You, me, the music, and me.

Monday, May 15, 2006

ANTHONY BRAXTON Seven Standards 1985, Volumes I & II

Magenta MA-0203 & MA-0205 (1985, 1986)

The debate rages on concerning whether or not Anthony Braxton's peculiarly personal music can legitimately be called "jazz", or if Braxton can even play jazz at all. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, in the matter of the second argument, we submit exhibits "A" and "B", the Seven Standards albums recorded by Braxton in the mid-eighties, on which he plays popular tunes by John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and others in a more or less straightahead style accompanied by a crackshot traditional jazz rhythm section. Though Braxton has never cared much for popular opinion of his music, these albums feel like the work of someone with just a little bit to prove.

Compared to Braxton's other recordings, these may be some of his strangest performances simply due to the fact that they sound so normal. The angular themes and formless improvisations associated with the artist have been replaced by the lush melodies of "You Go to My Head" and the sprightly post-bop of "Moment's Notice". It's not as if Braxton hasn't been down this road before (or since), though; in the mid-seventies he recorded another pair of albums entitled In the Tradition composed mainly of standards, (though those albums had more of an experimantal, "out" feel than these) and he's recorded entire albums of material by Monk, Charlie Parker, and Lennie Tristano.

Non-fans of Braxton probably won't be won over by these recordings, but acolytes and neophytes may be pleased by what's on display here. Braxton's trademark grainy alto sound is cushioned by the top-notch team of pianist Hank Jones, bassist Rufus Reid, and drummer Victor Lewis; they support and follow their leader unfalteringly, even when the excitement of the performances causes the tempo to rush or Braxton takes off on an atonal flight of fancy here or there.

Fans of older standards may prefer the first volume, with its renditions of "Spring Is Here" and "I Remember You", while those with slightly more modern tastes may prefer the second, which concentrates on tunes by Monk, Coltrane, and Miles Davis. Open-eared music-lovers with a taste for energetic, tonal hard-bop and ballads are advised to grab 'em both!


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