MUHAL, part 1
Creative Construction Company
Muse : 1976 (rec. 1970)
Anthony Braxton, alto sax, soprano sax, clarinet, flute, contrabass clarinet, chimes; Leroy Jenkins, violin, viola, recorder, toy xylophone, harmonica, bicycle horn; Leo Smith, trumpet, flugelhorn, French horn, seal horn, percussion; Muhal Richard Abrams, piano, cello, clarinet; Richard Davis, bass; Steve McCall, drums, percussion.
QUARTET PIECE NO. 3
Blue Note : 1975 (rec. 1970)
Chick Corea, piano, prepared piano, vibraphone, percussion, bass marimba; Anthony Braxton, alto sax, soprano sax, clarinet, contrabass clarinet; Dave Holland, bass, guitar, percussion; Barry Altschul, drums, percussion, bass marimba.
UPDATE ON THE MOSAIC BOX SET CONTEST:
First things immediately – the contest to win “The Complete Arista Recordings of Anthony Braxton” will now close on Saturday, October 11th at midnight, NYC time. So don’t wait too much longer to send us your answers to get in the drawing for this amazing set! Thanks so much to all who have entered so far, and for the kind words that often attach to the entries. See post below for more details.
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ANTHONY BRAXTON : THE COLLECTIVE YEARS
PART ONE: FIGHTING OFF THE BRICKS
While Braxton is best known as an iconoclastic solo artist, he was also involved in several notable collective groups early in his career. The criminally underknown Creative Construction Company was formed in 1969 while Braxton was an expatriate in Paris. This was a crazy, fertile time and place for avant jazz – see our recent BYG entry for more on that intriguing story.
On paper, the line-up for CCC is unbeatable. It’s an all-star AACM revue of fiery players and compelling composers, arguably even more impressive than the Art Ensemble. But at the time, none of those involved were particularly well-known, even within avant circles. This track bears witness the music’s visionary qualities, and the AACM’s commitment to exploring sonic space, unusual instrumentation, and true collaboration. It’s a Jenkins composition, and his voice is the most prominent — the harmonica is particually effective at cutting through — though just about everyone makes their way to the front. But the group didn’t go down well at the time, to put it mildly.
“One concert we were playing and people were throwing rocks at at us,” Braxton told Graham Lock in Forces in Motion. “Rocks and bricks. We were fighting off the bricks and still playing. One half of the crowd said ‘boo!,’ and the other half said ‘yah!’”
The verdict was that our music didn’t swing. It was viewed as cold, intellectual, borrowing from Europe or something. We were not acceptable African-Americans. This image would stay with me all my life – that being the concept of the intellectual separate from what the essence of Black African intellectualism should be. For instance, I never talked about my music being “Great Black Music,” I was more interested in world music but this was not fashionable. Any talk of universality was viewed as possibly disloyal to Africa. And among the white community, musicians like myself were seen as somehow trying to imitate something we were not.
Ah, the old double bind. CCC played around Paris for a year and then broke up. Sadly, the group’s only records (that we know of) are two live documents, recorded in New York on the same May day, which remain out of print.
PART TWO: DIGGING THE THETANS
In the early 1970s, Braxton was living with Ornette Coleman and licking his wounds from his bruising Paris experience. One night he sat in with Chick Corea’s trio with Holland and Atschul. The chemistry was immediately apparent and soon they were a group: Circle. One of the most underrated ensembles of the decade. “They changed my life and gave me a new start and new hope for my life,” Braxton recalls. “I’ll always be grateful.”
The group is best known for Circle: Paris Concert, a wonderful double-disc set that’s intermittently in-print through ECM. We’re showcasing a rarer outing for the group – a Blue Note session from 1970 that only saw the light of day midway through the decade on a vault-clearing two-fer. It’s a mighty weird tune, truly experimental. Scrabbly lines from Braxton eventually give way to an open clearing that’s heavy on the atmospheric, side-show percussive elements, before closing out with a taut, noisy march. And before you rush off to the comments, we know it was officially released under Chick Corea’s name. We consider it a bona fide Circle effort nonetheless.
Not as many people are familiar with the adventurous early part of Chick Corea’s career, but listening to the side leading up to Circle it’s no surprise he would form an artistic bond with Braxton. So what changed him? Scientology, y’all. An interesting side note is that everyone in Circle joined L. Ron Hubbard’s crew. While Corea became obsessed with it, the others quickly lost interest. “I found Scientology very interesting, especially some of the techniques they developed for having people brainwash themselves,” Braxton says. “But this was not what I wanted to be part of.”
“Chick was becoming interested in what he called music that communicated,” Braxton continues. “The Scientology people told us that if we stayed together and altered our music a bit – you know, played something a little more commercial – they could make us millionaires. They did it too for Chick: After we split, he formed Return to Forever and made a ton of money.”
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STAY TUNED: Later this week, the Braxton blogothon continues with links, videos, and other goodies to further your Braxton appreciation.