Various Authors 8 a.m., March 17
Crispell, Dresser, Hemingway "Play Braxton"
The merits of multi-instrumentalist, composer Anthony Braxton have been the source of much debate, and considerable derision in the jazz community for more than 40 years — but never in my house. To me, Braxton is an irrefutable genius and a singular visionary whose music will bear serious study for hundreds of years to come.
Braxton has always dreamed big, as borne out in his wildly ambitious realizations of ideas like Composition 19, for 100 tubas, or his masterwork For Four Orchestras. Still to come are plans for pieces played by musicians on different planets.
The criminally underrated pianist Marilyn Crispell, alongside contrabass magician Mark Dresser and the irrepressible drummer Gerry Hemingway teamed up with Braxton for more than 10 years in the longest standing format for the saxophonist's imagination as the Anthony Braxton Quartet.
That unit disbanded in 1994. Now, 18 years later, Crispell, Dresser and Hemingway reunite to Play Braxton on John Zorns's ever vital Tzadik record label.
Composition 116 begins with Crispell's splaying, hammered keys digging into the fractured repetitions while Dresser's gut-punch bass and Hemingway's gunshot percussion lead it all into a free exchange. Crispell turns in a bravura solo splitting between clanging harmonies and lightening -strike runs over the churning discourse of her trio-mates.
Dresser's cogent musculature introduces Composition 23C with lines that sing, wheeze and growl --huge sonorities that cover the frequency spectrum before all three players commit to the almost-Baroque repetitions of the melody.
On Composition 108C/110/69Q, Crispell leads off with a rhapsodic statement while Dresser bows away, setting an independent course as Hemingway rolls, chatters and chugs away with mallets. The bassist's arco sound is a huge, leviathan force that doesn't lose any steam when he switches to pizzicato--morphing into a powerful, pointed solo--especially when joined by the asymmetrical brush punctuations of the drums, which trade sonic spaces with the melodic unisons of bass and piano. Hemingway is capable of conjuring such force in a pianissimo dynamic--a remarkable feat that makes him stand out amongst his peers. Suddenly the trio is swinging with a wicked loping gait straight out of a cartoon dreamscape. When the drummer switches to sticks, he squeezes more drum solo into 30 seconds of space than seems humanly possible.
Dresser and Crispell join forces on the stop-and-start theme of Composition 69B, offset by the quasi-military cadences of Hemingway, who takes the first solo, building slowly from single thwacks to layers of multi-stroke rolls. Dresser follows, using his astonishing bi-tonal two-handed-tapping technique, then Crispell takes over with thunder-force clusters and furious rhythmic pounding--finally erupting into post-Cecil Taylor explosions of nervous, kinetic energy.
The trio saved the best for last--at nearly 13 minutes in length, the "medley" of Composition 40N/40B is a primal, joyous tour-de-force. Crispell begins the plinking theme with Dresser's arco shadowing every intention while Hemingway's (bowed cymbals?) evoke eerie bird-chirps. It all travels along a stately course; melody-for-melody's-sake as only Braxton could imagine it. Dresser's arco turns dark and forlorn like the groans of an agonized lover--but Crispell remains hewn to the stoic line. Somewhere near mid-point the group leaves 40N, and begins a "collage-improvisation" that edges toward the ecstatic melody of 40B--one of the quirkiest, most ebullient pieces Braxton has ever written. Hearing Dresser extrapolate on the "walking" bass line over Hemingway's "ting-ting-a-ting" is total sonic magic. Crispell sails over the surging, lunging rhythm with a fierce piano statement that swings, jabs, and explodes as Dresser and Hemingway bob, weave, and counterpunch below.
This is a must for creative music fans.