Sunday, November 26, 2006

Anthony Braxton Quartet@PP Café, 25/11/2006

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

A great seat, a great concert.

This time, I was lucky enough to get a seat right up front: with one foot perched on the knee-high stage, I could almost have reached out and played piano. I felt right in the middle of the music.

From the opening "Lazy Bird," things were clearly going to be different, more energetic and involved. As soon as the theme ended, each member of the quartet found his own tempo: Antonio Borghini played very slowly, Alessandro Giacero provided rich chords that progressively unshackled themselves from the composition, without abandoning it completely, and Cristian Calcagnile and Anthony Braxton both blew furiously. After a wild piano solo, everything went into slow-motion, then re-accelerated during the first part of the theme.

The first two nights, I had been bothered by how Braxton played the heads. Now, either they've changed, I've changed, or both, because they all sounded at least okay. Some were better than that: Borghini's post-Jimmy Garrisson solos regularly enticed Braxton to sublimely vulnerable preludes to the out-head and his reading of "Darn That Dream" was a thoroughly personal interpretation, rather than a mere reading, that brought out the - please excuse the term - day-dreamy quality of his sound. I talked with Antonio again afterwards and according to him, Braxton could very well have played all the tunes perfectly, but a) was much more interested in establishing a process in which everyone could participate than in nailing down details and b) wanted things to be unpredictable and dangerous.

From my new vantage point, I could clearly hear all the notes Braxton was playing, how his dense flurries and leaping lines related to Giacero's chords and how his changes of direction could relate to the sometimes hesitant way he phrased the heads. It was all starting to make sense. The previous night, it had seemed to me like he was either playing unscrutable phrases or roaring on one note. Now I made out a lot of fascinating and complex details. Practically every one of his solos sounded inspired.

tonight's celebrity attendee: Frederic Rzewski, who stayed for the whole concert

The band really sounded like a band having fun playing standards together. The rhythm section was taking shape, too. Or, rather, masterfully losing it. On "Budo," Giacero preferred dissonant two-handed lines to than block chord accompaniment. And on "Early Autumn" (which, according to one expert, contained a transcription of Stan Getz's classic solo), Borghini created a loose bossa rhythm first by hitting the bow below the bridge and later by slapping a beat on the strings with both hands. After they had left the bossa far behind, they slipped easily back into it for the recap. Even though no single tune reached the overwhelming intensity of the opening concert's "Night Dreamer," even those that started off straight-ahead rapidly opened up into free playing to which everyone contributed creatively.

Another sign of the group's blossoming cohesion was that one or the the other musician would spontaneously lay out. Thus, on the second set's "open" piece (every set so far has had one. Although they'd previously tended towards the soundscape-ish, tonight's were more intense collective improvisations) a bashing piano-drum duet abruptly gave way to a somber and delicate arco bass-soprano saxophone section that provided a natural and wonderful ending. Braxton and Borghini hooked up again on "Ezz-thetic," but this time in rage rather than lamentation. That passage was aborted when Braxton's sheet music fell off the stand and he stooped to pick it up. The rhythm section again showed that it was at ease now and thinking on its feet: they took advantage of the sudden loss of energy to switch to slow scrapes and directionless chord sequences floating in sustain.

[It's 6:30 AM, so I hope that was comprehensible.]

in case you were wondering how come, all of a sudden, i knew all the song names. i'm not doing too bad, actually.