This recording, in itself, is a unique occurrence in many ways. It gives Anthony Braxton the opportunity, something that does not usually occur early enough in a creative artist's life, of being recorded by an American record company which is involved in the large scale system of distribution, thus allowing a considerable public to become aware of his talents as a composer, organiser and improviser.
Over the past six years, the most important musical development that has occurred in my listening experience, has been the expansion of my awareness of the new forms that came almost entirely from the Chicago school of music. From its origins in the mid-Sixties, when Richard Abrams formed the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), a totally new concept, based in the jazz tradition, has blossomed forth, bringing with it some of the most creative individual voices that this music, jazz, has yet witnessed. In reality this phenomenon should come as no surprise, for the jazz art has always relied upon such a happening. It would seem that with each new decade, a new individual voice arises, and once more the direction of the music changes, and its continuation as a creative process is assured.
From out of this Chicago situation has come many independent forces, the most prominent of them being Anthony Braxton. Once again he is a saxophone player, and like history before, the saxophone, the vocal instrument of jazz, is to be the voice. As with Sidney Bechet, Johnny Hodges, Benny Carter, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy, Anthony Braxton has stepped over the line into a new source sound situation. He, like all the innovators, has not taken a radical departure from the tradition, but has more simply supplied the continuation of the lineage, has become the creator of new concepts drawn from the musical language which preceded him. His acknowledgement of the past is apparent in his music: the group qualities of early jazz, the techniques which Charlie Parker allowed us to hear, and the adventure of Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy has supplied Anthony Braxton with a situation that he could not resist, and has made him the most complete musician in this period of American music.
The music on this recording is all with small groups, but Anthony Braxton's approach to musical dialogue is not as one would normally expect it to be. This is not the music of a soloist being supported by rhythm players, but rather a group of situations where the non-solo horns are prepared in advance. That is not to say completely controlled by scored music, but written structures which can constantly be used as reference points, which can be shared with the knowledge that they have of each other. This being so, any development in the music can never be accidental, and so the music has a feeling of wholeness about it, a feeling of being held together by some mysterious force—that force being his superb gift as a composer and arranger.
The music on the first side presents Anthony Braxton with a quartet comprising of himself, Kenny Wheeler, David Holland and Jerome Cooper. A truly remarkable quartet of musicians. Kenny Wheeler is one of the most interesting of the current brass players, a Canadian musician now resident in England, where he is acknowledged as the leading exponent of new music, as well as being the most sought after session man in London, an unusual combination in this world of almost totally commercial music. David Holland is English, now living in the U.S.A., and has been a long time companion of Braxton's. His past history includes working with Miles Davis, Circle (a group which also included Braxton and Chick Corea) and Stan Getz, and without reservation is one of the finest bass players in the current music. Percussionist Jerome Cooper, whom I am loathe to describe with such an inadequate word as drummer, is a member of the Revolutionary Ensemble (a group which also has Chicago origins), as is violinist Leroy Jenkins who performs on one composition of this recording.
The three compositions on side one were first performed in public at Chateau Le Rault in July 1973, and I attended a performance by this quartet in October 1974 at the Burton Auditorium, Toronto.
The first piece, Side1—Composition 1 [Comp. 23B], is a melodic up-tempo excursion, bracketed at each end of its theme by unison stop choruses, which opens out into a flight of powerful beauty with Anthony on alto saxophone building over the rhythm section to eventually settle into a quiet floating song. The solos of both Kenny Wheeler (on trumpet) and Jerome Cooper change the feel of the piece with their own individuality, until David Holland and Anthony Braxton gently bring the ensemble back to its full force. The tag is a constant repetition of loose duets which ends very abruptly.
Side 1—Composition 2 [Comp. 23C] has a strange, rushed and compelling urgency about it, with Anthony Braxton on flute. The two horns appear to play in a loose unison fashion creating an illusion of freedom, but in fact the music is completely written, illustrating my earlier point about Braxton's abilities as a writer.
The third and final piece on this side, Side 1—Composition 3 [Comp. 23D], has a light airy quality: a long medium tempo theme, with the leader returning to the alto saxophone. David Holland has a prominent role throughout, suggesting that he may be the composition's reference point as he partially states and restates the theme constantly as exit and entry points. His own solo, following Kenny Wheeler, is a perfect example of his natural virtuosity.
These three compositions do not feel as though they were intended to be separate units, but suggest, as they did when performed live, that they are continuous music. A suite perhaps.
Side two presents three compositions. The first piece, Side 2—Composition 1 [Comp. 38A], introduces us to the talents of Richard Teitelbaum in duet performances with Anthony on clarinet. Richard, also a long time friend of Braxton from New York City, is one of the pioneers of the synthesizer and performs on a regular basis with Musica Elettronica Viva. This is perhaps the first time I have been aware of the possibilities of the synthesizer, as all my previous knowledge had led me to believe it to be little more than a far out boogaloo organ. In this situation, however, Braxton has utilised it as a great orchestral texture machine, producing unknown possibilities and in combination with his stark clarinet sound creates a piece of music of great and varying beauty.
Side 2—Composition 2 [Comp. 37] shows the compositional prowess of Braxton in the form of a saxophone quartet and is, to my knowledge, the only performance of such music on record by someone considered to be a jazz musician. The very thought of such an idea is stimulating, and the results bear out this thought. The quartet, with Braxton on Eb sopranino, Julius Hemphill (alto), Oliver Lake (tenor) and Hamiet Bluiett (baritone), provide what seems to be an unlimited landscape of textures and rhythmic permutations. It also introduces us to three almost unknown reed players, whose musical ability makes one aware of the future directions this music must take.
The final selection, Side 2—Composition 3 [Comp. 23A], is performed by the same quartet as on side one with the addition of violinist Leroy Jenkins. This composition has a very sombre quality and its slow, lonely, sound is mostly due to Anthony's use of the contra-bass clarinet. As in "Composition E" the rhythm is a constant energy flow, rather than a metre, and provides a situation for the players to move among each other, rather than accompany. A fine, serious experience.
Musicians of the stature of Anthony Braxton come few times in a lifetime; the opportunities to hear and experience them just as slight. Now is his time, his voice is the new strength and I am, like you, one of the people privileged to be witnessing it.
Bill Smith, Publisher Coda Magazine, December 1974