If you thought that Anthony Braxton's last great quartet -- with Marilyn Crispell, Gerry Hemingway, and Mark Dresser -- would be his final great band, it's time to rethink your position. As evidenced by this Leo documentation of the new Braxton quintet's performance in London during 2004, with a band he has kept together since that time, he's assembled another one. Performing an hourlong set made up of "Composition 343," this young band blew the ceiling off the joint. Braxton switches horns here a lot -- in addition to his spare, knotty soprano sax he also plays alto, tenor, and clarinet. The drummer in this band is the great Satoshi Takeishi. The trumpet chair is held by Taylor Ho Bynum, with Chris Dahlgren on bass and the truly amazing Mary Halvorson on guitar. The piece begins with Braxton's soprano, a lean yet crisp electric guitar, muted trumpet, double bass, and tom-tom-accented drums, all playing a series of stop-and-start motifs that act as a prolonged head on the work. The band returns to it numerous times in the 49-minute duration as different themes and improvisations are introduced. The engagement between players here is uncanny. Once the head falls away and the ordered improvisation takes its place, guitar and alto move toward one another and then engage in contrapuntal interplay. Then Ho Bynum's trumpet moves toward Braxton's guttural squealing on the alto -- where he uses his voice underneath to make angry, almost animal-like sounds à la Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders on Live in Seattle -- as the horn ceases to be expressive enough for his purposes. In long quiet segments where one, two, or three instruments speak to one another with large spaces between, the silence becomes a part of the work. Braxton blows the hell out of his tenor to bring it all back. The labyrinthine theme begins again, but is abandoned in favor of space once more. The drama and dynamic changes are breathtaking in places, and the tensions created are almost unbearable as Braxton has never shown a willingness to resolve them in his work. When it's done, the members of the audience are astonished at what they have witnessed (a feeling doubtless shared by anyone who takes this recording in with repeated listenings and an open mind), breathing a sigh of relief and greeting Braxton and company with a rowdy ovation. The second cut here, entitled "Composition 343, Pt. 2," is actually the band's encore and feels like a freely improvised work. It's playful, humorous, and musically exciting with great attention given to both Ho Bynum and Halvorson whirling around one another before the entire band joins the fun with verve and energy. Many do not recognize Braxton's wry sense of humor, which is full play here. At its end, "Composition 343" is a truly fine piece of the Braxton canon, played here by bandmembers who knew how to get to that place in his mind that only he really knows. Brilliant and highly recommended.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek