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With the release of 'Trillium J,' Anthony Braxton redefines - or at least redeciphers - what opera should sound like in the 21st century. Here's a hint: Compelling.

Music Review: Anthony Braxton – ‘Trillium J: The Non-Unconfessionables (Composition No. 380)’ Box Set

Foolishly, I used words such as “challenging” or “demanding” when discussing the two previous Anthony Braxton box sets I’ve recently had the pleasure of listening to and reviewing. The final of the three sets released by Tri-Centric Foundation and Firehouse 12 Records – Trillium J: The Non-Unconfessionables (Composition No. 380) – caused me to rethink how casually I might use those words in conversation. Compared to Trillium J, the Tristano and 3 Compositions box sets were at least in a musical format that was easily comprehended in technique, if not comprehension (on my part).

Each of those two took multiple listens, and though I’ve indeed given Trillium J nearly twice as many listens as the other two boxes combined, I have a vague sense that I am missing something. It is a sense that this is a release definitely more mature than I am at this present moment. It’s one that might always be just a little bit smarter than I am.

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Trillium J is a four-part (or act) musical drama much like an opera, I suppose, if said opera were written by a particular creative musical artist who plays with sound and genre in much the same way that Picasso played with line, color, and medium. Ranging from Braxton’s own philosophical take on culture to absurd sense of comic timing, the whole thing sings and churns along on wholly unexpected tangents and works despite never, well, resolving itself into any defining motif.

Hell, there’s even a damn square dance moment that seems to fall from the sky out of nowhere (“Act 1” – trust me). So, maybe the entire thing makes sense in that Braxton doesn’t want it to make sense. Maybe music isn’t supposed to make sense but just make us feel and experience the moments themselves.

Or, maybe, I’m out of my depth in trying to describe what (for me) was indescribable.

Admittedly, part of my inability may be due to the fact that my review copy was only a digital audio version of Trillium J. Opera – and this definitely fits precariously under that nomenclature – is a medium that relies equally on auditory as well as visual details.

Which is why, despite admiring and enjoying the previous two sets from this grouping of three released this year, the one I will be actually searching for a physical copy of will be this one.

Trillium J is that compelling and challenging that I want to get a more complete experience and see if my ears and imagination are up to the challenge.

Without a doubt I heartily encourage you to join me. Maybe you will actually unlock what it’s all about and then you can explain it to me while I scratch my head a lot and say, “Really?”

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