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Volume 26 Issue 8 - July and August 2021

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Last print issue for Volume 26. Back mid-September with Vol 27 no 1. And what a sixteen-month year it's been. Thanks for sticking around. Inside: looking back at what we are hoping is behind us, and ahead to what the summer has to offer; also inside, DISCoveries: 100 reviews to read, and a bunch of new tracks uploaded to the listening room. On stands, commencing Wednesday June 30.

All Things In Flux

All Things In Flux Anthony Braxton’s ZIM Music STUART BROOMER Anthony Braxton – composer, theorist, master of reeds, philosopher of play – has been recording for over half a century now and has often done so exhaustively. It began in 1969, when the recorded history of improvised solo wind performances consisted of a few brief pieces by Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Rollins, Eric Dolphy and Jimmy Giuffre. The young Braxton declared his arrival with a two-LP solo set called For Alto, outlining a musical language that he’s been exploring and expanding ever since, with larger and larger projects and titles ever more evocative or mysterious, like the Ghost Trance Music and Diamond Curtain Wall. In 2019, in his 75th year, he presented a six-hour performance of Sonic Genome at Berlin’s Gropius Bau, with 60 musicians spread throughout the museum drawing randomly from Braxton’s vast compositional output. Graham Lock suggested his significance in the subtitle of his book Blutopia: Visions of the Future and Revisions of the Past in the Work of Sun Ra, Duke Ellington, and Anthony Braxton. Possible alternatives? You might as readily match Braxton with Olivier Messiaen, Karlheinz Stockhausen or Harry Partch as a composer who has constructed his own universe. Braxton’s latest compositional series is called ZIM – Anthony Braxton: 12 COMP (ZIM) 2017 (Firehouse 12 tricentricfoundation.org; firehouse12records.com). He has just released its first substantial documentation on a single audio Blu-ray disc: 12 pieces, ranging from 40 to 73 minutes each, over ten hours altogether, recorded over a 14-month period by groups ranging from sextet to nonet in the U.S., Montreal and London. As usual though, the real wonder of Braxton’s work is in the listening, not the clock-watching, despite the hourglass he will place on a stage at the start of a piece, signal of a time apart: ancient, infinite, even granular. Along with Braxton and his reeds, the group constants are Taylor Ho Bynum playing cornets and trombone; tubist Dan Peck and harpist Jacqui Kerrod. Another harpist – there are three others – is always present; accordionist Adam Matlock appears on 11 of the pieces; cellist Tomeka Reid appears on eight; violinist Jean Cook on three; saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and trumpeter Stephanie Richards figure in the nonet’s four performances. The harps, strings and accordion are key to the music’s special qualities: it is often sweeping, fluid and delicate, though those dreamlike and gentle textures mingle and fuse with the diverse sounds supplied by the winds. Braxton’s own alto saxophone can range from silky sweet to abrasive, and he also brings along instruments ranging from sopranino saxophone to contrabass clarinet. Braxton provides extensive notes in an accompanying booklet, and they’re as rich and playful as the music, which can sound as natural as a convergence of streams in a pond: “the notated material is positioned on top of an ‘unstable metric gravity’. This is a ‘wobbly music architecture’.” This multiple and unpredictable movement defines the music, a brilliant confluence of composed and improvised elements, a sonic flux of such delicacy that rhythmic, tonal and timbral incongruities combine to suggest an immersion in the spirit of change. Braxton has previously remarked that “I want the undefined component of my music to be on an equal par with the defined component,” and it’s a goal that he continues to extend here. If James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake is the most musical of books, Braxton’s ZIM is its double, diverging concordances passing over and through one another in a babbling dream discourse, free in some sense that music rarely is, as diverse in its methods as in its favoured sonorities, from those sibilant saxophones to brash brass blasts and hand-swept harp strings. Whichever iteration of the group appears, the performance suggests it’s the ideal scale. As broad as the invention becomes, there’s always a sense of meaning rather than mere novelty, each event arising with its own certainty, however realized, an inevitability in accord with the logic of a dream, including a strange nonet passage in Composition No.415 in which Peck’s tuba wanders in a field of sudden pointillist punctuations from the other winds. By the time the septet reaches the final performances at London’s Café OTO, the pieces have stretched past the 70-minute mark and the strange fusions, mergers and discontinuities are ever more fully realized, the group pressing further and further into new territories, all the way to brief and uncredited vocal outbursts. On Composition No.420, Braxton’s alto initially fuses with the accordion and two harps; later he matches his sopranino’s whistle with Cook’s violin, which can also suggest an erhu; Bynum’s cornet flutters on a carpet of strummed harps, then whispers while the harpists diverge, one maintaining conventions while the other becomes percussionist and guitarist, striking the frame, slapping chords and picking a sparse melody. At times there’s an aviary in Braxton’s horns, from goose squawk to piping sparrow, while Peck’s tuba emits a low frequency hum that seems momentarily electronic. Toward the end, anarchic near-New Orleans jazz explodes and a harp sounds like elastic bands. Braxton’s ZIM is music of surprise. These are broad aural canvases in which the participants surprise themselves as well as one another, reaching toward a collective music that breeds in myriad individual encounters and in which close conversationalists will come to finish one another’s sentences – a saxophone’s phrase becoming an accordion’s. It’s the sound of recognition and empathy, one mind, like one sound, becoming another. Editor’s Note: Stuart Broomer is the author of Time and Anthony Braxton (Toronto: The Mercury Press, 2009). MARTIN MORISSETTE 54 | July and August 2021 thewholenote.com

