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The Complete Arista Recordings of Anthony Braxton (#242)Mosaic Records Limited Edition Box Set
"The statement in the music, beyond the music, is that the Arista years and its fruits on record amply embodied a satisfying American flowering of Braxton’s work, in the “jazz” plot of its garden...but in doing so, and moving through flower to airborne pollen, it also showed that moment to be as evanescently improvised, as idiosyncratically composed, as the music itself. " - Mike Heffley, liner notes
Limited Edition: 5000 copies
8 CDs - $136.00
And the Blossoming of an Innovator
For years, customers have been requesting it. Internet discussion groups have filled with rumors about it. And without question, the world has been lacking it. This Limited Edition Collection includes all nine projects for the label (on eight CDs) from this ground-breaking and genre-defying composer and multi-instrumentalist, from his 1974 debut featuring many brilliant members of Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (Braxton's home city and late-60s creative flower bed) to his 1980 composition, "For Two Pianos." The music ranges from Braxton's explorations on unaccompanied alto saxophone, to two full CDs dedicated to a performance of a piece for four 39-piece orchestras, to duets with electronic instruments, and everything in-between.
Incredible as it seems, this music - as modern and original today as it was when it was created - has been frozen on vinyl until now, locked in a technological time warp. As fascinating as Braxton has always been to listen to is the unlikely story of jazz on the Arista label itself.
The recordings amassed over the six years he was recording for Arista are so varied in inspiration, settings and result that fully describing them is nearly impossible. Each of his original opuses explores realms of composed and improvised sound in unexpected ways, including incorporating instrument and performance noises (the air escaping during a tongued section, the pop of keys being depressed); deconstructing a solo on the spot during its moment of creation to investigate a nuance of articulation or the effect of a dynamic jump; even how a figure that a musician might repeat endlessly in practice, as an exercise, can be worked into actual music. His writing for big band runs the gamut from pieces that would not be uncommon to hear in a program of contemporary classical music from one of the world's great concert stages, to pieces that swing so hard and at such breakneck speed that the way he weaves improvisation, scored segments, sound, and pinging performance theatrics make it seem almost impossible to perform them anywhere.
The occasional instances where he records another composer's work are each unique events. A working of the Lionel Hampton tune "Red Top" for unaccompanied alto saxophone is more of a meditation on the theme than an interpretation. His Opus 23B is actually an atonal version of "Donna Lee," if you can picture that (and trust us, you can't); fascinating to contemplate and probably just as exciting for him to explore. His duet with Dave Holland on "You Stepped Out of a Dream" gives both musicians endless opportunities to step out of the song, only to re-find each other as if they were opening and passing through door after door in a endless hallway of entrances and exits. His performance of "Miss Ann," the Eric Dolphy tune, is an obvious homage to an idol. Rather than trying to replicate it, he pays the composer honor by pushing it, and himself, as far as he and the tune can go.
On the 47 compositions included, you'll hear Braxton on everything from flute and soprano saxophone to contrabass clarinet. His fellow musicians include many innovators in the New Music and Third Stream movements at the time, such as Kenny Wheeler, Leroy Jenkins, Dave Holland, Jerome Cooper, Barry Altschul, Cecil Bridgewater, George Lewis, Leo Smith, Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell, Joseph Jarman, Frederic Rzewski, Ursula Oppens, Karl Berger, Henry Threadgill, and electronic instrumentalist Richard Teitelbaum.
Our signature booklet includes an historical essay on Braxton's musical development and a track by track analysis of the recordings by trombonist/composer Mike Heffley, a former Braxton student and author of The Music Of Anthony Braxton (Greenwood Press); an accurate and detailed discography of the sessions; a reminiscence by original producer Michael Cuscuna and many photographs from the recording dates.
We appreciate the patience of the many interested Braxton enthusiasts who have been clamoring for this release. If you are new to his music, we urge you to become one of them.
Read More About Anthony Braxton:
Track Listing, Personnel & Recording Dates »
- Audio Quality
- Sample Session Notes
Original producer Michael Cuscuna found the original analog tapes for all these sessions. Mastering engineer Mark Wilder did a dedicated and inspired job of transferring the music and making it sparkle. Cuscuna and Braxton remixed Music For Four Orchestras, which can now be heard on two CDs with only one interruption rather than six in the LP era.
