Anthony Braxton / Barry Guy / London Jazz Composers' Orchestra

Zurich Concerts

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This double-CD outing of Barry Guy's London Jazz Composers' Orchestra features two compositions, one by Guy, which takes up disc one -- he also conducts and plays bass on it. The other disc is taken up with four works by Anthony Braxton with sundry others from his book augmenting them, as is his wont. Braxton directs but does not play on his own pieces. First up is the nearly 40-minute work by Guy, beginning with Steve Wick's tuba calling out a melodic frame for the rest of the band -- which includes but is not limited to Evan Parker, Trevor Watts, Phil Wachsman, Barre Phillips, Dave Holland, Paul Lytton, Tony Oxley, Radu Malfatti, Jon Corbett, and Paul Dunmall. There are 19 players in all. What is most notable about Guy's "Polyhymnia" is its insistence on the ostinato and elongation of tonal sequences that often move far beyond the duration of modes and intervals. These tonal sequences can be comprised of any number of instruments at a given time, and are charted only to follow the director's feeling for dynamic and duration. Their dramatalurgical and linguistic individuations are free for the manipulation by the given player. There are certainly crescendos over this long stretch, but more importantly there are silences that equate one instrument with another tonally -- especially microtonally -- rather than pit them against each other. Give a listen to the way the basses engage the tuba and the violin in intricate patterns of exchange and elucidation and you'll get the heart of the entire piece. And it has considerable heart. On Braxton's works, dynamic and drama are the order of the day. As is usual with a large group, he begins very quietly, establishing the tonal color palette at his disposal, and for the edification of the audience. He moves through the band in sections, directing them to utterance in small, parsed phrases before opening up the entire orchestra to a wellspring of sonic inquiry. The questioning happens on the level of linguistic possibility: How much can a group of instruments speak in unified freedom to one another without falling off into the abyss of ego and riffing? For nearly an hour, Braxton examines inside and outside the context of group interplay, how micro and polytonal universes examine and explain one another in the context of a musician's attack and phrasing as well as his improvisational ideas. In this sense, this is among Braxton's most fascinating larger-ensemble works, and will hopefully be one of his most enduring. Indeed, the attendees at these Zurich concerts were treated to the most intimate and prophetic of expressions in these two evenings. They were also given evidence of the very ground on which free improvisation and new composition stand linked to one another.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 37:30
blue highlight denotes track pick