Anthony Braxton / Anthony Braxton Quartet

Quartet (Santa Cruz) 1993

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In the waning days of the 1993 tour, and the soon after disbanding of his finest -- and longest standing -- band, this single concert of the seven nights played at Santa Cruz. This double CD documents with a finality just what the quartet had achieved in its eight years together. Braxton had realized within this group of musicians a goal he had previously thought unattainable: the ability to interchange any composition from any of his periods with any other -- and within each other -- in a small group setting. And given the far-reaching musical tenets each of these "sets of compositions" notated by tracks are, that is no mean feat. The first set takes the now legendary "159" and adds to it the rhythm section improvisation from "30," and the piano saxophone duet from "108a." Braxton and Crispell herald in "150," trading phrases and polytones as Dresser and Hemingway shift around trying to locate the two soloists in the framework they are playing. When they are heard and are given free passage into "30," they alight before moving each other into a counterpoint system that begs the re-entrance of Braxton and Crispell, who slip through the knots, "make it jazz," and hand it back through "108a" before Hemingway and Dresser take it out. And this goes like this throughout. Even where Braxton's designs are carried out within one composition, such as on "69f" or "161" or "172," where the new "Ghost Trances" -- pursued by a sextet after this group split -- period begins, the fluidity and harmonic languages created within the context of four musicians speaking through one another is ever present. For those who don't find Mr. Braxton's music "jazz" enough, or make it "too cerebral" in theory, the fact of the matter is, you're not listening. Find your way through Crispell's interaction with Dresser on "161" or Hemingway's with Braxton's flute on "40 (o)," and you will hear, in keeping with both the linear nature of jazz since the '60s and its more design-oriented functionality since the '80s -- which Braxton ushered in almost single-handedly for other improvisers -- the abstractions are obscured by the lyrical interplay coming from the bandstand. This is music projected from inside out toward an audience that doesn't have to think so much as emote what they hear. Braxton's systems are large and varied; the sheer psychic and physical energy the band has to endure in order to play this music is almost unimaginable. To listen and think this quickly is not mere communication -- it is telepathy. This is the quartet's farewell, and it is more than fitting; it's astonishing what they achieved in eight years. On the second CD's closer, "124+108c+147," you hear Crispell slinking through Hemingway's rimshots on "124" to solo with him as Braxton repeats a phrase that Dresser harmonically echoes in a trancelike fashion before exploding into "108c," where Braxton takes the lead and Crispell is shouting out long lines and tonal clusters to Hemingway like she's another drummer. Dresser takes these fragments and creates a series of chords for Braxton to improvise on the soprano before heading wildly into "147," one of this band's signature pieces. Here, all four members are given the opportunity to take the theme and deconstruct any or all of its parts within the safety of Braxton's harmonic system of improvisational intervals. That they all come near to each other before stopping on a dime should be no surprise -- though it does leave one breathless -- given the preceding wonder of the entire set. What a fitting finish for a truly legendary band.

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