Somnambule - Writing About Music

Anthony Braxton ~ Ninetet (Yoshi’s) 1997 Vol.3

Anthony Braxton’s rather formidable reputation may be due in no small part to the abstract iconography of his compositional titles and perhaps even the composer’s studious, bespectacled aspect. It would be a shame if this prevented Braxton’s music from being heard because the music itself is incredibly rewarding. (Yoshi’s) Vol.3 is a double disc live recording which presents Compositions N. 211 and N. 212 as played by a ninetet, two thirds of whom are wind players (a multiplicity of saxes as well as flute and clarinets), the remainder contributing bass, percussion and electric guitar.

Composition N. 211 begins with seesawing unison lines that suggest a chorus of garrulous clowns or jack-in-the-boxes trooping along in higgledy-piggledy fashion. The short jerky notes of their procession begin to give way briefly to slightly more drawn-out ones, their arrival a relief, a sign of imminent mutation. Gradually the parade begins to scatter into individual voices, squawking saxes, the sharp titter of percussion, the soft patter of the vibraphone and so on. From angular comedy the music moves into territory that’s almost bestially cacophonous and then gives way to a strong feeling of crepescular mourning. Throughout these and further, successive passages there’s a strong sense of simultaneity, of the musicians travelling in a similar direction, but on different paths. This creates a level of incident, detail and complexity which is both challenging and highly rewarding. The seesawing arpeggiated motif returns later, but harried by buzzsaw blowflies and doubtful pauses before rallying and moving onwards. This forward motion is referred to in Steve Day’s excellent liner notes as “... the ‘line’ [that] acts as the central core” and that clarifies the sense of N. 211 as a tenuous thread or path along which the improvisors travel. There’s a gorgeous passage at the 48 minute mark that alone justifies Braxton’s description of his current music as Ghost Trance Music: spooked, hesitant and attenuated it concludes the piece brilliantly. Composition N. 212 is of an equally high quality. Both pieces aren’t easy music in any traditional sense , but they are abundantly rich in form, tone and content and are highly recommended.
Colin Buttimer
April 2005
Published by Signal To Noise magazine