Recorded live at the Knitting Factory in 1996, this premier recording of Anthony Braxton's "Composition No. 193" for tentet is a work of remarkable elasticity and texture. Utilizing clarinet, trombone, two violins, accordion, bass, two saxophonists on various horns, and (from one musician) drums/vibes/glockenspiel/percussion, Braxton shoves classical idealism and jazz bravado right into the middle of one another in a visionary meld. The 22-note opening line -- knotty, angular, and nearly modal -- is repeated for the first ten minutes by either the entire ensemble in harmony or counterpoint, and then by various combinations of players as various sections either move off into new melodic fields or solo. From here, Braxton scores the work along intervallic lines that serve to carve out vast open expanses and deeply hued ambience in the middle section of the work, which builds along contrapuntal and improvisational structures to realize the explosive, dissonant harmonics at its apex, which is also its nadir. "Composition No. 193" shows Braxton near the full realization of his own, longstanding notion that European classical music and the spontaneity and creative flair of jazz were inseparably connected -- in color, tonal, and timbral equations -- all along. Most, if not all, the players here are Braxton's students from Wesleyan or Mills and, contrary to popular wisdom (which is a joke when it comes to reading this composer anyway), are perfect for the work's execution -- especially because of their lack of experience. Braxton's notion to control the space and nuance of his work is held easily within a group whose only purpose is to learn by doing. Ultimately, as with most of Braxton's work, conventional musical idioms are a waste of descriptive or critical language. It doesn't swing, but it does flow, float, and shine; this work does not make one stomp one's feet, but it does engage on an emotional as well as intellectual level. Above all, it accomplishes what the composer set out to do: create an enormous palette of colors and textures, explore them thematically using conventional and expanded harmonic syntax, and develop new possibilities for structural integration and open improvisation between the worlds of 20th century classical music and the jazz vernacular. The only drawback are the "poetic" liner notes by Steve Dalachinsky; they are obtuse, pretentious, and shed no light on anything but the author of the liner notes.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek