In a previous review I mentioned that my first taste of the listening experience that is Anthony Braxton’s music was one of three box sets released this year by the Tri-Centric Foundation, entitled 3 Compositions (EEMHM) 2011. Challenging and a bit overwhelming at times, it was nonetheless something that intrigued my ears and imagination and sent me off looking for the other two sets.
For this review I found and listened to Quintet (Tristano) 2014, which consists of seven discs worth of music associated with the great jazz pianist Lennie Tristano and associates. Mr. Braxton, a saxophonist, embraces the moment on these recordings by playing piano himself.
Just for that adventurous leap alone it is quite easy to tell how much Mr. Braxton admires the work of Tristano, not to mention the fact that he’d previously “covered” the pianist on his album Eight (+1 Tristano Compositions 1989 for Warne Marsh.
Not having listened to that album, however, I find myself limited to listening to these seven discs worth of music and occasionally searching online for the inspirational pieces by Mr. Tristano in order to get a sense of just what Braxton sees (or hears) in them as well as what he’s trying to get across to listeners. It is from that point where two words immediately come to mind, which are “innovation” and “tradition.”
Tradition would dictate, for instance, that the recordings on these seven discs be a fairly faithful recreation of the music that initially inspired them. That’s how it usually goes, right? Albums like this are usually a celebratory occasion where light is shone upon the past in order to bring it into focus so that people can appreciate it in similar ways that you – the artist in this example – appreciate it.
I’m not sure Mr. Braxton is wired that way.
On these discs, what he seems to be chasing is perhaps the spirit of the original compositions more than the actual notes themselves. Adding to that feel is the fact that this release – while having the name Tristano in the title itself – isn’t limited just to Tristano’s works. Instead, it contains works of others who’ve perhaps worked with, studied with, or simply also have a love of Tristano and echo it in their own music.
It’s almost as if Braxton has just decided to dive in and celebrate the essence of the man mores than the man’s music, or at least what the man meant to him. At times, this approach soars; at other instances, it kind of just floats dreamlike and leaves you trying to figure out just what’s going on – but always in a compelling way. Take a listen, it seems to say; take a listen to this music and feel what it makes you feel.
Anthony Braxton’s Quintet (Tristano) is a listening experience that I highly recommend, in the end. Perhaps the best thing I could say about it – at least I think what Mr. Braxton would think is the best thing I could say about it – is that it has sent me on a quest to listen to more Tristano.
Which I’ll do… after hunting down more Anthony Braxton.