Anthony Braxton

9 Standards (Quartet) 1993

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Anthony Braxton opens this one with a blues on alto. And does he play the blues. Not the neat, buttoned-down, arrogantly self-possessed kind of blues that epitomized jazz in the '90s, but the dirty, lowdown, heavily expressionistic blues that hearkens back to the music's beginning -- a blues that communicates something more than just an attitude. It's not slick, it's not pretty, but it's eminently real. This double-disc set, recorded live at Wesleyan University with the quite capable straightahead pianist Fred Simmons' trio, is full of such moments. Braxton shows one and all that he's a jazz musician, first and last -- if there's any doubt, listen to his incredible work on "Cherokee." Taken at an extremely burning tempo, Braxton tears the heart out of the tune and serves it up on a platter to his doubters. Amazingly, he's managed to find a fresh approach to the old warhorse, one that doesn't ignore its basics. He makes the changes, he plays time, but not as anyone else ever has. There's not a derivative bone in the body of his improvisation, a solo characterized by great linear invention, and some of the most unusual articulations ever played by a saxophonist -- a tour de force that has to be heard to be believed. Braxton plays this entire live set as if he's got something to prove, and the result is very possibly the most inspired mainstream playing he's ever put on record.

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