Anthony Braxton (1945)
was the "creative" musician who displayed the most
obvious affinity with western classical music, scoring chamber music (both
for solo instrument and for small ensembles), as well as orchestral music,
that seemed aimed at extending the vocabulary of European music rather than
the vocabulary of jazz music.
If his was jazz music, it was the most cerebral jazz ever.
Better than any other jazz musician, Braxton represented the quantum leap
forward that jazz music experienced after free jazz opened the doors of
abstract composition. The music that was born as an evolution of blues and
ragtime suddenly competed with the white avantgarde for radical redefinitions
of the concept of harmony.
Following in the footsteps of John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen, Braxton
introduced new graphic notations to capture the subtleties of his scores,
and even titled his pieces with diagrams instead of words.
He invented new ways of composing and performing music.
He also loved to write about his musical theory.
As a virtuoso of woodwind instruments (particularly of the alto saxophone),
Braxton worked to extend the timbre and the technique.
But, unlike his predecessors, Braxton was motivated by science rather than
Originally inspired by John Coltrane, he impersonated Coltrane's antithesis.
In 1967 Braxton formed a trio with violinist Leroy Jenkins and trumpeter Leo Smith, the Creative Construction Company, that gladly dispensed with the rhythm section, with melody and with traditional harmony.
Three Compositions of New Jazz (april 1968), that also featured Muhal Richard Abrams on piano, contained the 20-minute Comp. 6E, the manifesto of
Braxton's style (at the same time abstract, visceral and geometric).
The record sleeve provided the graphic scores of the music, that looked more like mathematical equations, and explained the chance-based technique that were incorporated in those scores (a` la John Cage's aleatory music).
A few months later Braxton became the first musician ever to record an album
of saxophone solos, For Alto (february 1969).
This groundbreaking double-LP album contained eight extended pieces (each
cryptically dedicated to a musician), culminating with another 20-minute
juggernaut, Comp. 8B.
His playing showed little respect for jazz traditions, but a lot of curiosity
for textures and patterns. While this was mostly music of the brain, it was
performed with an almost hysterical intensity. Braxton himself seemed reluctant
to continue the project.
The trio's contemporary Silence (july 1969), released only six years later, contained Jenkins' 17-minute Off The Top Of My Head and Smith's 15-minute Silence, two pieces that were less radical and more obviously in
the free-jazz vein.
The French album
Anthony Braxton (september 1969) sounded like an appendix to the trio's
music, with Smith's ten-minute The Light On The Dalta and
Jenkins' nine-minute Simple Like, but also included a new
Braxton vision, the 20-minute Comp. 6G. The line-up consisted of
the trio plus drummer Steve McCall. It looked more conventional on paper,
but Braxton played all sorts of woodwinds,
Smith played horns and siren besides trumpet, and
Jenkins toyed with viola, flute, harmonica, etc.
Adding pianist Muhal Richard Abrams and drummer Steve McCall,
Creative Construction Company (may 1970), released in 1976, was mainly
taken up by a 34-minute Jenkins composition, Muhal.
The second volume (same session) was, again, a colossal Jenkins track, No More White Gloves.
In the meantime, Braxton had formed Circle, a quartet with pianist Chick Corea,
double-bassist Dave Holland and drummer Barry Altschul. Their first document,
Circulus (august 1970), credited to Corea when released as a double-LP
in 1975, contained three lengthy collective improvisations titled
Circling In (october 1970), again credited to Corea when released as a double-LP in 1978, was a less cryptic recording, highlighted by
Chimes and Braxton's Comp. 6F.
The Complete (february 1971) offered more of Braxton's compositions
employing Holland, Altschul, Corea, plus trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and
multiple tubas, in different settings.
The Gathering (may 1971), the first studio album credited to Circle,
contained only one 42-minute Corea composition, the title-track, and each
of the four members played multiple instruments.
Relocating to New York in 1970, Braxton became the recognized guru of creative
Together Alone (december 1971), released in 1975, inaugurated the
series of Braxton duets. This one was with Joseph Jarman (both alternating at
multiple instruments), highlighted by
Jarman's 14-minute Dawn Dance One and
Braxton's 15-minute Comp. 20.
