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Mini-Listen #24

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Let me come right out and say that if there was an entry for “Difficult Listening” in the musical dictionary, there’d be a picture of Anthony Braxton beside it. His music is built from fully notated passages combined with improvised elements. The thing is, it’s pretty danged hard to figure out which is which. Maybe that’s missing the point. Dunno. I do know that if you’re interested in building and stretching those “listening muscles”, this might be a good place to start.

While you may at first think that Braxton’s music is ‘jazz’, you’ll soon come to realize that this isn’t your garden variety head-solo-head kind of thing. For years I had wondered what was going on with this stuff. Then I stumbled upon a book about Braxton called Forces In Motion, by Graham Lock. In this book I discovered that Braxton has created a whole system and language that describes how he thinks about and constructs music. Even if I didn’t completely understand concepts such as “pulse tracks”, “flow of events” and “horizontal variables”, the reading was truly fascinating. To give you an idea, here’s a chunk of liner notes quoting Braxton’s description of Composition 124:

    …’multiple line structure that explores arhythmic phrase grouping formings'; that is, it uses the linear phraseology characteristic of bebop but extends it into a context of more exreme time relationships, so ‘the line itself is farther out of time’.

Now that certainly is a mouthful, but it’s also an earfull…and totally worth exploring.

A ‘bonus’ on this two-disc set are the bits of Graham Lock/Braxton interviews. Lock used these interviews as the basis for his book. For a guy who’s so full of seemingly high-fallutin’ ideas about music, it was kind of refreshing to discover that his roots included simple (relatively speaking) stuff like Frankie Lymon, Bill Haley & the Comets and Little Richard.

Open your ears people. Let Braxton and his cohorts (Marilyn Crispell, Gerry Hemingway and Mark Dresser) show you what a good “multiple line structure” sounds like.

(First posted on Mark Is Cranky)

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