Saturday, November 25, 2006

Anthony Braxton Quartet@PP Café, 24/11/2006

Anthony Braxton - as, ss
Alessandro Giacero - p
Antonio Borghini - b
Cristian Calcagnile - d

A bigger crowd, but a lesser concert. I had been expecting to see more musicians in attendance. Philip Catherine was there but left after two songs. I didn't recognise anyone else.

The opening "Three Little Words" (I think, I'm hopeless with titles) gave hope: Anthony Braxton's vigorous solo was enlivened by alto-bass-drums and alto-piano-bass sections, which suggested a little arrangement work. Unfortunately, apart from a brilliant soundscapey piece, everything was more or less straight-ahead, whereas last night had ranged fairly widely. Still, that one soundscape was great: it built into a dense rustling, then re-built into ghostly wailing, with a particularly felicitous arco bass-soprano saxophone unison. When, at the end, Alessandro Giacero introduced more recognisable chordal and melodic elements, the effect was that of a lullabye in a horror movie. One aggressively free song in the second set, with a crashing piano solo, also woke up a somewhat listless concert. For example, the Wayne Shorter tune that ended the second set was very far from matching the uproarious energy of the Shorter tune played the night before. The crowd was enthusiastic, though, so maybe I was just tired.

Mostly, it was straight comping plus Braxton on top, a format which, fatigue aiding, could no longer capture my attention. Sometimes the gap between the rhythm section and the leader seemed absurd: why play so straight, relative to Braxton? Surely there's a way to bend towards his notes/pitch/harmony while keeping a footing in a traditional feel? At times it sounded like they were putting up guard rails, but I was told that Braxton's regular Standards group (with Kevin Norton) is far more adventurous.

After the concert I had a brief and interesting chat with the bassist, Antonio Borghini. Notably, he said that Braxton was unafraid of appearing fragile and that what he was looking for was unpredictable and fell in-between the expected places (he didn't actually say that, but sort of gestured it). He contrasted Braxton with David Murray (Antonio has a trio with Murray and Hamid Drake), who "wants to hit people" (in a "Trenchtown Rock" way, of course). A lot of the heads seemed stiff, trite and sometimes even irritating, but I'll continue to try to hear and figure out why Braxton wants to play them like that. On a bop tune in the second set, I was surprised by his sharpness and precision. Unpredictable, I guess.

As for Antonio's own playing, he said that "Anthony's played with all the greatest bass players in the world, so I can't impress him with [mimes very fast bass playing]. I'm just trying to be musical." If you ask me, he is succeeding brilliantly. On "Three Little Words," he played a solo built around soft notes that bent upwards into a teardrop shape. Later, an unaccompanied walking solo generated more swing than the trio had during the entirety of the preceding piano solo. As it turned out, the three Italians do not form a pre-existing trio, but Antonio and Cristian Calcagnile have been playing together for many years.