Photo Copyright © Protected
Martin S. Gold provided a wealth of shots from Anthony Braxton's first two Arista sessions. Bill Smith dug into his archives and found images from the Creative Music Orchestra session, Anthony's quartet live and in rehearsal and even a shot of Leroy Jenkins serenading at Braxton's wedding!
(F) Creative Orchestra Music 1976
Braxton wrote later in his Composition Notes C about this project that the studio date was preceded by only two rehearsals, one the day before and one the day of the recording; he speaks of writing much of the music itself in the studio as well. It was recorded at Generation Sound in Manhattan by a sterling array of some of the most virtuoso improvisers and creative studio musicians on the New York-cum-global scenes then; and it won high critical acclaim, including Down Beat’s critic’s choice for 1977 Record of the Year. It came with his first offering of his composition notes on each track as part of extensive liner notes about his own music.
In keeping with the lead-with-the-familiar strategy, 51 is most like the conventional big-band chart: a fast, brash romp down “post-Henderson/Ellington” lines. Supersax-style sectional writing, rhythmic riffs vamping in and out behind hot-boppish baritone and alto sax (Bruce Johnstone and Braxton) and trumpet (Cecil Bridgewater) solos, splashy clashes of brass and reeds...all pleasantly climaxing in the most open, rather than (conventionally) the most tightly, intensely orchestrated, part of the piece. 56 dives through said opening into a stark contrast of concept and sound. Its own opening sounds like some low and high musical foghorns of reeds and muted brass wafting from a dark night sea of soft metal, low bass, and high overtones. Soloists are listed—Dave Holland, Muhal Richard Abrams, Richard Teitelbaum, Braxton, Frederick Rzewski, George Lewis, Roscoe Mitchell—but are so blended in with the ensemble and scored sounds that they don’t stand out as such, as in 51 and similar tracks. The lineages invoked here are “the post-Webern and AACM continuums of creative music.” It is a classic example—short, but prefiguring more such meditatively static music as Braxton and his work matured—of that part of his work “jazz” purists and identity-political chauvinists would come to denounce as Eurocentrically affected. In contrast, his own notes about it are memorably and poetically telling:
A slow pulse environment...not a complex work that contains thousands of notes and/or precision multi-structures...nor does 56 seek to provide terms for extended individual solo realization...rather the work is conceived to establish a way of perceiving sound distance and inner purpose...as it concerns the composite ensemble (rather than “the glorious soloist”)...in this work objects (thought) are moving so fast it appears to be slow—or the slowest...almost lifelessly...a sea of drifting sounds...“Listen to the one who had the best opportunity but did not take it”...For the participating instrumentalist this work can be viewed as a series of involvements that necessitates patience and growth...Too often in this time period we tend to confuse movement and excitement with “real”—and this is not always the case...56 is a haven for those of us who might need to lean back and compare notes (every once in awhile)...
In the tracks that follow, the oscillation between most jazz-hot and most spacey-out pieces repeats, suggesting that the white-hot boil of 51 (then 58) was being counterbalanced by its static, softer foil in 56 (as 58 would be by 57). (The final track, 55, stands as a brilliant synthesis of the two sides of that musical coin.) That pattern, of high energy offset by deep stasis, would grow through playlists and individual pieces (most notably, 96) in Braxton’s future work.
58 pulls us right back into the energy fray, with a march dedicated to John Phillip Sousa, and inspired by his Stars and Stripes Forever. It evokes the strong Germanic side of Braxton’s affinity for that strain in European and European-American music traditions, and reminds us of its history in the jazz tradition, starting with the itinerant German music teachers teaming up with the plethora of post-Civil War band instruments in the South to teach newly freed slaves.
The hokey 4/4 oompah strut rambles into a breakdown of the rhythm that suggests an Indian tala in its complexity, or one of Braxton’s “pulse tracks.” It produces the same excitable soloing as did 23G, on Five Pieces 1975, in trumpeter Jon Faddis, who shows the “free” and the fixed to be the match most made in heaven in the world, and in George Lewis, whose playing here, as in The Montreux-Berlin Concerts, informs trombonists everywhere that they can quit trying to do whatever it is they’re doing, because it’s already been done as well as possible. Braxton’s clarinet solo adds up to his similar match-up, Ayler-like, between the fixed (primal American ditty “Little Liza Jane”) and the “free” (most intense furies of rhythm, harmonies, and speedy, snakey lines).
