CF 079 – Anthony Braxton / Joe Fonda – Duets 1995
This is a reissue of the long disappeared CD on Konnex recorded by multi-instrumentalist Anthony Braxton with one of his most notable pupils, Joe Fonda. “Duets 1995” is a remarkable item of the duo series from this frontline figure of avant-garde jazz. If in that series we find two other Braxton partnerships with bassists, namely Mario Pavone and the late Peter Niklas Wilson, this is far from being more of the same. Even the conservative jazz fans will find here something to deal with. The renditions of two precious standards, Cole Porter’s “All of You” and Vernon Duke’s “Autumn in New York,” show the obvious admiration Anthony Braxton has for Paul Desmond. Both Fonda’s and Braxton’s compositions and improvisations are angular, complex, and tricky in terms of tonality and rhythm, but it would be unfair to say that this kind of approach to the jazz idiom is “cerebral”. This music has such a human dimension and feeling that any liberty taken appears to be natural in the continuum of African-American music. “Ancient to the future” it is, and with a fine level of communicability. As Joe Fonda once put it, “we live in a time of evolution”, and nothing can be taken out of the referred continuum: “For me there’s no separation between Bill Evans and Cecil Taylor or Sun Ra and Charlie Parker.” All of them communicated in different ways, but it always was understood. This Braxton / Fonda collection is also highly likeable.
CF 080 – Joélle Leandre / Pascal Contet – Freeway
This pair of great French musicians had a previous duo recording in 1994, but it’s now difficult to find. It was such a marvellous encounter that a second session has been greatly anticipated. Here it is, 13 years after, and with a Portuguese edition. A double bass and an accordion, nothing more because they have it all in their respective fingers and minds: Joelle Léandre and Pascal Contet have serious jazz chops but they can also deal with microtonality and dissonance. They’re both fine improvisers and “genretrotters”: besides playing with the likes of Anthony Braxton, Evan Parker, Irène Schweizer, Fred Frith and Carlos “Zíngaro”, Joelle is also an interpreter of classical contemporary composers like John Cage, Giacinto Scelsi and Morton Feldman. Pascal covers a spectrum of styles going from popular formats (“chanson française” and musette, for instance) to the avant-garde, performing compositions by Sylvano Bussotti, Vinko Globokar and Jean-Pierre Drouet or guesting with a symphony orchestra conducted by Pierre Boulez. “Freeway” is the product of a duo of virtuosos, but they never indulge in mere exhibition of technique. This is “savant” mood music, jazzy and at the same time with chamber dimensions, provocative and demanding even if spontaneous and intuitive. As Fred Jung, from All About Jazz, writes in the liner notes, “this is music without borders, boundaries, or safety nets”, ambivalent, palpitating and very much alive.
The title of this CD by the Sonic Openings Under Pressure troupe is the term used by the Lenape tribe to name the Hudson River, and it means “river that flows two ways”. The music acts accordingly, and surely is a New York product. There are two flows here – one is freedom (as in “free jazz” and “free improvisation”), the other is form (established by structure and composition). Everything happening in these tracks has those two interactive sides; one open, the second closed in such a way that some materials are getting out, going very far away, while others are coming in, adjusting to the roots and identity of the “great black tradition,” with a conscious and determined attitude. And this intentionality means that the parameters are even more evident. Alto saxophonist Patrick Brennan is the mentor of the project, and with him we find a rhythm section once involved with Charles Gayle: bassist Hilliard Greene and drummer David Pleasant. This is sufficient indication that “Muhheakuntuk” is a recording of Fire Music, though there’s much more in the flux, because we can’t reduce these sounds to just one thing. Brennan values the nuance factor, and that’s why he inscribes himself in a lineage formed by the jazz stylists Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman and Henry Threadgill. Greene has a visceral side, but he’s also a master in the art of subtilty we call “groove.” Pleasant, an expert in polyrhythm very aware of the different music families in the percussion world, from the Gullah-Geechee culture (the oldest African one in America), to hip-hop, is known for his asymmetric and complex beats. So, if your foot taps and your heart rejoices with this music, your mind will awaken.
Listen and you’ll hear electronics and traditional instruments not traditionally played. For example, there’s a saxophone, but the controlled feedbacks originated aren’t specific of the tube with holes and keys on it invented by Adolph Sax – it’s really a saxomicrophone. The mic is part of the instrument, and without it those sounds wouldn’t be possible. While everybody was saying that saxophonist John Butcher, the guest musician on “Strokes”, was a disciple of Evan Parker, the man was already exploring new forms of blowing with a reed, inspired in electronic music (after all, the microphone is the most important tool of any electronica). This is something else indeed. Sten Sandell, the leader of this session, plays piano (listen to those cascades of notes, people!), sings biphonically (more Tibet than Tuva, by the way) and adds more electronics. Bassist Johan Berthling and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love play acoustic, but both of them know very well how to interact with the “non-natural” sounds. We couldn’t expect anything else from them, knowing that the first is a member of the electro-acoustic experimental pop band Tape and the other duels frequently with a laptoper extraordinaire of the noise field, Lasse Marhaug. So, this is not your conventional jazz disc, but jazz it is, with a European perspective and a futuristic commitment. The four musicians here play other music idioms besides jazz, beginning with Sandell, also known for his dedications to contemporary composition and performance (Cage, Xenakis, Feldman.) and to a revised form of prog rock, but all those extra activities are reflected in what they do here. Music of our times. Or more precisely: good music of our times.