Anthony Braxton: Sopranino Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Alto Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone, Bass Saxophone, Contrabass Saxophone, Contrabass Clarinet
Taylor Ho Bynum: Cornet, Flugelhorn, Trombone, Bass Trumpet, Piccolo Trumpet
Jessica Pavone: Violin, Viola, Electric Bass
Jay Rozen: Tuba
Carl Testa: Acoustic Bass, Bass Clarinet
Aaron Siegel: Drums, Vibraphone, Percussion
Concert Producer’s Note:
It was a frustrating situation. Braxton hadn’t played in Boston since well before he’d started writing and performing his Ghost Trance music. He lived and worked at Wesleyan University, which was relatively speaking, just down the road in Connecticut—so close and yet so far. The Boston Creative Music Alliance had tried for several years to put something together, always to no avail. In 1995, when BCMA founding director Gillian Levine and I drew up a list of the musicians we most wanted to present, Braxton was at the top. Over the years, we worked with Taylor Ho Bynum on several attempts to host Braxton, but plans always fell through for various reasons. Given the often ambitious scale of Braxton’s ideas, some of the plans were not entirely, shall we say, practical. But Braxton has a way of making the most quixotic of plans a reality, so even farfetched schemes seemed worth pursuing. You never could tell…
In 2002, the BCMA inched a bit closer to making a Braxton concert a reality with the Boston Braxton Project. Taylor assembled a group of Boston-area players who performed music from different periods in Braxton’s career. Reed players Allen Chase and Matana Roberts (a student at New England Conservatory of Music at the time), trombonist Tom Plsek, pianist Soo-Jung Jae, bassist Nate McBride (who has since moved to Chicago), and drummers Curt Newton and Eric Rosenthal did a fantastic job with the music, but Braxton himself was present only in spirit. So after a decade of unfulfilled plans, it was with considerable excitement that I could at last step out on the stage of the Institute of Contemporary Art and welcome the Anthony Braxton Sextet to Boston.
The basement theater at the ICA was small, it seated about 150 people, and the stage was not elevated, so audience and musicians were very close together. It made for an especially immediate and intimate connection between listeners and artists. Braxton was traveling with his big saxophones (The biggest were on wheels! A nice Suessian touch, I thought.) and the thicket of metal on his side of the stage was quite impressive.
In the green room before the concert, Braxton’s delighted laughter was always in the air as musicians dropped by to say hello, and his bright, penetrating eyes just seemed to draw out whomever he was talking to. It was frankly a bit of a struggle to cut off the conversation and actually wrangle him on to stage. But once he and the band were there, my lord, what an evening of music. Even after the long drive from Philadelphia, they played two sold out shows that night.
For my money, this group takes Ghost Trance music to its greatest heights. They know how to use whatever elusive forces the compositions summon up to conjure some truly magical music. Their discipline is as breathtaking as the freedom with which they play, the structure as beautiful as the spontaneity and surprise. I also love this band’s range of color and texture. Color, rhythm, melody are constantly moving, shifting, evolving as they play, but always in balance. Which is to say, there is an elemental sensual appeal to the music as well as an elegant design. There’s also a great deal of feeling in the music—playfulness, humor, serenity, terror, exuberance, and wit.
All in all, it was worth waiting ten years.