in "Equatoria" or the rhythmic propulsion of "Coup D'Etat" are just a few of the shining moments on a varied journey through the Insomnia experience. Fifteen years after the world lost this astonishing talent, Thomas Chapin remains very much "alive" through stellar recordings such as this one. And this is one that reward repeated listening in a big way.
Anthony Braxton: Piano Quartet (Yoshi's) 1994 [disc 2]. 1994. Music & Arts.
I have a difficult relationship with this recording. It starts with the fact that it is Anthony Braxton, who is a major figure in my musical world. I regard him as a genius who has possibly ushered in more ideas, music and raw enthusiasm than any other individual in the history of music. It's not exactly a shock that someone as prolific as Braxton would have more than a few recordings that don't exactly support how substantial he is. This is one of those recordings. And yet there are moments of brilliance buried within an otherwise plodding album. Adding complexity to this impression is the outstanding contributions made by the supporting cast in this quartet. Marty Ehrlich is fantastic throughout. Joe Fonda and Arthur Fuller are an outstanding rhythm section. The persistent, nagging issue here is Braxton's pianism. There are moments where the interaction between piano and the other performers is exquisite. But these are trace gems within a bombastic approach to the ivories couched within the language of jazz standards. Without Braxton's accomplishments as a horn player and extraordinary composer this particular collection would not draw attention from these ears for long. There's a fascination with hearing a genius missing the mark completely here.
Anthony Braxton: 9 Compositions (Iridium) 2006 [disc 1]. 2007. Firehouse 12.
Composition No. 350
On the other side of the Anthony Braxton coin, my relationship with this recording is far from difficult. He is again surrounded by outstanding musicians (a good dozen plus one), many of them former students of the master. And here we have a realization of one his own Ghost Trance compositions. This one weaves a material of pulse structures over a 70-minute span, a duration that encourages and trance-like state for the attentive listener and for the improvising musician to work within. The generous expanse leaving room for an unpredictable group sound being shaped in real time by Anthony Braxton at the helm. The result is exquisite. Listening to it is like taking a spectrogram of this relentlessly abstract work and wrapping one's ears in its pulsating shapes. This entire box set is highly recommended as a clear example of Braxton's genius for group improvisation meshed with compositional structure.