Today’s Sounds: Anthony Braxton

Free jazz reedman and composer Anthony Braxton makes everything-all-at-once-all-the-time music, You Say Party returns three years later with a track for their late bandmate and Ty Segall bring glam rock, facepaint and body parts to his new video.


Anthony Braxton, Echo Echo Mirror House (NYC) 2011 (Braxton House)

Strains from reedman/composer Anthony Braxton’s early ’70s “Composition 23G” serve as the introduction to “Composition 376,” as we take off on a densely layered journey. Collage has long been part of Braxton’s musical universe (the notes for “23G” encourage players to incorporate fragments from compositions 6, 40 and 69), but “Echo Echo Mirror House” takes polytonality and polyrhythm to new orders of magnitude.

Musical history contains many examples of collage music. Rodrigo’s “Serenade for Harp and Orchestra,” for example, was inspired by passing parades where different tunes collide as one band marches within earshot and another fades away. Braxton rockets this concept to its outer limits.

The primary territory of “Composition 376” draws an analogy between musical parameters like pitch and rhythm and navigational cartography, with instructions for travelling through the score such as “turn north,” “accelerate” and “take longest route available.” Against this backdrop, the musicians have sheet music from previous Braxton works, and form sub-ensembles using hand signals to perform excerpts from them. If that were not enough, each member also is equipped with an iPod loaded with previous Braxton recordings, which they are encouraged to add to the mix.

All of this requires exceptionally skilled and sympathetic participants. Braxton has assembled a crack 15-tet consisting largely of his former students, many of whom lead ensembles of their own. Notables include Mary Halvorson on guitar, James Fei and Steve Lehman on reeds, Taylor Ho Bynum on trumpet and Jessica Pavone on violin.

Imagine an infinite assembly of free jazz musicians, some of whom are carefully listening to each other and coalescing into creative units while others are blowing away in their own sound worlds, each dizzying combination typically lasting under a minute before morphing into the next. While not the cleanest introduction to Braxton’s oeuvre, longtime fans will revel in hearing snippets from dozens of his works crammed into a single hour.

Mirrors and echoes are forms of reflection, and reverberating within the uncountable streams is a commentary on our multitasked and distraction-laden lives. This is everything-all-at-once-all-the-time music, mirroring and echoing not only the world’s breathtaking beauty, but also our society’s faces-buried-in-gadgets, 24-hour news cycles, idiotic politics, trivial social media, more storms, more guns, more more more. And when it all ends, you can take a deep breath and reflect.


You Say Party, “Friend”

That’s right, it’s the return of Vancouver’s You Say Party. This is their first song in four years, since they disbanded following the death of their drummer Devon Clifford. Programmed beats and lush swathes of synth paint a billowy backdrop for Becky Ninkovic’s lovely voice here. Welcome back.



Ty Segall, “Thank God for Sinners”

Prolific California dude Ty Segall serves up a dish of glam rock, face paint and body parts in this new video, for a track from his latest record, Twins. He’s playing Cabaret Mile End on Feb. 5.

Leave a Reply