Anthony Braxton / Taylor Ho Bynum / Satoshi Takeishi / Mary Halvorson / Tyshawn Sorey / Chris Dahlgren / Andre Vida

March 13, 2006

Child Real Eyes

Vidatone 5


Quintet (London) 2004

Leo Records CD LR 449

Novelist Christopher Isherwood titled one of his autobiographical volumes “My Guru and his Disciple” and it appears that the majority of musicians who have come into the orbit of multi-reedist Anthony Braxton have the same sentiments.

As one of Free Jazz’s most influential players, composers, orchestrators and, for more than two decades, an educator, guru Braxton has affected two or three generations of improvisers, most of whom take something unique from his teaching. Arguably the most important non-mainstream jazz pedagogue since pianist Lennie Tristano, Braxton’s disciples often play in his ensembles. Furthermore, in contrast to Tristanto, Braxton loves to record, to such an extent, that he can usually be called upon to second his former students on disc. So far he’s lent his talents to CDs featuring among others trumpeter Taylor Ho Bynum, accordion player Ted Reichmann, saxophonist Scott Rosenberg and Andre Vida, the reedist who leads CHILD REAL EYES.

Released around the same time, QUNITET (LONDON) 2004, is a memorable CD featuring the guru and a group of his former students performing one lengthy –

almost 49½ minute – composition and its encore. An evolution from his repetitive and microtonal Ghost Trance Music, the exhilaration in “Composition 343” is palpable, with the reedist and his four sidefolk recalling the prickly and incisive experimentation of Braxton’s earliest Free Jazz outings.

More mixed is the collaboration with Vida. Not only do both play six reeds each, leading to often similar sounding textures, but when cellist Loren Dempster and drummer Tyshawn Sorey join them, the backing is so obtuse on certain pieces that the words fussy and sombre come to mind before legato.

Vida, who was part of reed section for Braxton’s ninetet and tentet gigs in the late 1990s, makes his best statements by staying away from woodwinds such as alto and sopranino saxophones on which the older musician have evolved his own sound. That said, another drawback is the curiously unfinished quality of some tracks. Like some “Saturday Night Live” skits, you get the feeling that the two decided on what they wanted to say – singly and together – but never worked out a precise sketch ending.

Breaking free of too many horizontal lines, the most memorable tracks such as “Rising”” and “Child Real Eyes II” make their points by completing thoughts and definitively delineating each part. For example, the former is a melodious mix of musette-like Bb soprano saxophone lines from Braxton that trill and vibrate, while Vida’s tenor saxophone holds the bottom firm. By the time Braxton heads into peeping and squealing territory, false fingering and split tones seem as accepted as arpeggios.

On the later track, the two reedists polytonally play off one another’s timbres, with one tongue-slapping and the other squeaking and spewing pointy tones. Then in the middle section, double counterpoint takes on mellow modulations until the theme reappears with Vida playing it straight and the older saxist adding double-tongued roughness.

Similarly, the quartet tunes range from notable to almost-ran. Sadly, because it lacks a true ending, “Tentz ” is one of the later, since the rolls and bounces from Tyshawn Sorey, who now works regularly with pianist Vijay Iyer, balance the cellist’s broken octave line and Vida rugged baritone saxophone color. It’s an instrument he should investigate further, since he manages to create a full, moderato sound without ever resorting to the big horn’s tricks of the trade – bottom scrapping or bass note overemphasis.

Dempster’s effortless bow pressure on “Opening” – strangely placed ninth in the program – uses almost bel canto portamento that meshes perfectly with the harmonic convergence between Vida’s tenor saxophone and Braxton’s alto. The climax features a groundswell of extended slides, slurs and tongue spits from the two saxes, played rubato, but without every one breaking the solid motion of the tune.

