Anthony Braxton Quintet
Cecil Taylor (piano), Bill Dixon (trumpets) & Tony Oxley (percussion)
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 15 November, 2004
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London
The annual “London Jazz Festival” (in association with BBC Radio 3) promised nothing more intriguing or provocative than this double-bill of radical post-bop artists, who have been setting the limits for improvised music-making over four decades. And, in his first visit to the UK in a long while, Anthony Braxton brought with him his latest quintet – a distinctive line-up of brass (trumpets and flugelhorn), electro-acoustic guitar, what might be termed ‘floor percussion’, double bass, and Braxton himself on soprano, alto and tenor saxes.
Famously among jazz composers, Braxton gives his works the anonymity of a consecutive numbering – a procedure which must now account for some 200 pieces. Although the actual number of this concert’s main offering was not disclosed, it had the hallmarks of Braxton at his most engaging. And, at around 50 minutes, it gave the quintet space for intricate exploration of thechordal nucleus that was fairly punched out in the opening seconds. Yet, combative reed-player though he often is, Braxton’s art is more about opening up possibilities for, and galvanising the potential of his colleagues (just what a ‘bandleader’ is there to do, after all): evident through the way that the musicians teased out both the timbral subtlety and jagged rhythmic precision of the material – which constantly went in and out of expressive kilter, without losing that sense of intimacy associated with the ensemble medium. There was some surprise when Braxton breathlessly called time with a roll-call of the players, returning for a six-minute encore that combined harmonic density and rhythmic velocity with no mean eloquence.
If the ABQ is about co-operation, what followed after the interval was nothing less than three brazen individuals coming together to fight over a common ground that probably never existed in the first place. Understandable that each was given a solo spot to establish his own presence. First on was Tony Oxley – survivor of many an encounter between some of Europe’s most belligerent improvisers – in an 18-minute slot for kit-percussion and digital delay, the latter employed sparingly yet effectively so that earlier incidents were revisited in a spiralling accretion of memory.
Next up was Bill Dixon, long a cultural activist as opposed to exclusively musical performer, for 15 minutes of atmospheric trumpet sounds (the latter word used advisedly!) shared between two microphones of varying delay.
Finally, and after what seemed like an almost endless pause, Cecil Taylor appeared with his customary indifference, preparing as if for a home run-through of a nagging motif that happened to have been in his head that day. What started off as casual andunobtrusive soon generated its own unstoppable momentum – as Taylor careered off along paths of his own, inimitable devising. About a third of the way into this 35-minute improvisation, Oxley and Dixon re-emerged to fashion a three-way discourse. While Oxley fitted into the wilder margins of Taylor’s imagination with ease, Dixon seemed unsure how best to make space amid theteeming detail issuing forth. That he enriched the texture without at all obfuscating it was a tribute to his powers of restraint, and a likely recognition that all eyes and ears were focused on Taylor – whose vitality and sense of purpose remain undimmed in his eighth decade.
- The Taylor/Dixon/Oxley set is broadcast in “Jazz’ on 3” (BBC Radio 3) on December 19; the ABQ set follows on the 26th