Finally, Braxton gave For Alto a successor, and it almost sounded like
everything he had done in between the two masterpieces was merely a long
Saxophone Improvisations Series F (february 1972) was again a double-LP
collection of lengthy tracks dedicated to musicians. The longest,
104 Kelvin M12 (or, better,
Comp. 26F), was dedicated to minimalist composer Philip Glass, and
for a good reason: the influence of minimalist iteration was strong,
lending the album its hypnotic, otherworldly quality. Braxton's process was
obscure and often not very musical, but the concentration was worthy of
a physicist discovering a new substance.
These pieces openly unveiled the process of distortion, variation and repetition that underlay the neurotic, claustrophonic feeling of Braxton's music.
The three-LP live album Creative Music Orchestra (march 1972) introduced
a new side of Braxton. Four trumpets, four saxophones, tuba, piano, two
bassists and two percussionists performed twelve Braxton compositions.
Town Hall 1972 (may 1972) included the 35-minute Comp 6P for
Braxton, Altschul, Holland, Jeanne Lee (vocals) and John Stubblefield (woodwinds).
Braxton's new quartet, that basically replaced Corea's piano with
Kenny Wheeler's trumpet (keeping Holland and Altschul), debuted on
Live at Moers Festival (june 1974), a double-LP that contained six
of Braxton's cryptic and overlong compositions.
But the prolific Braxton was recording non-stop, rarely replicating the powerful
atmosphere of his masterpieces:
Four Compositions (january 1973) for a trio with percussionist Masahiko Sato and bassist Keiki Midorikawa;
First Duo Concert (june 1974) and Royal (july 1974) with British guitarist Derek Bailey;
Trio and Duet (october 1974), that contained Comp 36 for
Braxton (clarinets), Smith (trumpet) and Richard Teitelbaum (synthesizer);
New York Fall 1974 (september 1974), that contained
Comp 37 for a saxophone quartet (Braxton, Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake and Hamiet Bluiett),
Comp 38A for saxophone and synthesizer (Richard Teitelbaum),
Comp 23A for sax-violin-trumpet quintet (Wheeler, Jenkins, Holland, drummer Jerome Cooper);
Five Pieces (july 1975), that contained Comp 23E for the quartet (Braxton, Holland, Altschul and Wheeler);
Most of these albums were trivial, although each contained something
that opened new directions for experimental music.
Braxton returned to the most ambitious idea of his career with
Creative Orchestra Music (february 1976),
six relatively short pieces for a mid-size ensemble that constituted his
most eclectic output yet.
In between these seminal recordings, Braxton wasted his talent in erratic
collaborations. Duets with trombonist George Lewis yielded
Elements of Surprise (june 1976),
dominated by Lewis' Music For Trombone and Bb Soprano, and
Donaueschingen (october 1976), dominated by
Lewis' 41-minute Fred's Garden.
Duets with synthesist Richard Teitelbaum yielded Time Zones (june 1976),
taken up by Teitelbaum's Crossing and Behemoth Dreams.
Further collaborations accounted for
Duets (august 1976) with pianist Muhal Richard Abrams
Duets (december 1976) with Roscoe Mitchell also on reeds.
Dortmund (october 1976) documented the new quartet with Lewis replacing Wheeler (especially in the long Comp 40F),
Quintet (june 1977) documented the quintet of Braxton, Lewis,
Abrams, bassist Mark Helias and drummer Charles "Bobo" Shaw.
Among all these mediocre recordings one stood out:
For Trio (september 1977), containing two versions of Comp 76
(one with Henry Threadgill and Douglas Ewart, and one with
Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman).
The sheer number of instruments played by each member of the two trios
was unheard of in jazz music.
He revisited two of his greatest ideas in rather inferior albums:
Solo (may 1978) and Creative Orchestra (may 1978), that he only
conducted (without playing).