Something in the Air Variations on the Classic Saxophone Trio KEN WAXMAN Although unusual before that time, by the early 1960s a trio consisting of a double bass and drums, with a saxophone upfront, became increasingly common in jazz and improvised music. Initially influenced by the sound explorations of Sonny Rollins and Ornette Coleman, the configuration has since become so common that it rivals the traditional piano trio. Stripping interactive textures to their most basic with one woodwind, one percussion instrument and one string instrument challenges trio members to be as creative within these limitations as they would in a larger group. French soprano/sopranino saxophonist Michel Doneda, who has been involved in varying improv configurations over the past 40 years, adapts to this format as part of KORR on Tombé de la voûte (We Insist CD WEIN14 weinsistrecords.com). Joined by Italians, veteran percussionist Filippo Monico and much younger bassist Andrea Grossi, the three create a mixture of multiphonics and melody with almost half the CD given over to the seven-part f.t.f suite. Memorable interpretations and intersections emerge on all tracks, with Grossi’s col legno and spiccato thrusts serving as contrapuntal foil to Doneda’s multiphonic explorations. Limiting himself to the occasional shuffle or cymbal accent with an irregular pulse, Monico stays in the background. Meanwhile, from the introductory not impro in roc all the way to the concluding re:call, the saxist and bassist operate like an accomplished comedy team feeding each other unexpected lines and reacting by topping or embellishing the japes. On the first tune this involves matching triple tongued saxophone shrills with elevated string pressure that almost replicates reed properties. A proper finale, re:call climaxes as mellow reed burbles hook up with balanced string strokes, after spiralling sopranino squeaks from inside the horn’s body tube are challenged by swaying string slaps. As for the suite, almost every imaginable timbre is exposed during each brief, connected sequence. Tremolo bagpipe-like drones alternate with compressed air forced out of the horn without key movement; or terse reed peeps share space with inflated aviary-like shrills from Doneda. Meanwhile Grossi’s expositions encompass techniques ranging from fluid spiccato strops to full-toned rhythmic vibrations, to echoing strokes that resemble the mechanics of long-string compositions in notated music. Arriving from an almost diametrically opposed concept is GLOTZE I (Boomslang Records Boom 0613 boomslangrecords. bandcamp.com), an eponymously named German trio whose briskly kinetic tracks move on from the speed and strength projected by many freeform trios since the heyday of energy music. Adding echoing strokes from Philipp Martin’s electric bass to the power pulse of drummer Philipp Scholz and the strident bites of alto saxophonist Mark Weschenfelder, the band ends up with 11 miniatures as reminiscent of the Ramones as Rollins or Return To Forever. While it’s only the final De Wert that features overwrought buzzing from the bassist and noisy tones launched or unexpectedly cut off by the saxophonist’s overblowing, other tunes have arena rock equivalents. They include Klangschale #1, a cymbal vibrating, bell-tree shaking, water-bottle popping percussion showcase for Scholz. Other tracks are more reminiscent of Ornette Coleman’s electric bands, as harsh saxophone yelps are matched by stentorian thumb pops or sluicing vibrations from the electric bass, all of which evolves over a carpet of buzzing percussion and cymbal crashes. At the same time Weschenfelder’s playing isn’t