Septet (Pittsburgh) 2008

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Septet (Pittsburgh) 2008

  • Septet (Pittsburgh) 2008


Lines Notes by Ben Opie
The origins of this concert date back to the fall of 2007, and with the high school avant garde ensemble I was directing.

Now, obviously, this recording is not about me or my students. It’s about Anthony, his septet, and his compositions. The charms and challenges of this performance will reveal themselves to you upon listening. I will note: the very chamber music-like character of the ensemble (rarely are all seven playing simultaneously), the constantly shifting instrumental colors (five of the musicians played at least two instruments each), the ceremonial statements of Composition 355 (this might be strange, but it sounds march-like to me, in energy if not content), the collage structures ranging from Anthony’s early to middle to recent works, and the general sense of purpose and passion in the ensemble.

But as I wrote above, the origins of this concert date back to the fall of 2007. I was co-directing an avant garde ensemble in the Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA), an ensemble that was playing works by Stockhausen, Cardew, Reich, Glass, Morton Feldman, Earle Brown, Sun Ra, and Gino Robair. For that year I focused largely on Anthony Braxton’s compositions.

Anthony has a reputation for doing projects because it’s a new opportunity for him. I started to pose the question: would he be interested in a high school ensemble that was interpreting his works?

This question was taken up energetically by Eden McNutt, who passed it on to Michael Pestel. Eden and I played in Michael’s Syrinx Ensemble, a group dedicated to improvising live with birds; Michael was (and is) also faculty at Wesleyan University and an acquaintance of Anthony’s. When Michael suggested the possibilities of Pittsburgh performances, Anthony was excited about the idea of playing with the birds in the National Aviary. And so it was set into motion.

But of course he couldn’t make it easy for us. We had a few modest collaborations in mind. Anthony insisted: in addition to two aviary performances, he wanted to present his septet, and also a fifteen-piece ensemble of local musicians be put together to play some of his large ensemble works.

While I questioned the possibility that we’d be able to pull it off, there was great enthusiasm locally to make this happen. Sara Radelet of the New Hazlett Theater helped us to secure a RADWorks grant that brought the septet to town; this in turn led to grants from the Sprout Fund and The Pittsburgh Foundation. (If any of you are reading this: THANK YOU.)

We weren’t able to schedule anything at the Hazlett as we wished, and in stepped Marty Ashby and the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild. MCG is the local standard bearer for jazz concerts; I saw one of Anthony’s early heroes, Ahmad Jamal, in their hall a few weeks before this concert. MCG has superb recording facilities and people who know how to record live musicians. This recording sounds as good as it does due to their efforts and experience. It’s also one of the nicest rooms in Pittsburgh to play.

So, when the Braxton Plays Pittsburgh Plays Braxton festival was presented, all told we held three ensemble rehearsals, a septet concert, two aviary performances, a high school workshop, a large ensemble concert (with my students opening), and a duet recording session with Anthony and myself (at his insistence! How could I say no?).

I spent a lot of time with Anthony those five days, and it was beautiful. His reputation for enthusiasm and conversation precedes him, and I can assure you they are not exaggerated. What were the many topics we discussed? Let me think…in no particular order: Charlie Rouse, Stan Getz, Fred Rzewski, Harry Partch, McDonalds, Vinko Globokar, Iannis Xenakis, race relations in Pittsburgh, Fred Rogers (he was delighted to find out that Mr. Rogers lived and worked a short distance from where we rehearsed and recorded), opera, academia, John Cage, George Romero, Thelonious Monk, shall I go on?…

As for this concert: a lot of effort went into presenting it, but it went off without trouble. Spirits were high, and I think it shows in the results.

Fast forward a year and a half. I left my job at CAPA and returned to graduate school. I needed a project for a Pro Tools credit, and decided to devote myself to this recording, to mix it for possible release. It didn’t matter that there wasn’t actually a release in mind. I spent a lot of time working over this recording, though always with the purpose of not making it sound as if it had been worked over (that is, natural, in the moment).

So what do I think? Having listened to this concert more than anyone else on the planet, and possibly more than anyone ever will, I think I enjoy it more on recent listenings than when the ensemble was performing it live. I think I might just put it on again as I write this. What does that say?

So…as so many before me have said, thank you Anthony. It was all worth it.

Additional Information

Catalog Number NBH001
Product Type Download
Recording Date May 30, 2008
Location Manchester Craftmen's Guild, Pittsburgh, PA

Anthony Braxton: Baritone Saxophone, Bass Saxophone, Alto Saxophone, Sopranino Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Contrabass Clarinet, Contrabass Saxophone
Taylor Ho Bynum: Flugelhorn, Trombone, Cornet, Bass Trumpet, Piccolo Trumpet
Jessica Pavone: Violin, Electric Bass, Viola
Jay Rozen: Tuba
Mary Halvorson: Guitar
Carl Testa: Acoustic Bass, Bass Clarinet
Aaron Siegel: Drums, Percussion, Vibraphone

  1. Composition No. 355 by Anthony Braxton [63:36]

Concert produced by Ben Opie and the Manchester Craftmen’s Guild
Engineered by Ben Opie
Mixed and mastered by Ben Opie at the Fender Electronic Music Studio, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA, Fall 2009
Executive Producer – Marty Ashby
Associate Producer – Renée Govanucci
Recording Engineer –Jay Dudt
Front of House Engineer – Thomas Carraher
Production Manager and Monitor Engineer – Bill Majetic
All compositions by Anthony Braxton, Synthesis Music Publishing / BMI

This concert was funded in part by a RADWorks RAD Renaissance Grant, and the A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation. Thanks also to the Sprout Fund, Sara Radelet and the New Hazlett Theater, CAPA High School instrumental music department, Eden McNutt, and Michael Pestel.