|For many years, both greats of modern jazz - the saxophone player Anthony Braxton and the drummer Andrew Cyrille - have been pursuing their own musical developments. In the autumn of 2002 their wish to make a joint CD recording was fulfilled.
What came of the meeting are fifteen internal dialogues: new compositions, spontaneous improvisations, as well as interpretations of well-known pieces from Cyrille and Braxton. Both CDs are an artistic manifesto of two jazz innovators, a document of African-American music, borne of mutual respect, equality and esteem.
The legendary duo of saxophone and percussion, which Anthony Braxton began with Max Roach, finds a fascinating continuation in the duo Anthony Braxton-Andrew Cyrille.
JazzReview.Com: Anthony Braxton has recorded in just about every kind of situation imaginable, from solo performance to puppet theatre to accompanying a comedian. But after all is said and played, he still sounds best to me in quartet or duo configurations. His meeting with master percussionist Andrew Cyrille has been drawing a lot of comparisons to his preeminent recordings with Max Roach from the late 1970s (the live date has recently been reissued by hatOLOGY). And while these sessions aren't at that level, they are robust, intelligent, and filled with the very ease and warmth that so many haters have long professed absent from Mr. Braxton's music.
Culled from a single evening's live performance at Braxton's home institution, Wesleyan University, these performances are filled with surprise and familiarity, toughness and whimsy, focus and erring. Cyrille, though he cut his teeth in radically free musical contexts and is still perhaps best heard in those situations, has seen his critical stock rise in the past couple decades owing to his participation in some progressive compositional endeavors: His outrageously tight polyrhythmic patterns in Horace Tapscott and John Carter's music, his own increasingly ambitious writing, and John Lindberg's splendid small groups. His fondness for fusing repetitive order with freedom is akin to Braxton's own recent fascination with pulse-based, minimalist trance musics. Surprisingly, they haven't actually played together too much: Marion Brown's Afternoon of a Georgia Faun (1970) and Braxton's own Tristano tribute album (1989) being the only two examples I can think of.
While the very first improvisation rambles, the musicians quickly get their feet set and take the listener to all kinds of interesting spaces. "The Loop", for example, is a hypnotic pattern that Braxton both rides and pushes against, his increasingly ragged tone and excited playing supercharging the rhythm. However, the cooler, floating pieces like "Celestial Gravity" and "Interlacing" are just as effective, not just for Braxton's typically provocative alto work but for the details and nuances Cyrille is able to coax from snare and cymbal. "Quickened Spirits" is a nicely contrastive piece for Braxton's baritone and Cyrille's rimshots. And, perhaps surprisingly, Cyrille's "Water, Water, Water" even dips its toe into the waters of Afro-Cuban pulse based musics. Braxton is undaunted here, and simply wends his unique way through the music at hand. The pattern across these two sets consists typically of alternations between the ruminative (say, Braxton's "Composition No. 310", heavy on the bass clarinet) and the fiery (long blowouts like "Ascendancy").
There are perhaps a few too many pieces like "Dreams Alive... Concretize", where the duo float in a meterless space, and I come away from these records with the slight sense that a single disc would have been more powerful (although, depending on the horn Braxton is using, things can get very interesting). But as diffuse as some of Mr. Braxton's recent output has been, this two-fer represents a fairly powerful statement. And if it's not as essential as some of his earlier work, it's confirmation that both Braxton and Cyrille are still playing fine, provocative music.