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February 08, 1983 - Image 7

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The Michigan Daily, 1983-02-08

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The Michigan Daily-Tuesday, February 8, 1983-Page 7
Braxton plays complex jazz

By George Shephard

LN HIS PUZZLING Saturday evening
concert in the University Club, New
Music performer Anthony Braxton am,
ply confirmed his virtuoso reputation. .
But though the noises he produced in
this Eclipse-sponsored event were con-
tinually new and interesting, the music
itself sounded inscrutably chaotic. It is
difficult to decide whether this is
because Braxton has made too great a
creative leap for the audience to under-
stand him anymore or if it is merely
because his music is pretentious fluff.
Braxton, who has composed for
groups ranging from orchestra to solo
alto sax to 100-tuba choirs, played only
with pianist Marilyn Crispell. The for-
mat of the concert was that of a serious
classical music recital: Braxton,
positioned in front of the big, unam-
plified grand piano, performed staring
into a pair of stands piled with music.
His conservative dress, rimless
glasses, and disordered hair gave him
the look of a kindly philosophy
professor rather than that of a hip jaz-
zman, and reinforced the impression
that the concert's roots were more in
European art music than in American
jazz.
The first section of the hour-long
opening work sounded like a clarinet
sonata by classical music composers
Anthony Braxton played to an enthusiastic audience Saturday night at Cage or Stockhausen, both influences
University Club.

on Braxton. Played from the written
score without improvising, the atonal,
unmelodious sounds were kept in strict
ensemble by Braxton's many cues to
Crispell, The form of this section, ABA
with an unaccompanied cadenza, also
suggested the classical tradition.
In the following sections, Braxton
switched to his "creative improvised
music," in which both players im-
provised freely, unconstrained even by
the predetermined chord sequences or
patterned rhythms of mainstream jazz.
To ears not accustomed to this
style-and even to many familiar with
it-this music sounds like cacophony:
each player vaguely imitating the
other's bleeps, runs, and honks. The in-
fluence of electronic music was per-
vasive.
Braxton's many years of university
teaching and Crispell's classical new
England Conservatory training are im-
portant in understanding their creative
attitude. An austere mix of classical
music and jazz, Braxton's work uses
classical music's complexity without
its melodic beauty. It also uses jazz's
instruments and sounds without jazz's
understandable, direct fervor. His
music is intellectually interesting but
conveys little emotion. It seems to be
music for university music theory
professors, not general audiences. This
reviewer, for example, vainly waited
for one chord with which he was
familiar.

Braxton is a virtuoso. And most in-
teresting in this concert were the
unusual sounds which he coaxed out of
his six instruments. The instrumen-
ts-tenor, alto, soprano, and sopranini
saxophones and regular and bass
clarinets-were often used in a vocal
style, sounding like a gravely-voiced
blues singer (he didn't have the six-foot
contrabass sax since that would have
required another airplane seat).
He seemed not merely to play the in-
strments but instead to use them to
amplify his inner sighs and yells. He
specially enjoyed exploring each in-
strument's extreme upper and lower
registers. He blazed incredibly fast
runs in the bebop "sheet of sound"
style. His horns emitted squeeks and
grunts, honks and hoots. He played
duets with himself. Using circular
breathing he played five continuous
minutes of trills. He made a tenor sax
sound like a herd of bees. He made a
bass clarinet sound like a donkey's
passion (this caused scattered audience
titters). Crispell got into the act too,
slamming the keys with her fists.
Yet much of Braxton's effort-his
sweat, gyrations, and skill-was
wasted. At times he spoke a musical
language which few in the audience had
a background to understand. At other
times his music was only complicated,
boring coneit. The loud applause and
cries of "beautiful" at the concert's
end, instead of being a genuine ex-

pression of pleasure, may have ref lee:
ted individual audience members' only,
showing that they had been able to en-
joy such obscure music.
On his many recordings Braxton has
shown that he can apply his mar;
velously dextrous creativity to musiq
more generally approachable. He
would certainly reach a wider audience
by doing so on this tour, leaving the ex
cessively cerebral in journals.
TONIGHT 8 PM
A READING BY
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