Anthony Braxton

With Robert Schumann String Quartet

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For jazz fans, this certainly ranks as one of the more difficult releases from Braxton. The bulk of the album consists of two versions of his "Composition 17" for string quartet, the first performed with the addition of Braxton on alto. It's a spiky affair in three loosely connected sections, and seems to fit comfortably in the Elliot Carter spectrum of 20th century string quartet writing. While Braxton's presence imbues the first version with both warmth and added ferocity, the second, presumably "pure" version is somewhat tighter and more effective. But it's hard to argue that the piece stands apart from much post-war string writing. It's interesting that the more overtly emotional aspects that frequently emerge in his solo playing (including on this album) seem to be shut away when he writes in a more "classical" idiom. For example, "Composition 26I" has a ghostly melancholy that would have been lovely transposed to a string quartet. The solo performances, six in all, are typically fascinating explorations of tiny facets of his universe, each focusing on a certain sound language. These range from the sputtering, squealing attack of "Composition 77D" all the way to the languorous, impassioned romance of "Composition 77E." It surely says something about the range of Braxton's conception that two pieces apparently from the same series and written back to back can be so completely different in character and yet equally impressive. Fans of his classical side will want this release for the string quartet while aficionados of his solo work will greatly enjoy those herein. Relatively rare will be the listener who gets equal enjoyment from both.

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