I had known of Anthony Braxton for decades, but it’s only in the past year or so that I’ve really been able to connect to his music. Partially, this is because I have a newfound living situation in which I can listen to what I want when I want to. Bouncing around the internet, I read a post on the man’s work that made me realize that for most of us, digging Braxton or, really any of the avant-garde so-called, is a solitary pursuit, most often on headphones.
The single, blissfully single life affords this possibility. That’s meant that I’ve gotten back to exploring the “free jazz“–we know the label isn’t ideal–movement of the 1960’s forward. Lots of late Coltrane, Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler, John Carter–a lot of John Carter–and Ornette of course, though especially Skies of America. I’d heard much more of the New York school as opposed to Chicago, so opening up to Braxton was something of a revelation: there is a lot more to this music than just “energy.” To be clear about what we’re dealing with, here you go. Not exactly the same quartet, but the same year and 3/4 the same personnel:
Lock followed Braxton’s quartet on its 1985 tour of Britain. The resulting book, Forces in Motion, takes the form of tour diary interspersed with interviews, primarily of Braxton but also of each of the group’s other members, followed by three postscripts on relevant topics. Lock has other books, and one at the library here, that are more systematic overviews of the music, but this is what it is and the relatively unvarnished text preserves a spontaneity that among other things puts Braxton in a great light. The man may have a reputation for forbidding music, but personally he’s very engaging with an enormously sweet quality to him. He comes off as a very, very kind individual.
The takeaway from the book is very simply that it serves as what seems to me an ideal introduction to the deep significance of Braxton’s project. It’s, for lack of a better word, a spiritual endeavor, among other things, and though he doesn’t put it in precisely these terms Braxton is trying, through sound, to turn back the world-nonsense of these last five hundred years. As quick as he is to draw influence from white musicians–Braxton is generous even to those, like Phil Woods, who critique him viciously–Braxton demolishes the philosophical, musical, and spiritual underpinnings of white supremacy.
I took a class once in, more or less, critical theory, and the professor really wanted us to understand and engage the ideas at hand. She assigned a fair amount of Foucault, but mostly from Power-Knowledge, a collection of, mainly, interviews. She noted that when Foucault just talked, he said what he meant, and it made everything easier. The same, I can glean from the excepts from Braxton’s Tri-axium Writings, would be true of Braxton. If you want to really get everything, read the Tri-axium Writings, just like if you really want to understand Marx, you need to read Capital. That said, Braxton can sum things up and give a person a lot to go forward with. The book provides this.