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Jazz Reviews : Braxton Flies Solo at Santa Barbara Art Museum

February 22, 1988|DON HECKMAN

Maybe Anthony Braxton has the right idea: Forget about drums, forget about bass; as a matter of fact, forget the rhythm section entirely. No problems with meter, chord changes or coordination with other musicians.

That's exactly what the saxophonist-composer did Saturday night at the Santa Barbara Art Museum in the opening recital of the Jazz '88 concert series. Despite the apparent liberating advantages of working alone, Braxton's program was a relatively risky undertaking. The performance of two 30-40-minute sets of solo saxophone pieces--for the most part improvisations--is a demanding enterprise for even the most gifted performer.

Braxton's solution to the problem was to conduct a kind of minitour through the now somewhat musty pages of '60s avant-garde saxophone techniques. One piece, for example, featured circular breathing. Another featured double-stops and simultaneously hummed vocalizations against overblown saxophone notes. Another slipped through glissando and deep vibrato passages. Yet another juxtaposed squeaks and overtones against honks and squawks.

All of these devices were well explored in the '60s by players like Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp, Marion Brown and John Tchicai. But Braxton's use of them in his solo saxophone set clearly plays well for those unfamiliar with the Vanguard jazz of two decades ago.

Despite the inclusion of Braxton's eccentric, somewhat disconnected improvisations on two standards--"I Remember You" and "You Go To My Head"--the sameness of the techniques began to wear thin fairly quickly.

The only really effective pieces were those which moved past instrumental techniques into a compositional point of view. One of the best was a Philip Glass-like set of repetition patterns that created a remarkably persistent rhythmic energy despite Braxton's use of implication rather than direct statement. A few more such works would have made for a far more interesting evening.

The Jazz '88 Series continues with concerts by the Don Pullen/George Adams Quartet on March 7 and the Steve Lacy Sextet on March 31, both programs at Abravanel Hall in Montecito.

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