You, me, the music, and me.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005


Delmark DS-420/421 (1973)

Anthony Braxton is the man. If you keep reading this blog for however long it will last, that is the impression that will eventually be conveyed. I don't mean "the man" in the bad sense, like "the man's keeping me down"; Anthony Braxton's music lifts me up. It's beautiful, complex, frightening, abstract, maddening, and passionate. People use the term "world music" when talking about music from a culture other than their own; I think of Braxton's music as "world music" because it is a world all its own, a fascinating place that you can visit at the drop of a needle.

Recorded in the summer of 1969, For Alto was Braxton's second recording made under his own name (and his second for the tiny Chicago label Delmark). It is truly a solo album in that all four sides of this double album feature nothing but the sound of his alto saxophone. Braxton had been giving solo concerts and was working his way toward preparing enough material for a recording; he began to develop his own kind of "language musics", which were different musical techniques that he could improvise with/from. His later compositions would feature numbers in lieu of titles, and each would combine written parts with space for improvisation, forming a sort of "comprovisation" that was influenced by the jazz tunes he grew up practicing.

Each piece on For Alto is titled as a dedication to a person who was either a friend of Braxton's or an artistic influence on him. The brief, quietly meditative "Dedicated to multi-instrumentalist Jack Gell" leads straight into "To Composer John Cage", nearly ten minutes of frantic arpeggios and over-blowing. "To artist Murray De Pillars" features spacious, intervallic soloing broken up with fluttertonguing effects, while "To pianist Cecil Taylor" has a surprisingly bluesy feel (somewhat unlike Taylor's avant-gardeisms). "Dedicated to Ann and Peter Allen" is so quiet that at times it's almost inaudible, and "Dediacted to multi-instrumentalist Leroy Jenkins" uses drastic, unexpected shifts in volume and dynamics to create a feeling of unease. (Braxton would later go back and assign composition numbers to each of the pieces on the album.)

As much as I love his work, I must stress that Anthony Braxton's music is not for everyone. It tends to have a jarring effect on people who are used to traditional or mainstream jazz, and some of it sounds like what space aliens would come up with were they to try and replicate Earth's jazz and classical music. To his credit, Braxton himself doesn't think of his music as obscure or "difficult"; he once told of how his youthful, arrogant self was shocked when this album didn't sell millions upon its release. He had even cleared a shelf in his home for the countless awards it would undoubtedly receive! For Alto might not be the easiest place to start with Braxton's music, but it's still as true a self-portrait as you're going to get.


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