Anthony Braxton

Four Compositions (Quartet) 1995

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In his liner notes to this disc, Bill Shoemaker relates that the members of Braxton's group for this date had spent a good deal of time studying his "book," expecting various past compositions and sound territories to be explored for this recording date. When they arrived for the session, however, they were met not only by new Braxton pieces, but by an entirely new approach on the part of the composer: the inauguration of what would come to be known as his Ghost Trance Music. Generally, this sub-genre is characterized by a repeated unison melodic line played in evenly stressed eighth notes which wanders somewhat willy-nilly across the scale but is held by at least two of the instrumentalists at any given time throughout the piece. Soloists, to the extent they may be considered as such, offer embroideries on this central stalk only to return to the pattern after a time, allowing others to spin their own elaboration. If it is reminiscent of anything in Braxton's prior output, it might be said to bear some similarity to his Kelvin series compositions from the early '70s. For all its surface simplicity, there's a good deal of complex interaction taking place. As this was the first exposure for these musicians to this new conception, it's not surprising that they play with a bit of hesitancy during sections of this album. Subsequent recordings would offer meatier readings of this aspect of Braxton's work (notably Composition 193 for Tentet), but it's certainly fascinating to witness its genesis here. The colors utilized (especially with Norton dwelling for extended periods on various metallophones) serve to create a bright and playful atmosphere, a welcome approach to music that had the potential to sound a little dry and academic. It is refreshing to see that Braxton's music, always very demanding of its listeners, remained so well into the '90s.

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