This is an incredible live recording of Anthony Braxton's Creative Orchestra playing in the recording studio of WDR Koln (West German Radio) on May 12, 1978. They were on tour in Europe, and this was their first performance, following three days of rehearsals. The Koln concert would be followed by performances at the Groningen Festival (5/13), the Moers Festival (5/14), and concerts in Paris (5/16) and Brussels (5/17). This information all comes from the eight pages of liner notes by Graham Lock for the original Hat Hut release in 1994, available again now with the 2009 reissue. Unimaginable now, in that remarkable period Braxton had a major recording contract with Arista, and therefore unprecedented support for his ambitious creative endeavors.
There are six pieces across the two discs, just over 104 minutes of music. The second track on each disc, the second and fifth number of the concert, are swinging big band numbers, both of which decisively demolish the claims made by many that Braxton cannot swing! The other pieces are for the most part more predictably abstract and avant-garde, consistently fascinating and full of impassioned, energetic solos from an amazing lineup of musicians.
Anthony Braxton sums up the music thusly, speaking of Composition 45: "...big band music that takes the complete continuance of creative music into account -- from the early marching structures in Dixieland music from New Orleans to the multiple structural dynamics of Duke Ellington." Braxton's visionary composing is radically innovative, a category he calls "restructuralist." Of the swinging Composition 55 he says it "was especially inspired from the works of Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus." And Composition 58, the rollicking concert closer, is dedicated to John Philip Sousa, and its traditional notated elements are directly inspired by "The Stars and Stripes Forever," which is evident immediately to the listener.
Here's the lineup:
Dwight Anderson, Marty Ehrlich, Vinny Golia, J.D. Parran, Ned Rothenberg
(saxophones, clarinets, flutes, piccolo, nagaswaram, ocarina)
Rob Howard, Michael Mossman, Leo Smith, Kenny Wheeler (trumpets, flugelhorn)
Ray Anderson, George Lewis, James King Roosa (trombones, tuba)
Marilyn Crispell (piano)
Birgit Taubhorn (accordion)
Bobby Naughton (vibraphone)
James Emery (electric guitar)
John Lindberg, Brian Smith (basses)
Thurman Barker (percussion, marimba)
Bob Ostertag (synthesizer)
Anthony Braxton (composer and conductor)
Yes, that's right, Braxton does not play -- he is the conductor. Several of these musicians, including Bob Ostertag, and Ned Rothenberg, were students at the time, and they and others, including Marilyn Crispell and Vinny Golia, were playing their first major professional gigs. They sound great! Crispell is featured on Composition 55 with a confident solo that sounds more like Art Tatum than Cecil Taylor. Ostertag is featured more than once on synthesizer, making clear that this is not traditional swing music.
I am one who has been skeptical over the years of some of Braxton's experiments. Not at all impressed, for instance, by the lugubrious Black Saint disc 4 (Ensemble) Compositions - 1992, I had at one point come to agree with whoever it was who said you are safer sticking with Braxton's generally reliable quartet recordings.
But I have recently been listening to a lot of avant big bands, including the Globe Unity Orchestra, the Peter Brotzmann Tentet, and Barry Guy's New Orchestra, and I am more than happy I decided to give this one a listen!
(verified purchase from the Jazz Loft)