Touching Extremes review by Massimo Ricci

Anthony Braxton / Joe Fonda – Duets 1995 (CF 079)

This album was originally released by Konnex, one of those unsung milestones that necessitate of a reissue in order for people outside the experts’ circle to dip their toe in something that is described – often, and very superficially – as difficult, if not plain hostile. I’m referring to Anthony Braxton’s music, one of the most important expressions of advanced composition and off-commonplace reed playing of the last century, which jazz purists classify as “too cerebral”. I remember, a while back, a review of a Leo CD in which the poor writer misjudged Braxton’s quarter-tone dexterity and unyoked improvisational acumen as “errors” in the interpretation of some standard, causing an amused email reaction by Feigin himself who reportedly was “roaring with laughter” upon reading that nonsense. In these duets, in which the saxophonist plays C melody and alto sax, contrabass and B flat clarinets, bassist Joe Fonda – himself a stalwart of intelligent jazz – lends his dazzling technique, both with arco and bare fingers, the couple generating music that features everything at the right place in the right moment. The record is opened and closed by two homages to tradition, “All of you” and “Autumn in New York”; I dare you to find more atypical approximations and tasteful deviations from the classic rendition of such well-known pieces, all the while without lacking an ounce of respect for the originals. But, as told before, this could be a good entrance door for “Braxton beginners”; if one looks for more dramatic absences of compromise, “Composition 168+147” will do the job, Braxton’s unpredictable flutters, superb dissonant lyricism and forward-looking open mindedness once again making the difference. Not between himself and other players, but among prepared and unprepared audiences.

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