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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

ANTHONY BRAXTON The Montreux/Berlin Concerts

Arista 5002 (1977)

This is it, ladies and gents; my desert island disc. The one album I would save from my burning apartment. The Montreux/Berlin Concerts showcases my favourite artist during one of his creative peaks with two of his best groups. I briefly owned this on CD before losing it, but the record is superior; it contains an orchestral piece not on the CD and the sound quality is not much different (the CD is currently out of print).

This may be the first Braxton recording under his own name and leadership that I owned (it was either this or For Alto); I remember buying it Taz Records in Halifax, N.S. The album contains two quartet performances; the first was recorded in 1975 at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland with Kenny Wheeler on trumpet, Dave Holland on bass, and Barry Altschul on drums and percussion. The second concert took place at the Berlin Jazz Days in Germany in 1976 with trombonist George Lewis taking Wheeler's place.

Side one opens in Montreux with the ominous "Composition 40N" (Braxton uses diagrams as titles on this record; the composition numbers are taken from here and here); over a bowed bass drone, the horns hold long tones which break up into short staccato bursts which in turn gradually form the theme of "Composition 23J", a swinging post-bop number which features a furious alto solo from Braxton that disintegrates into screams and squeals. On side two, "Composition 40(O)" is an atonally pointillistic piece that contains some thrilling interplay between Braxton and Wheeler.

"Compostion 6C", from the Berlin performance, is a goofy march that builds to a blustery squall of notes from Braxton and Lewis over Holland's bowed bass and Altschul's clacking percussion. The concert continues on side three with "Composition 6F", the one with the infamous "farting" contrabass saxophone noises (and a loud, smoking solo by Altschul, one of jazz's most underrated drummers), and concludes with "Composition 40K", another of Braxton's slyly swinging post-bop pieces that features a bold, propulsive solo from Lewis.

Side four contains "Composition 63", recorded at the Berlin Jazz Days two days after the quartet performance. It is one of Braxton's works for large orchestral ensemble (in this case, the Berlin New Music Group, conducted by Herr Hummel, featuring Braxton and Lewis as soloists); sonically, it has more in common with twentieth century classical or "new" music than the fractured jazz of most of the rest of the album. In my view, it's perhaps his most artistically successful larger work. The influence of twelve-tone serialism in the piece is obvious, but it moves and breathes with a life of its own and a voice that is undeniably Braxton's. The static, long-tone orchestral tuttis that back the soloists foreshadow Braxton's later orchestral works like Compositions 96 and 82 (for four orchestras!). Braxton has had difficulties with performances and recordings of his concert repertoire (due to indifference, racism, etc.), but here the ensemble sounds eager and totally involved in the music.

Of all the Arista-Freedom jazz recordings desperately needing proper CD representation, Montreux/Berlin is in a class of its own. It's an absolutely essential document of an artist who has always stressed the importance of documentation; it's also perhaps the best music of Braxton's career, which is saying a lot.


At 7:13 AM, Blogger craig said...

That sounds like an awesome album, I'm off to try and find a copy.

At 4:54 PM, Blogger Peter MacDonald said...

It is indeed awesome... you won't be disappointed!

At 1:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you!!!!
that's a very hard one to find and now one of my Braxton favorites

At 3:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a copy on cassette somewhere, and am still searching for it. Two great performances by AB and all involved.
We desperately need a 2CD release of this classic.
- Adam.

At 12:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I bought this LP recently in New York City. Listening to it now. CD release would indeed be good however it seems more and more Record Companies are phasing out the production of CDs in favour of MP3 downloads through either I Tunes, amazon or their own website. For example, many Jaki Byard albums on Prestige are no longer available on CD and I notice even Blue Note seem to no longer be pumping out the RVG CDs. Amazing to think that the era of CDs could well be coming to a close in favour of the more viable file download. Can't replace the CD however, let alone the sacred LP which of course eclipses all other formats in terms of sound fidelity and pure tactile and visual joy.

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