Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Anthony Braxton - 1969 - For Alto




After issuing Anthony Braxton's Three Compositions of New Jazz in 1968, Chicago's Delmark Records took an enormous chance by issuing the first lengthy solo saxophone improvisation record in 1969 — and as a double LP no less! And while it's true that hindsight is 20/20, For Alto is still, over 30 years later, a record that is ahead of its time. There is nothing tame or nostalgic about these blasts of jazz futurism from the young Braxton, who sounds here like he's trying to blow his way out of Chicago. Most of the pieces on this set are over nine minutes, and all are dedicated to various influences and friends in the saxophonist's circle. Perhaps the most frightening — and enlightening — improvisation here is "To Composer John Cage." Braxton attempts to literally change the entire tonal terrain on which the saxophone plays solo. His skittering skeins of cascading runs are interspersed with huge shouts and screeches all played at lightning speed with a deftness and angularity of approach that is far superior to most of his peers at the time, Messrs. Mitchell and Jarman included. Braxton was introducing tonal possibilities and deconstructions on this record; a solid listen to "Dedicated to Multi-Instrumentalist Leroy Jenkins," with its deep color palette and textural shifts and shapes, is enough to disorient one still. Also, the use of trills as interval markers in "To Artist Murray De Pillars" is remarkable — especially now, as no one would follow this logic for such an extended period anymore. The reinvention of blues theory on this piece that becomes a kind of muted expressionism is truly remarkable. Many of the recordings from the magical period of the '60s and early-'70s creative movement sound dated now, quaint and diffuse from their original power. For Alto is not one of those records; it still has the literacy and vision to teach us about concentration, vision, emotional aesthetics, and even spiritual possibilities in the world of sound and how that world, that universe, interacts and dovetails with our lives. For Alto is one of the greatest solo saxophone records ever made, and maybe one of the greatest recordings ever issued, period.