all frenetic flattement and split tones. For every tongueslapping variation there are tracks such as Durchführung #1 and Hobel #3 where floating trills and breathy straight-ahead theme elaborations are buoyant enough to bring Paul Desmond to mind and are met by sympathetic guitar-like comping from Martin. Meanwhile the Lille, France-based More Soma trio on Hondendodendans (Microcidi 019 circum-disc.com) stretches the creation of freeform improvisation into the 21st century, giving it a more luminously layered but no less ecstatic cast. Built around the altissimo smears, basso scoops and split tones of alto and baritone saxophonist JB Rubin, the ruffs and rebounds from drummer Fred L’Homme and the sweeps or dot-dash plucks of bassist Mathieu Millet, the three gallop through four tracks with moderated responsiveness coupled with unpredictable invention. On a tune such as God B, Rubin’s vibrations from the sax’s body tube, coupled with flutter tonguing, projects a secondary, complementary tone alongside the baritone sax’s lowest reaches. Still open-palm drum shuffles and reverberating slaps from the bassist preserve the broken octave narrative. Similar power dynamics are expressed on alto saxophone features like Dog A as Millet’s seemingly unstoppable strumming sets the pace even as L’Homme’s ruffs and paradiddles redefine the time and Rubin’s duck quacking and corkscrew honks repeatedly fragment pitches. Triple cohesive refinement, however, ensures that no matter how many reed multiphonics are snarled upwards, bass strings stropped or drum pressure applied, horizontal expositions are maintained. This necessary balance is more obvious on Zacharya (Double Moon/Challenge Records OMCHR 71387 uassyn.com), the debut CD of the young Swiss trio Uassyn. Eschewing rock or ecstatic jazz influences, this group’s music is so scrupulously symmetrical that at times it threatens to become bloodless. Luckily the accomplished ingenuity of alto saxophonist Tapiwa Svosve, bassist Silvan Jeger and drummer Vincent Glanzmann means that the six joint instant compositions are enlivened by textural deviations even as triple coordination keep the tunes on level paths. Working up to an unforeseen group definition on the last track, the trio runs through variants in tempos ranging from adagio to allegro and uses breaks and fragmented patterns to pace brief solos. Svosve projects lower-case breaths and gusty smears with the same facility as Jeger’s oscillating strokes, and Glanzmann’s clanks and slaps propel the music without strain. Most notable are Mmoosh and Kheretem, the penultimate and concluding tracks. The former is an original concept where disconnected reed stops, echoing drum vibrations and bass string drones define the piece without much ambulatory motion. Likewise avoiding any faux-exoticism in their use, the three players clap and shake bells to introduce Kheretem, then employ these metallic resonations along with pinpointed ruffs, cymbal clashing and string slaps to confirm the exposition as the saxophonist decorates its evolution with continuously ascending reed arabesques. Another unique take on this configuration is on Aliseen (577 Records 5846 577records.com) which mixes improvised jazz iterations with currents of traditional Finnish folk sounds. That means multireedist Jorma Tapio & his Kaski band of bassist Ville Rauhala and percussionist Janne Tuomi astutely manoeuvre among idioms. While a track like Nukunuku is the most overtly folksy, with low-pitched wooden flute puffs evolving over biting string drones, the preceding thewholenote.com July and August 2021 | 55

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