Illuminating Iridium

Photo by Angeline Evans

Anthony Braxton 12(+1)tet
9 Compositions (Iridium) 2006
Firehouse 12 : 2007

AB, alto, soprano, and sopranino saxophones, clarinet, and Eb contralto clarinet; Taylor Ho Bynum, cornet, flugelhorn, trumpbone, piccolo and bass trumpets, mutes, and shell; Andrew Raffo Dewar, soprano and c-melody saxophones, clarinet; James Fei, alto and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet; Mary Halvorson, electric guitar; Steve Lehman, alto and sopranino saxophones; Nicole Mitchell, flute, alto and bass flutes, piccolo, voice; Jessica Pavone, viola, violin; Reut Regev, trombone, flugelbone, mutes, cymbals; Jay Rozen, tuba, euphonium, mutes, toys; Sara Schoenbeck, bassoon, suona; Aaron Siegel, percussion, vibraphone; Carl Testa, bass, bass clarinet.


Thanks to everyone who participated in or second Braxton contest; the turnout was once again very strong. And thanks especially to Taylor Ho Bynum and Firehouse 12 Records for providing a copy of their monumental 9 Compositions (Iridium) 2006 box set.

The answers
to Taylor’s contest question concerning the countries that Braxton hit for the first time in 2008 are: Russia and Mexico.

And without further ado, the winner of the 9-CD plus one DVD Iridium box set is Josh Ronsen, of Austin, Texas. Congratulations, Josh!

Those of you who didn’t win, head over and order a copy at the store of your choice.

To further whet your appetite and loosen up your wallet, we’ve included another choice tune from the box. This is the last section of Composition 358, the last tune and performance in the set. It’s a fun and rollicking piece that brings the Ghost Trance music to a conclusion, refusing to quit for its 25-minute duration. Enjoy!


As a bonus, we’re pleased to present a few choice remembrances from some colleagues of Braxton’s who played with him during the Iridium set captured on the big Firehouse box:

STEPHEN LEHMAN, Braxton bandmate:

Anthony Braxton and the Tradition of Mentorship in Creative Music

In a musical career now spanning nearly forty years, Anthony Braxton (b. 1945) has established himself as an essential figure in the history of creative music. And though his innovative work as a composer, an improviser, a theorist, and a scholar is widely recognized, his legacy as a mentor to several generations of aspiring musicians is perhaps less known.

Beginning in the 1960s, with his involvement in the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), Braxton learned, from Muhal Richard Abrams and others, the importance of integrating pedagogy into his professional practice. Like other AACM members such as Wadada Leo Smith and George Lewis, and like Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Betty Carter, Horace Tapscott, Jackie McLean, and Steve Coleman, Braxton has made significant contributions to the ongoing tradition of African-American composer/performers who have actively sought to nurture young musicians. The critical acclaim that his music has received since the 1970s has allowed him to use his performing and recording ensembles to encourage emergent talent in a particularly effective manner. Teaching positions at Mills College, and later at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, have afforded further opportunities to mentor new generations of creative musicians.

If one looks at the great diversity of musicians whose careers have been transformed as a direct result of their association with Anthony Braxton, it seems fair to suggest that he has been one of the most significant mentor figures of the past thirty years in creative music. Among the many musicians who first came to the attention of the international creative music community after their professional affiliation with Braxton, one can count trombonists George Lewis and Ray Anderson, bassists Mark Dresser, Mark Helias and John Lindberg, percussionists Gerry Hemmingway, Kevin Norton and Guillermo E. Brown, violinist Jason Kao Hwang and violist Jessica Pavone, pianist Marilyn Crispell, guitarists James Emery, Kevin O’Neil, and Mary Halvorson, bagpiper Matthew Welch, trumpeters Kenny Wheeler, Paul Smoker and Taylor Ho Bynum, accordionist Ted Reichman, and saxophonists Marty Ehrlich, Ned Rothenberg, Vinny Golia, Michael Attias, Aaron Stewart, James Fei, and myself.

One should be aware that this list includes only those musicians who have performed and/or recorded under Braxton’s leadership and does not reflect the wider influence of his performances and his recorded and published works, nor the full impact of his work as a professor at Mills College and Wesleyan University. Performer/composers John Zorn, Steve Coleman, Don Byron, Dave Douglas, Ken Vandermark, and Vijay Iyer, for example, are musicians who are significantly indebted to Braxton’s music despite having never or rarely been part of one of his ensembles.

One reason, perhaps, for his wide-ranging influence is that Braxton, rather than insisting on the adoption of his own musical techniques and practices, has guided and inspired several generations of young musicians to develop and refine their own creative perspectives. Viewing pedagogy as a transactional process, Braxton has used his engagement with younger generations of musicians to both encourage and stay abreast of fresh ideas and new creative currents. In many ways, this non-hierarchical view of mentorship is characteristic of his approach to music making more generally and nowhere is this more evident than in the music included [on the Iridium] box set. Over the course of four nights at the Iridium in New York City, Braxton challenged the young members of his ensemble to engage with a meticulously crafted sound world, while simultaneously providing them with the creative agency to assert their own individual musical identities, and to transform themselves and each other in so doing.

NICOLE MITCHELL, Braxton bandmate:

The Newcomer

Mysterious Notes

A few days before the rehearsal I got a package in the mail; two multicolored booklets at least 20 pages long with stuff like 15 against 2 and 11 against 2 and 7-tuplets and so forth. There were a lot of symbols that weren’t explained. What the hell? Fascinating.

Winding Path There

I missed my plane. My car wouldn’t leave the driveway. At 4:30 in the morning on the south side (Chicago) there wasn’t a cab I could call. So I got my car (barely) running and drove as fast as I could (20mph) downtown, parked it and jumped in a cab. The plane hadn’t left, but they wouldn’t let me on! I had to get there! Another flight left without me, before I finally boarded a flight to Newark. On the plane I kept looking at my watch trying to see how was I going to get there in time…the rehearsal was at 2pm and the plane was scheduled to land at 1:45 in New Jersey.

Meeting the Disciples

I rang the bell and took the elevator to the 3rd floor. When I got off there was a white-haired lady standing outside her door, and I was still looking for the room where the rehearsal was. I looked around and felt like I just had walked into a time warp. This apartment was decorated as if it was in the 1950’s, with wood paneled walls and old furniture, pictures and a cat washing itself on the coffee table. Was I in the right place? How strange. I followed her through the house. I didn’t even hear any music. We went through a hallway and then she opened a brown door. In the dark, surrounded by dim little lamps and music stands, was a quiet circle of musicians–devotees–Braxton devotees. I felt right at home. They were just about to take a breath to start. Braxton was nowhere to be found. “Oh, Nicole you made it just in time,” said the young man. “Here’s your music.” This was completely different music then the books I got in the mail. I was so relieved to have made it to the rehearsal that I didn’t have time to question myself, what I was doing, or how to do it.

First Date

When I came back to New York for the gig, I finally met Braxton, who happens to be one of the most gracious, humble and generous people I’ve met. He gave us each 10 new compositions ranging from 20-70 pages long each, and a whole pile of another few hundred pages of older compositions that would be played simultaneously to the new ones. We did a 15-minute sound check and then did the hit. It was marvelous! The whole thing was a big dent in my musical life experience, and now I have to reevaluate my aesthetic for my own stuff and what I like. I thought I might have to go home and throw a whole bunch of my music out the window. It was a blast.

Here also is an open letter to Braxton from Mitchell:

Ghost Trance Impressions and Perceptions

Dear Mr. Braxton,

This is partly a reflection because last night was my first experience performing with the group, but I feel that you’ve succeeded in creating a holistic experience for the musicians performing because it involves such a high intellectual activity and at the same time it’s intuitive. The music not only deals with your compositions but also the compositional minds of the musicians. You’re dealing with the pulse in a creative way by creating these very complex rhythmical structures. And what was really interesting to me, with the Ghost Trance, is that it basically moves us through such a high mental challenge that we become entranced as musicians in order to play it, because intellectually you just can’t do it. You have to involve your whole being in order to perform it, which is a type of meditational exercise. It was really inspiring to me and I feel that I’m really learning a lot from the experience.

Because you have struggled involved in the music, that’s so beautiful to me. You’re creating an image of something that’s not a brittle and clear image but it’s something that’s more fuzzy, something you can’t quite see. You’re creating an image, the ghost of what you’re saying. The name of it is exactly what it is. When you listen to most music, there is a very identified and clear melody that is easy for the musicians to perform, you have all these musicians playing this thing and it’s very defined. But what you have is something that’s more of a rough definition because you have people struggling to do it, and you have people that are doing it right on, and you have people in the struggle which creates…creates…really it creates a being, that is within the dimension of sound. But it’s a living being.

Nicole Mitchell

NEXT UP: On Monday we conclude our Anthony Braxton blogothon with recommendations from various experts on the best places to start — or continue — your Braxton listening. Stay tuned!

Category Anthony Braxton, contests