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Chapel + Cultural Center
Troy, NY
October 19, 2007

by Jeff Waggoner

The iconic Anthony Braxton, saxophonist, composer and certified genius, showed up in Troy October 19  with his 12+1tet to give, certainly for many of those in the audience, a memorable concert that provided a vivid example of what can happen when the potentially collapsible recipe of  composition and improvisation is executed well.
Braxton’s unusual brand of composition/improvisation was brilliantly executed and performed by a dozen (plus Braxton) mostly young (20s and 30s) professionals,  most of whom made the trip up from NYC to the Chapel + Cultural Center at RPI.  (Others came from as far away as Chicago or Oakland.)
It was fitting that the performance was sponsored by RPI’s Experimental Media and Performance Art Center because seeing  the musicians play was a critical aspect of really hearing the music.
Twelve musicians, plus Braxton.  All playing solo, or splitting up into subsets and performing composed pieces.
Brass player Taylor Ho Bynum, a senior member of the group would at times hold up a grease board.  He’d point to a violinist or guitarist and tuba player, or sometimes all three and show them a number, indicating a composition or set piece.  The other musicians would either nod, or shake him off, (like a pitcher might shake off a signal from a catcher).  They would (or would not) decide on what to play, Bynum would then “conduct” this subset of musicians. 
This was happening while other duos, or trios, or quartets were playing among themselves.  It was a highwire act requiring the musicians to hear not only what their group was playing but what ALL the others were playing as well.
Call it complex, but at every level of the performance something engaging was happening.  Listening to Braxton on record forces the ear to take in the whole group.  Here him live, with his groups, the listener can more easily be selective.
The tuba player would put a tin pie plate in the bell of his horn.  Shoot off a few rapid blasts,  Take off the tin hat, and attach a bari sax mouthpiece, giving the big horn the sound of a big goose suffering from a bad head cold.
Sometimes so much was happening it was hard for the ear to cipher out the patterns. Other times the music sounded tame and orderly, as one audienced member said, “sublime.”
It was partly that  the results were so unknowable, which made the concert so exciting.  Both audience and the performers knew something brilliant could happen at any time.  And, frankly, it surprised us all how often the  brilliant did happen.
Jeff Waggoner has written book, CD and concert reviews for publications such as Metroland, Jazz Times, Blues Access and The New York Times. He lives in Nassau, is a student of jazz saxophone and guitar and can be frequently found at jazz, blues and folk concerts.