But then he outdid himself on
For Four Orchestras (may 1978), that contained just one colossal
piece, the two-hour Comp 82 for 160 musicians and four conductors:
the four orchestras surrounded the audience, that was given a chance to
hear the chaotic interplay as it strove to evolve towards organic music.
Braxton planned to score similar symphonies for six, eight, ten, and
eventually 100 orchestras.
The Alto Saxophone Improvisations (november 1979) were also more interesting,
although a far cry from his two solo masterpieces.
At last, his algorithmic music was heading for magniloquent drama.
Two of his best albums of this period were collaborations with veteran
drummer Max Roach:
Birth and Rebirth (september 1978) and
One In Two - Two In One (august 1979).
Performance (september 1979) and
Seven Compositions (november 1979)
introduced a piano-less quartet with trombonist Ray Anderson.
In the meantime the routine of avantgarde compositions resumed.
Composition No. 94 (april 1980) contained two versions of the piece (forward and backward reading) for saxophone or clarinet, guitar and trombone.
For Two Pianos (september 1980) contained Braxton's 50-minute Comp. 95 performed by Frederic Rzewski and Ursula Oppens.
Braxton returned to the large ensemble for Composition N. 96 (may 1981).
Open Aspects (march 1982) was another session with Richard Teitelbaum (now a specialist of computer interaction), but this time it was dominated by Braxton's compositions.
Composition 113 (december 1983) was a new solo album, but different from
anything he had done before. First of all, Braxton played only soprano saxophone. Second, the album contained a six-movement suite that told a story. It was one
of his most "humane" works.
Four Pieces (november 1981) documents a long lost studio collaboration between pianist Giorgio Gaslini and Anthony Braxton.
The quartet remained Braxton's favorite format, but it began to include the
Composition 98 (january 1981) documented a transitional quartet with
Anderson and pianist Marilyn Crispell.
The quartet consisted of pianist Anthony Davis, bassist Mark Helias and
drummer Edward Blackwell on Six Compositions - Quartet (october 1981),
and for once the players prevailed over the composer.
Four Compositions - Quartet (march 1983) was a more composition-oriented
effort by a quartet with
Lewis, bassist John Lindberg and percussionist Gerry Hemingway.
Six Compositions - Quartet (1984) featured Crispell, Lingberg and Hemingway.
Quartet (november 1985) had stabilized with pianist Marilyn Crispell, double-bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Gerry Hemingway, although
Five Compositions - Quartet (july 1986) replaced Crispell with David Rosenboom.
The list of experiments was virtually infinite.
The Aggregate (august 1986), a collaboration with the Rova Saxophone Quartet, contained Composition 129.
19 [Solo] Compositions 1988 (april 1988) contains 16 brief originals and three standards.
Ensemble (october 1988) contained the 41-minute Composition No. 141 for Braxton's saxophones, trombone (Lewis), tenor saxophone (Evan Parker),
trumpet, vibraphone, bass and percussion.
The Seven Compositions (march 1989) were scored for trio.
Eugene (january 1989) collected eight compositions for orchestra.
Composition No. 165 (february 1992) was scored for 18 instruments.
Two Lines (october 1992) contained duets with David Rosenboom at
The twelve alto solos of Wesleyan (november 1992) and the
Four Ensemble Compositions (march 1993) were, again, pale imitations of
11 Compositions (march 1995) were duets with a koto player.
10 Compositions (Duet) 1995 (august 1995) documents a collaboration between Anthony Braxton (on various saxes, clarinet and flute) and bassist Joe Fonda.
Octet (november 1995) contained Comp. 188, almost one-hour long.
Ensemble (november 1995) contained Comp. 187 for a ten-piece combo.
Tentet (june 1996) contained the 67-minute Comp. 193.
The most fascinating album of the period,
Composition 192 (june 1996), was a duet with vocalist Lauren Newton.
Eight (+1) Tristano Compositions 1989 For Warne Marsh
was a Lennie Tristano tribute.
However, Braxton's focus was finally changing.
Composition 174 (february 1994) was a sort of soundtrack for a theatrical event,
scored for ten percussionists and narrating voice.
