It’s probable that most music fans don’t like all the work of Anthony Braxton, who celebrated his 67th birthday early this week, but it’s almost impossible not to like some of it.
Few artists’ work is as varied, ranging from the avante garde to standards, and few play as many instruments — you can hear Braxton on the saxophone, flute, clarinet and/or piano, and you’re likely to hear something new. Even if it’s not always for you.
“(Braxton’s music) is a riddle that keeps on expanding in complexity and wonder,” wrote blogger Scott McDowell at wfmu.org. ”Braxton’s music is tough music because there’s really not much like it. It is to be reckoned with alone. To get to know it, you really have to just listen and listen.”
That takes the kind of discipline Braxton has (I confess to not having done so, which is why I’m probably partial to the standards). Braxton is renowned for his talent at chess and math — the latter, according to wikipedia, he once hustled in New York’s Washington Square Park; the former you can see on his album covers, some of which look more like geometry text books.
“Mathematics and music,” said Braxton in an interview called Chess, Math & Music on youtube.com, “is really one side of the same thing.”
Braxton said, in the interview on youtube, he hung out with two types of people when he was in Paris as a younger man: New York jazz players, and Yugoslavian chess players. “But I had to get away from chess,” he said, “because I couldn’t stop, I couldn’t go back to life.”
His next move was music, where he sacrificed not pawns, but occasionally conformity, and drew notes, not triangles. Allmusic.com said Braxton “might very well be jazz’s last bona fide genius.”
“Whatever one calls it,” said Braxton’s bio on allmusic.com “however, there is no questioning the originality of his vision; Anthony Braxton created music of enormous sophistication and passion that was unlike anything else that had come before it.”
Below, a link to the song Black Orpheus, by Brazilian composer Luiz Bonfa, off Braxton’s 2003 album 23 Standards.
sources: wfmu.org, allmusic.com, wikipedia.org, youtube.com