Saturday, November 20, 2010

Anthony Braxton/Gerry Hemingway-Old Dogs (2007)

Some years back I had a conversation with a tenor sax player who stated bluntly, "I'm not feeling Anthony Braxton".
I, however, am very much feeling Mr. Braxton. Disaster Amnesiac is a fan.
As such, it's been easy and enjoyable to dig into the four discs that make up Old Dogs, Braxton's duo recording with long-time cohort Gerry Hemingway. Clocking in at well over four hours, Old Dogs is a king sized dose from these veterans. Both have built up lengthy reputations as top flight composers of Jazz/Creative Music, along with being improvisers of the highest order. It is their improvisational side that gets aired on this document. As stated in the liner notes, the only given parameter was that they played as long as a large hour  glass was running. These old dogs take full advantage of this given freedom, touching upon all sorts of different feels, spaces, and approaches within the duo context.
Each disc contains one lengthy piece, in which Braxton and Hemingway range from playing silence filled passages to dense and furious exchanges.
In improvised music, the listening thrill comes from paying close attention to the sounds being generated by the respective players' approaches. One of the great things about Old Dogs is the amount of such sounds that the duo are able to conjure up within each piece. Braxton utilizes seven different reed instruments, and Hemingway adds laptop samples, marimba, and electronic drum pads to his acoustic kit. Despite the scant number of players, the tonal options are quite varied.
These two have made careers out of researching and performing "extended sounds", and they utilize this research to the fullest extent on Old Dogs. Braxton ranges from repetitive arpeggio playing to primitive bleating, from complex overtone blowing to simple key slapping, all the while staying within his signature stylistic melding of players whose sounds he adores (Ayler, Gilmore, Allen, Coltrane, Marshe, Desmond, etc). Not to say that Braxton lacks a personal tone; one can tell it's him playing  pretty quickly, especially when he digs in with the alto sax. Hemingway's kit playing is amazing. His is a highly personal and masterful approach to drum set, defined not so much by the extent of options to be hit (size) than by choice of which kind of object to do the hitting (color). He uses sticks, brushes, mallets, hands, towels, anything to coax the right sound from the skin and wood of the drums or the metal of the cymbals and stands. Also of note is his use of space. Even within his densest poly-rhythmic thickets, there is always a feeling of room, of each note given just the right amount of time to ring out.
The material on Old Dogs is amazingly varied, highly listenable, and very fun indeed. If you're at all interested in improvised music, you'd do well to try and feel it, too.

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