Anthony Braxton: Knitting Factory (Piano/Quartet) 1994, Vol 2
Anthony Braxton: Piano, Marty Ehrlich (reeds), Joe Fonda (bass), Pheeroan AkLaff (drums)
Braxton on piano is a bizarre thought. His considerable reputation is built on his reed playing and his compositions for other instruments, which he generally lets others play on his behalf. His piano pieces are certainlly very impressive, extraordinary even, and have a criminally neglected position in the post-war Classical repertoire, but his own piano-playing is a wholly different matter, and here he treats us to it, as a member of a jazz quartet playing standards.
It seems that Braxton's interest here is harmonic above all. He passes melodic responsibilities to Erlich, who gives the performane of his life, perhaps because he knows that the man comping behind him is probably the most extravagantly virtuosic saxophonist on the planet, and one of its most sophisticated musical imaginations. Abandoning melodic invention almost entirely, then, Braxton finds himself in a position to explore the harmonies of these hoary old favourites ("I Remember Clifford", "Blue Bossa", "Reincarnation of a Love Bird" and so on).
The results are, frankly, transcendentally good. Hearing Braxton explore, stretch and often utterly re-form these chord changes is somehow like entering the mind of a chess grandmaster or a mathematics professor. Without necessarily understanding every step of the argument, you are dazzled by the quickness and alacrity of his choices, and of course by the sheer unlikeliness of these audacious choices actually doing the job they're supposed to do within the context of the progression, which they surely do.
This writer has not always been kind to Marty Erllch, whose playng, like David Murray's, can sound a bit free-jazz-by-numbers, but to have the chutzpah to get up on stage in such company and blow your brains out for the entire set is certainly impressive. What's more, his note-choices and the way he structures his solos are both smart and unexpected. Fonda and AkLaff, meanwhile, hold down the rhythm section duties with the flair and skill you'd expect from two such bankable names, AkLaff in particular taking palpable pleasure in Braxton's weird metrical perversions.
This release documents the second half of what must have been a devastating night of music. The sound quality is far from perfect (as Knitting Factory recordings usually are) but only the most anal of audiophiles will let that discourage them. This is an exhilaratingly intelligent rumination on bebop and the music which has been called "jazz" since.Richard Cochrane