Anthony Braxton

London Solo (1988)

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In 1968, Anthony Braxton introduced into jazz the possibility not only of solo saxophone performances (which had arisen sporadically before at the hands of Coleman Hawkins, Sonny Rollins, and Eric Dolphy, among others), but of an entire language arsenal, almost a dictionary, of what was conceivable to be said by the instrument alone. Even those who followed this aspect of his career closely might be astonished at pieces like the opening track here, "Composition 106C," a tour de force of circular breathing whose melodic spirals cascade in a numbing torrent of complexity, similar but never alike, impossibly deep and vibrant. Graham Lock's superbly detailed liner notes go into Braxton's approach at great and illuminating length, making substantially clear to the listener his idea of "language music," where each piece is devoted to a small (but infinitely variable and open) sound aspect. So one composition might involve buzz sounds, another dog barks, yet another wo-wo sounds. If this all seems overly academic, fear not; Braxton invests each of these explorations with a passion that matches his intelligence, resulting in some of the most viscerally moving music of the last half of the 20th century. Also included on this album are three standards: "Invitation," a piece made popular by one of Braxton's reigning goddesses, Dinah Washington; and two Coltrane classics, "Impressions" and "Naima." These songs are no less brilliantly investigated. The canard about his supposed lack of warmth and swing is impossible to maintain in the face of performances like these. London Solo (1988) is a superb album by an artist near the height of his powers.

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