Despite decades of enthusiastic listening I must acknowledge myself as still a neophyte in the world of jazz appreciation. Otherwise, it would not have taken me so long to encounter the work of Anthony Braxton. of indeed Mr. Braxton can even be labeled by something as conventional as the word “jazz” itself. His music, at least the pieces I’ve had the pleasure of listening to recently, leave conventions and descriptions for others to contemplate.
The listening experience that began my journey into the appreciation of Mr. Braxton’s work is one of three box sets being released by the Tri-Centric Foundation and Firehouse 12 Records. These box sets are Trillium J (basically an attempt at reinventing opera), Quintet (a tribute of sorts to an improvisatory hero of Mr. Braxton) and 3 Compositions, the box set I decided to open up first.
For someone new to Mr. Braxton’s work, of course, I probably chose the one that is the hardest to swallow and internally digest. Consisting of three CDs (or digital downloads), 3 Compositions consists of three pieces each about an hour in length. Each of these compositions – numbers “372,” “373” and “377” – feature several musicians armed with their main instrument as well as an iPod.
Why the iPods?
These iPods, containing recordings from Mr. Braxton’s extensive back catalog, allow the musicians to play their instrument at any given point in the ebb and flow of these compositions or to instead play moments or phrases from one of these previous recordings instead. Much like a DJ that samples bits and pieces to lay the foundations of rhythm and movement in the world of hip-hop, these musicians are able to interweave these moments of sound into their own playing so as to create a conversation in sound and melody that is unique and uniquely vibrant.
There are moments where there are two to four distinct melodies all occurring at the same time and simultaneously fighting for your attention as well as washing over you. It’s almost as if you were swimming in an ocean of sound and the waves themselves seemed to be coming at you from every angle – perhaps disguising the fact that the waves were just movements of the water that surrounded you and kept you afloat.
Whether calm and seductive like the river bank when you and your father are out fishing from dawn to dusk or full of fury and cacophony as a hurricane drove wave after wave onto the shore as if beating the shoreline to the rhythm of drums, the idea of water as music gave me the key to ultimately listen to and deeply enjoy these 3 Compositions. So much so, in fact, that I’ve found and listened to the other two box sets mentioned at the beginning of this short rambling review. Those are for another day, however. Today is for the chaos, the waves of sound, the beauty of improvisation, and non-traditional musicianship.
Today is where I tell you that if you are adventurous in your listening choices and want a bit of the unknown to color your listening experience, then I heartily encourage you to listen to Mr. Braxton’s 3 Compositions many, many times.
I know I have and will continue to do so for years to come.