Brilliant Corners and Quadratic Equations

Honey, I shrunk the Braxton.


Anthony Braxton
Six Monk’s Compositions (1987)
Black Saint : 1988

AB, alto sax; Mal Waldron, piano; Buell Neidlinger, bass; Bill Osborne, drums.

Many thanks to everyone who took part in our two contests last week. There were an impressive number of correct guesses for our blindfold test — or at least partly correct. The song was Braxton’s cover of Thelonious Monk’s “Skippy,” from the album above. (In the end, there were far more Braxton guesses than Monk guesses.) Congratulations are due to…

Steve Trichka, of Endwell, New York, USA.
As a bonus, a favorite movie of Steve’s: The Princess Bride (“I guess I’m a sucker for a good sword fight.”)

As for our contest of pure chance, the winning number was 34. The winner picked the number right on the nose. Nice work. Congratulations to…

Chris Kennedy, of San Francisco, California, USA
A favorite movie of Chris’s: “Let’s say Werkmeister Harmonies by Bela Tarr, for the moment.”

Both of our lucky winners will receive CD copies of David S. Ware’s Renunciation and William Parker and Hamid Drake’s Summer Snow - courtesy of the fine folks at Aum Fidelity. Again, many thanks to all entrants, and if lady luck did not shine on you this month, we invite you to please do try again next time.

& & & & &

Now that the collective blindfold has been removed, here is another track from Six Monk’s Compositions, along with a replay of “Skippy” for those too skittish to put on the blindfold.

No accident that folks like Cecil Taylor and John Zorn consider Monk to be an avant garde composer, and no surprise that Braxton would want to pay tribute to his impressive legacy. In his heydey, Monk was preceived as some kind of mad scientist of music. The same is true of Braxton, who took things a step further by infamously titling some of his compositions with some ornate equations.

Those number and letter diagrams earned Braxton an unfair reputation for being an arid egghead who produced unapproachably daunting music. The pipe probably didn’t help, either. So marvel at how easy these exceptional versions of Monk’s tunes go down. And you can’t miss the passion, the sense of compulsion and urgency the group invests in the music.

In the liner notes for Six Monk’s, Art Lange highlights a Bill Evans quote about Monk; it easily applies to Mr. Braxton:

Make no mistake. This man knows exactly what he is doing in a theoretical way – organized, more than likely, in a personal terminology, but strongly organized nevertheless. We can be further grateful to him for combining aptitude, insight, drive, compassion, fantasy, and whatever else makes the total artist, and we should also be grateful for such direct speech in an age of insurmountable conformist pleasures.

So, for your listening pleasure, the uncommon pleasures of two nonconformists working together across time.

Category Anthony Braxton, contests

11 Responses to Brilliant Corners and Quadratic Equations

  1. This is a wonderful album. One of my very favourites.

  2. i really like this album, though i can understand why some people don’t, or think it’s a bad introduction to braxton (that bit i could sympathise with)… and you can bet that monk wouldn’t have approved of “skippy”: admittedly he’d more or less given the piece up anyway, knowing that instead of “playing the tune” (as he was always onto his soloists to do), hornmen would simply treat this as an obstacle race… and that’s pretty much what became of it. this version just says “follow that!” and is so fast that all swing feel is lost from the beat… but i still love it! this track finishes off a compilation of monk covers i circulated amongst friends a few years ago.

    the odd thing about the album is that braxton didn’t just take on the monk canon, he specifically modelled his version on lacy’s reflections (1958) – using two otherwise fairly unlikely collaborators, waldron and neidlinger, in the same chairs but replacing elvin jones with osborne; and apart from substituting two more virtuoso pieces (“played twice” and “corners”) for three of lacy’s less outlandish selections he plays the same set, the two ballads included.

    mmm, actually i’d better dig that album out… thanks guys :)

    i have more braxton on the way myself btw…

  3. Dear centrifuge, thanks for that wonderful commentary, and background on the album. We hadn’t known of the Reflections aspect. Appreciate your adding to our understanding here.

  4. monk is a fave – i like braxton as well – but have not heard these…
    i don’t “get” the letters-numbers titles – but i don’t worry about it and just listen…
    funny how the expectations of what a jazz artist should be often gets in the way…when in reality it ought to be about the individual expression…
    it also seems odd that people don’t attribute the proper level of work and study and deliberation in the work of some improvisers – that’s why i love the lange quote…

    anyhow, is their a name for that ginormous horn?

  5. Mike, technically the horn is a contrabass saxophone, but Braxton liked to call his “The Mac-ette”, he said, “after the Big Mac hamburger.” Braxton, then as now, was more or less addicted to Mickey Dee’s.

  6. and this is just in case someone might try to steal & pawn big Mac :)

    Mike wrote: “…funny how the expectations of what a jazz artist should be often gets in the wayâ?¦”

    Yes, as does the expectation of being a “jazz” artist.

  7. El próximo 23 de mayo Anthony Braxton toca en Buenos Aires, Argentina. Es la primera vez que llega a nuestro país.
    La actuación va a ser en formato de trio y está organizado en el marco del show â??6to Buenos Aires Jazz y otras músicasâ?? por el Gobierno de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires en forma totalmente libre y gratuita.

  8. Hey- thanks for putting these up. Embarrassed that I thought the contest track was something composed by Warne Marsh (at least I got Brax right). I’ve known Skippy from the above-mentioned “Reflections,” and thanks again for the background, centrifuge.

    Who cares, but for me these tracks are almost completely incoherent. The rhythm section playing is wooden, faltering, scattered and either behind or ahead of the beat in excruciatingly annoying ways. It’s sad to hear Mal Waldron in this context; he’s one of my all time favorite pianists but it’s just the wrong setting for him. Osborne’s drums suffer from that damnable ’80s drum recording bullshit. Paraphrasing what Miles said about Money Jungle, the Duke/Mingus/Roach trio recording, record company executives should be shot.


  9. another uninvited reflection– the worst indignity musicians can do to Monk pieces is make them sound forced, stilted and out of reach. The logic and integrity of Monk’s music shines in the hands of players who are completely relaxed and settled back into the phrases.


  10. interesting

    i don’t agree though (in this case). i think it captures the fun spirit of the original – which isn’t exactly the deepest piece monk ever wrote anyway.

    as an album, i do like it but don’t necessarily recommend it as an especially interesting examination of monk – and i certainly wouldn’t offer it as an “easy” route into braxton.

  11. I’m with Peter. I listened to this album a few times when it was new, being a Monk and Braxton fan, and thought it was more of a macho stunt than a really musical tribute to a master. Listening again doesn’t change that opinion. It’s kind of entertaining, but I don’t get much else.

    On the other hand, Braxton’s Twelve Tristano Compositions album from around the same era is much more settled-sounding music. Part of that does have to do with the rhythm section of Dred Scott, Cecil McBee, and Andrew Cyrille.