Picks and Pans Review: Composition 113

UPDATED 06/24/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 06/24/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT

Anthony Braxton

Braxton's music doesn't come to you; you have to go to it. But there is nothing terribly forbidding about this set of six extended improvisations for solo soprano saxophone. The mood is introspective and intimate—often fanciful, even tender. When Braxton erupts, as he does gloriously in the third (Strength) and sixth (Belief), the energy in his careening, convoluted squawks is exultant rather than angry or nihilistic. Even the title is tame—at least for Braxton, a 40-year-old multi-instrumentalist who came to prominence in the 70s in the Chicago jazz avant-garde. The difficulty of his music is not an absence of melody or harmony, but a more generous and abstract definition of those terms. Headphones may actually help to bridge the distance. They enable a listener to experience the sound as a kind of dazzling, mutable creature whose rags-to-riches textural shifts and color bursts are key expressive elements. By altering spatial perceptions, headphones also offer a better, more interior vantage point. As much for his own guidance as for the listener's, Braxton provides a narrative scenario on the jacket: "It is midnight and raining at a small train station in Northern Africa, and finally the locomotive has arrived. As the smoke begins to clear...we can see six people boarding the train—all of whom are clothed in bulky, robe-like garments with long black hoods." To each of the six travelers Braxton assigns a "character tendency" (humor, acceptance, strength, dependability, courage, belief) and a brief 11-note theme. Then he explores those tendencies in the six sections of the piece. But the program exotica (like the turgid liner notes) aren't necessary to appreciate Composition 113. You just have to put yourself mentally inside the piece. There the sensual, unruly presence of the sound and the logical yet surprising way it moves tell you everything. (Sound Aspects)

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