Anthony Braxton with the Creative Jazz Orchestra (may 1994) debuted
his Trillium Dialogues M, his version of the opera.
Composition 173 (december 1994) was another piece for both actors and
Composition No. 102 (march 1996) was even music for puppet theater.
Trillium R - Shala Fears For The Poor (october 1996) contained Composition 162, an opera in four acts for nine singers, nine instrumentalists (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, baritone saxophone, flute, oboe, bass clarinet, clarinet, French horn, trombone) and tri-centric orchestra (alto and soprano saxophones, two trumpets, three clarinets, bass clarinet, two flutes, oboe, bassoon, harp, six violins, two violas, two cellos, two basses, accordion, two French horns, trombone, tuba, three percussionists).
Four Compositions (august 1995) for quartet and
Composition 193 (june 1996) for tentet inaugurated yet another strand of
Braxton's art, "ghost trance music".
And several hour-long compositions performed with the students of his classes
indulged in all aspects of his musical exploration:
the four-disc Ninetet at Yoshi's (august 1997) for six reed players, guitar, bass and percussion (containing the compositions numbered 207-214);
Two Compositions (april 1998) for trio of reeds;
Four Compositions (may 1998), notably Composition 223 for 15-piece ensemble,
Four Compositions (may 2000) for piano-based quartet,
Composition 247 (may 2000) for two saxophonists and bagpipes,
Composition 249 (may 2000) with fellow saxophonist Brandon Evans,
Composition 169 + (186 + 206 + 214) (june 2000) for saxophone quartet and symphonic orchestra,
Six Compositions (january 2001) for duo, trio, quartet, quintet and
tentet (the 91-minute Composition 286).
However, Braxton also delivered the shorter improvisations/compositions of
10 Solo Bagpipe Compositions (may 2000),
Eight Compositions (march 2001) for quintet,
Solo (may 2002).
He also recorded a few albums of other people's music.
Braxton temporarily abandoned "ghost trance music" for the
live duets with Leo Smith on Organic Resonance (april 2003), namely
Comp. 314 and Comp. 315,
and Comp. 316, on their next collaboration,
Saturn Conjunct the Grand Canyon in a Sweet Embrace (april 2003).
Quintet (november 2004) contains Composition 343 for reeds, cornet, guitar, bass and percussion.
Sextet (may 2005) contains the 68-minute Composition 345 for saxophones, trumpet, viola/violin, tuba, bass and percussion.
Trio Glasgow (june 2005), i.e. the 56-minute Composition 323a and the 60-minute Composition 323b, featured Tom Crean on guitar and Taylor Ho Bynum on trumpets.
Its companion was the four-disc set Solo Live At Gasthof Heidelberg Loppem (june 2005), containing Compositions 307-309 and a few covers.
4 Compositions - Phonomanie VIII (june 2005) contains the 35-minute Comp. 301 for solo piano, the 47-minute Comp. 323 A ("tri-centric version" for reeds, electronics, cornet and percussion), and two compositions for large ensemble (reeds, electronics, piano, clarinets, alto saxophones, trumpet, trombone, tuba, guitar, violins, viola, cello, bass, including two conductors besides himself, a synchronous conductor and a polarity conductor): the 56-minute Comp. 96 + 134 and the 65-minute Comp. 169 + 147.
The nine-disc set 9 Compositions - Iridium (march 2006) documented the world premieres of Compositions 350 through 358 (each about one hour long) as performed by his 12+1tet (roughly four saxophonists, trumpet, guitar, flute, viola, trombone, tuba, bassoon, bass, percussion) over the course of four nights in a New York club, the final works in the "Ghost Trance Music" series.
Notable collaborations included:
Compositions/ Improvisations (june 2000) with saxophonist Scott Rosenberg,
Four Compositions (october 2000) with vocalist Alex Horwitz,
Duets (january 2002) with cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum,
the double-disc Duo Palindrome (october 2002) with drummer Andrew Cyrille,
ABCD (july 2003) with bassist Chris Dahlgren,
Shadow Company (february 2004) with percussionist Milo Fine,
Improvisations (may 2004) with pianist Walter Frank,
Duo (may 2005) with British guitarist with Fred Frith.
