On November 14, 2003, a quartet led by composer, philosopher, and multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton recorded more than four hours' worth of material which was issued by Leo Records in 2010 on the four-CD set 19 Standards (Quartet) 2003. This was the third four-CD set drawing upon recordings from the group's European tours during that busy and productive year. The creative small group dynamic developed by Braxton over several decades is very much in evidence as he interacts with bassist Andy Eulau, percussionist Kevin Norton, and guitarist Kevin O'Neil. Braxton's choices are astute and varied enough to make this an exceptionally satisfying effort. If to some extent "Dear Old Stockholm" and Jobim's "The Girl from Ipanema" suggest a nod to Stan Getz, Braxton probably first encountered "So Rare" on Jimmy Dorsey's popular Earl Bostic-flavored recording which dates from 1957. Braxton's take on the tune, which was originally published in 1937, focuses upon its beauty and elegance. A strong selection of heavyweight modern jazz standards in this set enables the unit to engage in some healthy extended jamming. It's a pleasure to hear how Braxton approaches Mongo Santamaria's "Afro Blue," Jackie McLean's "Little Melonae," "Mr. P.C." by John Coltrane, and "Half Nelson" by Miles Davis. The one title which you won't find on anybody else's "Standards" collection is Braxton's original "G. Petal (Improvisation)."
The range of expression resulting from Braxton's relationship with various musical traditions has always been dazzlingly expansive. Blended influences of Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and John Cage exist in perpetual combination with literally everything that has gone into the evolution of jazz over the past century. This ambitious and open-minded approach was strongly encouraged by Muhal Richard Abrams, the AACM co-founder who deliberately introduced the ideas of Scott Joplin into that organization's itinerary from the get-go. Examine Braxton's discography, and woven throughout his many assembled original compositions you're sure to detect a recurrent pattern of recordings which tap most unconventionally into the common working jazz repertoire. In the Tradition was released in two volumes by Steeplechase in 1974, and a pair of albums devoted to standards appeared in 1985 on Windham Hill's subsidiary label Magenta. Six Monk's Compositions (1987) belongs in this category as well. Braxton's tendency to reinterpret jazz standards was given free rein throughout the following decade; with the Fred Simmons Trio, with the Mario Pavone Quintet, and in two different projects, which landed Braxton behind the piano. One particularly rewarding set of realizations was issued by Leo as 14 Compositions (Traditional) 1996, in which Braxton and Stewart Gillmor each juggled multiple instruments while savoring older melodies, some of which date back to the 1920s. Braxton's involvement with the standard repertoire continued with Barking Hoop's 8 Standards (Wesleyan 2001), which may be taken as a sort of prelude to 19 Standards (Quartet) 2003, for like the other two four-CD sets, both albums feature the same sublimely intuitive quartet. For those who simply cannot get enough of this sort of music, a stunning six-CD set of standards which Braxton recorded with three Italian musicians in a Belgian cafe has been issued by the Amarani label as Standards (Brussels) 2006.