Anthony Braxton: Composition N.247
Anthony Braxton (reeds), James Fei (reeds), Matthew Welch (bagpipes)
"Ghost Trance Music" is a phrase one hears bandied about in the rather occult discourses of Braxtonologists, but this piece really makes sense of the term. Using the bagpipes not only for their sound but, it seems, their whole tradition, he creates a continuously flowing stream of notes rooted in a regular semiquaver rhythm. At the most simplistic level, this is certainly hypnotic stuff, and when one gets a way into the piec's hour-long duration, time really does seem to dilate a bit.
The three reeds mainly blend to create a thick, swirling melange, although both Braxton and Fei make soloistic statements within this framework. Two other Braxton compositions also make brief appearances. The effect, then, is of a quite minimalist framework within which other things can happen. What's particularly fascinating here is that the hierarchy this implies is reversed here. Instead of the long, flowing regular notes accompanying the solos, what actually happens is the reverse.
This makes this long piece both daunting and surprisingly affecting. On the surface of it, not much happens; a simple-looking tune is repeated, interminally, by three reed instruments. It's astonishing that something so apparently slight can yield such absoorbing and fascinating music. This is not, repeat not, minimalist music; it's packed with incident.
This is helped by the line-up. Regulars will remember Fei from his previous Leo release; he's a fine player with a penchant for the admixture of composition with improvisation, but it's a surprise to discover just how well he seems to understand the older man's somtimes obscure intentions. Welch is an absolute trouper, playing his intensely demanding part which requires him to hold the whole thing together but affords little opportunity for grandstanding.
The composer himself is on good form, but this really isn't music about individual performances. The Gost Trance Musics are already setting out on a very different path from Braxton's jazz heritage, although the connection with African musics is very strong here, and in this case a fruitful alliance is formed with the Scots, too. The presence of extensive and very helpful notes is something which seems to characterise Braxton on Leo, and something very much to be encouraged, making this extraordinary music accessible even to Braxton neophytes.Richard Cochrane