Anthony Braxton

Duets (Wesleyan) 2002

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Since attaining professorship at Wesleyan, Anthony Braxton had been generous to a fault as far as recording with both students and other faculty. Sometimes the result was spectacular, as on Composition No. 247 with James Fei and Matt Welch; on other occasions, the outcome was more in the area of advanced noodling. This disc, with the fine young cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum, is certainly one of Braxton's superior collaborations in this regard. If anyone, Bynum is a bit reminiscent of Leo Smith, but he brings along an arsenal of attacks and techniques that align him more with forward-looking brass players like Axel Dörner and Greg Kelley. There are two Braxton compositions here, the prolific musician having passed the 300 mark in his personal catalog of pieces. They bear little resemblance to the Ghost Trance Music that had preoccupied him since 1995, instead evoking the contemplative atmosphere of earlier work, like "Composition 34," heard on the wonderful Sackville release Trio and Duet. Bynum's pieces, while certainly carrying the influence of his teacher, are varied and intriguing, ranging from the rapid-fire unison of "Scrabble" to the sparse, wonderful sound exploration of "To Wait" (a work that draws Braxton toward the edges of contemporary non-idiomatic improv) to the jaunty, fractured bop of "All Roads Lead to Middleton." The one freely improvised track does meander a bit, Braxton falling into some of his standard modes. Not that this is entirely a bad thing, of course, but it's somewhat less inspired than his playing elsewhere on the disc. Duets [Wesleyan] 2002 closes with another Braxton work, "Composition 305 (+ Language Improvisation, 44)," a fascinating piece making spare and spiky use of space with jagged lines and breathy flurries abutting each other. Bynum, perhaps wielding what's listed in the credits as the "trumpbone," is superb here, opening swathes of virgin territory for Braxton to saunter into. Even Braxton's biggest fans are often overwhelmed by the sheer volume of his recording and have difficulty deciding which ones are must-haves. This is definitely one to put on that list.

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