Solo Willisau (september 2003) documented live solo alto saxophone pieces.
12+1tet (august 2007) was another work for large ensemble.
The four-disc box-set 4 Improvisations (Duo) 2007 (july 2007) documents a collaboration with Joe Morris.
The four-disc Quartet Ghost Trance Music (may 2005) contains four compositions performed by
Braxton on reeds, Carl Testa on bass, Aaron Siegal on percussion and Max Heath on piano.
Beyond Quantum (may 2008) documents five improvisations with
bassist Milford Graves and drummer William Parker.
Quartet Moscow (june 2008) documents a live performance the 70-minute Composition 367B with Braxton on alto, soprano, sopranino and contrabass clarinet, Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet, flugelhorn, piccolo trumpet and bass trumpet, Mary Halvorson on electric guitar and Katherine Young on bassoon. >
The DVD release Nine Compositions 2003 (2008) compiles more of his "Ghost Trance Music":
compositions number 328, 72, 74, 23, 190, 75, 292, 322, 327.
The double-disc Improvisations (july 2008) was a collaboration with pianist Maral Yakshieva.
Duo Heidelberg Loppem (march 2007) contains duets between
Braxton (on sopranino, soprano and alto saxophones and contrabass
clarinet) and bassist Joëlle Léandre.
The six-disc box-set, Standards (Brussels) 2006 (november 2006) collects
live performances by a quartet formed with an Italian trio (pianist Alessandro Giachero, bassist Antonio Borghini, and drummer Cristiano Calcagnile).
The Anthony Braxton Quartet (Kevin O'Neil on guitar, Kevin Norton on percussion and Andy Eulau on bass) collected over 60 jazz standards on the multiple-cd sets 23 Standards(Quartet) 2003, 20 Standards (Quartet) 2003 and
19 Standards (Quartet) 2003.
New originals surfaced on
Composition 255 & 265 (2003), i.e. Composition 255,
a saxophone duet with Jonas, and
Composition 265, a trio with Jonas and vocalist Molly Sturges, and on
Composition 339 & 340 (2007), duets with
soprano Ann Rhodes.
is a quadruple-CD box-set
that collects four studio inventions improvised by Braxton (here on Eb Sopranino, Bb Soprano, Eb Alto, C Melody, Eb Baritone, Bb Bass and Bb Contrabass saxes) and Gerry Hemingway (who sings and plays drums, marimba, vibraphone, samplers, and harmonica)
to celebrate Braxton's 65th birthday.
Creative Orchestra 2007
a collaboration with an 18-member orchestra, includes
compositions No. 306, 307 and 91.
Quartet (Mestre) 2008 documents a live performance of july 2008 of
Composition 367c by himself (soprano & alto sax, contrabass clarinet and live
electronics), Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet, flugelhorn, piccolo, bass
trumpet, valve trombone), Mary Halvorson (electric guitar) and Katherine
6 Duos (Wesleyan) 2006 (july 2006) was a duo collaboration with trumpetist John McDonough.
Anthony Braxton's Septet Pittsburgh 2008 (may 2008)
documents Composition No. 355,
accompanied by Taylor Ho Bynum
(flugelhorn, trombone, cornet, bass trumpet and piccolo trumpet),
Jessica Pavone (violin, electric bass and viola), Jay Rozen (tuba), Mary
Halvorson (guitar), Carl Testa (acoustic bass and bass clarinet), and
Aaron Siegel (drums, percussion and vibraphone).
The four-disc box-set Trillium E (composed in 2000 but recorded in march 2010) contains his Composition No 237 - Opera in Four Acts
for 12 vocalists, 12 solo instrumentalists and a 40-piece orchestra,
the follow-up to Trillium A (staged in San Diego in 1985), Trillium M (premiered in London in 1994), and Trillium R (Composition n° 162).
"There is no single story line in Trillium because there is no point of focus being generated. Instead the audience is given a multi-level event state that fulfills vertical and horizontal strategies".
Ensemble Pittsburgh 2008 (may 2008) delivered
Composition 173, Composition 100, Composition 134 and Composition 165.
as performed by 12 musicians conducted by Braxton himself.
The double-disc Duets Pittsburgh 2008 (may 2008) was a collaboration
with saxophonist Ben Opi that yielded
Composition 220 (+ 278 & 29B)
and Composition 340 (+ 173).
Credited to the duo Anthony Braxton/Buell Neidlinger, 2 BY 2: Duets (april 1989) was released only a decade later.
Creative Music Orchestra (NYC) 2011 (october 2011) is actually a performance by the Tri-Centric Orchestra conducted by Aaron Siegel, Jessica
Pavone and Taylor Ho Bynum, a one-hour suite that also recycles old themes.
GTM (Iridium) 2007 Volume 1 - Set 1
contains Composition No.254
performed by a septet with Carl Testa (bass),
Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet), Mary Halvorson (Guitar), Aaron Siegel
(percussion), Jay Rozen (tuba) and Jessica Pavone (viola).
Volume 1, Set 2 (march 2007) contains
Volume 2, set 1 (march 2007) contains Composition No.255.
Volume 2, Set 2 (march 2007) contains Composition No.362.
Volume 3 - Set 1 (march 2007) contains Composition No.259.
Volume 3, Set 2 (march 2007) containes Composition No.362
Volume 4, set 1 contains Composition No.266 (april 2007)
Volume 4, set 2 (april 2007) contains Composition No.348.
All of them featured the same line-up.
Composition No. 376, off
Echo Echo Mirror House (NYC) 2011 (october 2011), was scored
for samples (played by all musicians on iPods) and jazz instruments (five saxes, bassoon, cornet, trombone, tuba, viola, violin, guitar, bass and percussion).
Tentet (Wesleyan) 1999 (november 1999)
contains the colossal Composition 235 and
Composition 236, performed with James Fei, Brian Glick, Chris Jonas,
Steve Lehman, Seth Misterka and Jackson Moore (all, with the leader, on
reeds), Kevin O'Neil (electric guitar), Seth Dillinger (contrabass) and
Kevin Norton (percussion).
Echo Echo Mirror House (2011)
contains Composition 347 for
a septet with Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet,
bugle, trombone), Mary Halvorson (electric guitar), Jessica Pavone (alto
violin), Jay Rozen (tuba), AAron Siegel (percussion, vibraphone) and
Carl Testa (bass and clarinet) and all of them also on iPods.
Quartet (Warsaw) 2012 (october 2012) documents Braxton's Composition 363b* performed by a quartet with Erica Dicker on violin, James Fei on alto sax and Taylor Ho Binum on cornet.
Syntactical GTM Choir (NYC) 2011 (october 2011)
documents a live performance of
the 53-minute Composition 256.
The four-disc set Trio (New Haven) 2013 (february 2013)
documented improvisations by a trio with two drummers
(Tomas Fujiwara and Tom Rainey):
Composition No. 364a (+227, 367f, 367h),
Composition No. 364f (+241, 366e, 367d), Composition No.
366d (+338, 363f, 365g) and Composition No. 366b (+346,
The 12-disc set 12 Duets (august 2012)
features Braxton on electronics and saxes with
vocalist Kyoko Kitamura, Erica Dicker (violin and
prepared/scordatura violin), and Katherine Young (bassoon,
Duo (Amherst) 2010 (september 2010) documents a live performance with
Taylor Ho Bynum.
Small Ensemble Music (2014) contains Composition No. 107 for piano and trombone and Three Compositions for Sextet
Creative Music Studio's triple-disc Archive Selections Volume 1 & 2 (Planet Arts) documents sessions by Anthony Braxton, Marilyn Crispell, Kalaparusha, Frederic Rzewski, Lee Konitz, Paul Motian, Don Cherry, Collin Walcott, Nana Vasconcelos, Gerry Hemingway, etc.
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