Monday, August 10, 2009

Anthony Braxton, Eight Compositions 2001

Somebody once wrote that "Richard Wagner's music is better than it sounds." Now I've forgotten exactly who said that, but with the humor there is a certain truth. Whatever Wagner's music is, and it is singular, it wasn't written for the direct pleasure of the listener. Sitting through one of his four-hour operas can have its excruciatingly painful aspects. In the end, though, if you are sympathetic to the music itself, you realize that you have been in the presence of greatness.

When it comes to some of the music of Anthony Braxton, I am tempted to think along similar lines. Take his Eight Compositions (Quintet) 2001 (CIMP). Braxton and Richard McGhee are on reeds and there are three percussionists. On first listen one realizes that there is a brilliant conceptualism at work, but that the result is somewhat tough going on the ears.

The group is pretty much split right down the middle. The reeds have lines and improvisations that have a pulse; the lines can be cycular and they can also be linear. The three percussionists also play to that pulse. What the latter do stylistically is a bit more along the lines of a traditional Afro-centered groove. It's as if there are two musics being played simultaneously. And the first listen is a little tough because the relationship between those contrasting performing sets is complex and basically non-intersecting.

What happens on repeated listening is that the two groups of sounds begin to coalesce in your listening mind. You begin to hear the connections and appreciate how they set up in this double-world of aural events. In the end, if you are patient, you hear it, you get it.

So ultimately Braxton's music on the CD is not better than it sounds. Rather it sounds as good as it is. And that's very good.

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