QUNITET (LONDON) 2004 features a completely different cast: trumpeter Bynum, who has done notable work with his own bands; guitarist Mary Halvorson, who often works in a duo with another Braxton sideperson, violinist Mary Pavone; bassist Chris Dahlgren, who has recorded in the co-op 3D band; and percussionist Satoshi Takeishi, who works with cellist Erik Friedlander. Categorically, it provides conclusive evidence of the composer’s mature talents.

Constructed with a recurring thematic motif, “Composition 343” isn’t controlled by it as some of Braxton’s Ghost Trance compositions were. Showing his faith in the performers, the reedist gives everyone solo space, while dividing the band into smaller groups. When Bynum and Dahlgren improvise together for example, Braxton bounces lines off Halvorson’s guitar runs.

As unobtrusive, but more upfront than Sorey is on the other disc, Takeishi concentrates on rhythmic off-beats, cross handed bounces and cymbals flicks. Meanwhile, the only time the bassist really asserts himself is at the composition’s midpoint when he intermingles dissonant tones with the guitarist to encircle the percussionist’s pummeling that could come from a conga or a log drum.

On their own Halvorson and Bynum are spectacular soloists. At times she fingers multi-effects from her instrument, while the trumpeter slurs buzzy, spittle-encrusted elevated notes from his. During most of the performance, recorded live at the Royal Festival Hall, Bynum warbles muted timbres, though at one point he answers a section of Braxton’s fleet, reed-biting sopranino trills with whinnying plunger work. Plus he’s not adverse to unleashing a flurry of triplets or undulating grace notes if occasion arises.

Alternately strumming and finger-picking, the guitarist confirms her status as a plectrumist to hear as she showcases tremolo lines behind Braxton’s irregular vibrations, or downstrokes cascading notes in unison with Braxton’s raw shrieks. When Bynum wah-wahs and Braxton outputs a more legato line, she counters with staccato phrasing or with expressions that seem to take their pulsations from the properties of the effects pedals and the amp rather than the guitar’s strings or body.

Compositionally, Braxton combines with one or the other front liners to recapitulate the main theme at interval through the piece. This seems almost conventionally jazz-like. Furthermore, any naysayer hearing his brawny, multi-faceted solos would be hard pressed to explain how the reedist can be characterized as anti-jazz or as a non-swinger. In the piece’s penultimate minutes in fact, he vibrates the sort of pinched split tones that used to characterize Archie Shepp’s work of the 1960s.

Earlier with corrosive cross blowing and a powerful vibrato, he cries and growls simultaneously through his horn, continuously forcing out multiphonic breaths. Then, just before the conclusion, after the final theme variation, his staccatissimo flutter tonguing reaches such a tempo that Bynum’s plunger decorations and Halvorson’s speedy chromatic flanges move from decoration to polyphonic crescendo.

A must-have for those Braxton followers and others looking for a memorable keeper, QUINTET (LONDON) 2004 provides a marker to which Vida can aspire. Nonetheless there’s enough promise on CHILD REAL EYES to make it open to investigation as well.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Child: 1. Purrls 2. Child Real Eyes I 3. Till 4.Gypsy Star 5. Child Real Eyes II 6. Tentz 7. Rising 8. Tentz 9. Opening 10. Gypsy Star 11. Teruglio

Personnel: Child: Andre Vida (tenor saxophone on 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 9; Eb baritone saxophone on 6, 8, Bb soprano saxophone on 10; C-melody saxophone on 4 and taragato, tenor saxophone and Bb clarinet on 11); Anthony Braxton (alto saxophone on 1, 2 5, 8, 9, 10, Bb clarinet on 3, Eb sopranino sax on 6, Bb soprano sax on 7, Eb contra-alto clarinet on 11, F-mezzo soprano on 4; Loren Dempster (cello); Tyshawn Sorey (drums)

Track Listing: London: 1. Composition 343 Part 1 2. Composition 343 Part 2

Personnel: London: Taylor Ho Bynum (trumpet); Anthony Braxton (F, alto, B flat soprano saxophones and E flat sopranino); Mary Halvorson (guitar); Chris Dahlgren (bass); Satoshi Takeishi (percussion)