This May 1972 concert, now reissued in better sound, is exciting for a number of reasons. We are given the opportunity to hear two very different configurations of musicians in dialogue with Braxton's compositional vision. The first half involves Braxton with bassist Dave Holland and fellow AACM stalwart Philip Wilson; the second finds Barry Altschul in the drum chair and reedsman John Stubblefield joining Braxton, Holland and the late, great vocalist Jeanne Lee. As Art Lange's informative notes state, the date represents a crucial point in Braxton's musical development. Lange offers an expert analysis of the Braxton compositions' radical structures, demonstrating the freedoms that make 6N, 6O and 6P unique in his oeuvre.
However, the trio's reading of "All the Things you Are is equally important. It bears striking resemblances to the way Braxton performs Wayne Shorter's classic "Nefertiti" with the group Circle. In contrast to the way later Braxton groups would confront tunes "in the tradition," as it were, the trio spends a fair amount of time circumlocuting the melody. When it emerges, it is entirely contextualized, in the way that the Art Ensemble of Chicago might reference a standard or a musical genre. The music is free without reeking of New-Thing cliché, adventurous without abandoning tradition or becoming too enslaved by it. The late Wilson is still a neglected drummer, and this concert should give those interested a chance to appreciate his art.
The epic 6P, performed by the quintet and separated into two tracks on this reissue, will serve a similar purpose for Jeanne Lee. The importance of her contributions to black experimental music cannot be overstated; as she had already worked with Braxton on Marion Brown's seminal Afternoon of a Georgia Faun, as well as in groups led by Gunther Hampel, she was familiar with Braxton's methods of improvisation and interaction. She moves from pure vocalese to words and back again, demonstrating astonishing fluidity and vocal range. The two reedsmen interact over a constantly changing timbre of percussion and bass reminiscent of the Circle days while also looking forward to the freedoms that Ghost Trance Music would bring thirty-five years later.
It is wonderful to see this disc back in print. It holds an important place in Braxton's development, and, as with all Hat releases, the sound is superb.
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