Braxton calls 57 “an atonal ballad,” and, like 56, a collective rather than virtuoso-soloist vehicle. However, its three duos have the feel of some of the trio music with Roscoe Mitchell, who plays bass sax with Braxton’s contrabass sax over a lush percussion carpet laid by Messrs. Warren Smith, Karl Berger, Barry Altschul, and the late Philip Wilson. It is a showcase of various textures woven through sections drifting by, cloudlike, by contrasting voices intoning over layers of less conversant, more punctuating sounds. “I conceived this material in terms of how it visually looked (sounded) moving across the space of the sound canvas,” Braxton wrote.
55 is another jump back, to the big-band jazz universe, this one inspired by Ellington and Mingus. Kenny Wheeler, Braxton, and Muhal Richard Abrams all solo openly over and between blocks of sectional writing marked by extreme intervallic leaps, to disrupt the usual more tightly continuous knit of its more traditional counterpart, as well as repetitive vamps to affirm said knit.
Despite the many mentions of influences, Braxton declares here, as often elsewhere, that 55 was composed in “moment time,” spontaneously-intuitively rather than systematically. He is just as careful (and consistent) in explaining that process as more than one of (a racist-essentialist kind of) “natural” penchant for inspired improvisation, as for “rhythm” or some other kind of genius that bypasses intellect:
55 is not an affirmation of a fixed theorem (that glorifies some mathematical theorem) nor did the work happen by chance. Rather the final realness of this structure involves the integration of improvisation and preparation—and as such these matters can be discussed (my emphasis).
The piece serves well the needs of both the traditional and newer jazz audiences. While increasing the LP’s cachet as Record of the Year material, it gives body to what the composer would later call his “Tri-Axium:”
How we integrate our past (and the past of humanity) into future decisions will determine the success of the future (or if there is to be a future).
In fact, the musical hero named as an inspiration (along with, again, the AACM) for the final track, Karlheinz Stockhausen, himself said something to the same effect. 59’s effectiveness as a climax lies in its mix of flexibility, simplicity, and directness, and its showcase of the duo dynamic at its most exciting (a particular treat in the Mitchell-Braxton duo here, one typically less supported by a band and more subdued on other recordings). The post-Stockhausen aspect here might be read in the piece’s simple isolation of, focus on, and working over the improvisational parameters and attitudes developed from the AACM foundation.
The score is a series of punches, pitches mostly open, cued in by the conductor (Abrams, here) and splayed off into chords and new accents through his spontaneous signals. The conductor effectively functions as a third player in a trio with the two featured soloists, his instrument being the ensemble. The piece has even more potential than many to create something new on the spot, and that in the most visceral, accessible terms.
The strategy of hiring musicians as skilled as classically-trained readers and commercial studio players as they were as improvisers was no doubt crucial to the success of the session. Jazz artists who had played with each other and/or had played common material in a common idiom had long been capable of doing the same kind of quick ad hoc turnaround from first rehearsal to finished recording in as short a time, but these tracks are the proof in the pudding of that “jazz scene” that was not your father’s anymore.
Not only is the reading comparable to that required by contemporary art music, but the improvisational idiom born with free jazz had grown beyond its initial wide open leaps and thrashings into a fluid vocabulary of nuance, control, and complexity that is as mastered here as bebop was a decade after its few intrepid inventors established their new idiom. (It’s also interesting that the AACM is consistently associated with the serial/postserial European composers in the continuum of influence behind those most “non-jazz” pieces.) All these fresh strengths would find even more expression in the LPs to come.
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"I have been a music fan my entire life. I have to say that nothing I have heard in the past 40 years can compare to Mr. Braxton's incredible pieces. Intricate, surprising, melodic, sharp, smooth, deep, consuming. I have been listening to this set for the past year, and I still feel that I have only ingested a small portion of it. This set is more than music to me, it is a companion."
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In this featured Mosaic 'Vodcast' (Video Podcast), we go in depth with Anthony Braxton, as he discussess various aspects of his career and development. Joined with Braxton are Michael Cuscuna and Steve Backer, both close associates of Braxton's during his pivotal years on Arista Records (1970s) as one of the leading musical minds in the world of creative music.
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