Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Can any of you more attuned jazzbos out there explain to me just what was that strange harmonic convergence or lunar shift or whatever it was that was goin' on back in the mid-seventies that made Anthony Braxton the household name he most certainly was? (At least in jazz-attuned households, but hey, he was riding a wave so to speak!) Was it that very same sorta kultural jumble that got Patti Smith signed, or was it something a lot deeper than I or any true-blue BLOG TO COMM reader'll ever be able to comprehend??? The reason I'm askin' is that here's some guy, pretty OUT THERE esp. for a jazz world that was still staggering from the sixties new wave thing that gave us Coleman, Coltrane, Shepp and so forth who was part and parcel of the exceedingly fringe-like (and legendary even at that early stage) AACM recording relatively obscure but sought-after records at home and abroad, and by the middle portion of that oft-loathed seventies what else happens than he's up and signed to the brand-spanking new Arista label making albums that can easily be picked up in reg'lar non-specialty shops right next to all of those dinner club and bowtie jazz offerings! And what's more, even the stuff Braxton had recorded during much leaner times for small outta-the-way companies like Muse and Inner City were startin' to take up precious bin-space as well which really does (after a safe three decades later) kinda make me do a lotta head scratchin'! It got to the point where Braxton was such a Big Man on the Jazz Campus that I recall none other'n Richard Meltzer in his PHONOGRAPH RECORD MAGAZINE article on 77 things about the year 1977 sayin' that Braxton as well as Keith Jarrett were nothing more'n the late-seventies phony-intellectual kid answer to what Dave Brubeck was in the early-sixties, a comparison I'm sure would have warmed the cockles of the Brubeck-loving (even appearing on his 1975 avant garde longplayer on Atlantic!) Braxton! I mean, stuff like that just isn't supposed to happen at all, though considering this was the time more/less when the Art Ensemble of Chicago could get signed to Atlantic and somehow the avant gardes of rock, jazz and classical were beginning to intermingle to the point of incestuousness who knows, maybe the planets were shifting with the force of lunar gravity because in a few short years with all of the vinyl shortages and sagging sales giving the industry sever shocks it wasn't like any label, not even an "adventurous" one like Arista, were gonna be catering to the jazz avant garde like they would the arena rock brigades and ginchy post-disco gnu wave, if you know what I mean.

But for a time yeah, it was enough so that a poor kid like me who spent more'n an inordinate amount of time drooling over all those unattainable discs in shopping mall bins county-wide got more'n enough kicks snooping through the jazz racks to get a look at the likes of these Braxton albums which seemed so beyond-the-ken, esp. after reading Richard Walls' various writeups in CREEM and eyeballing those weird graphic titles natch! And amongst the hoardes of free jazz that was suddenly making a surprise appearance on the racks (and even getting "featured" new release space on the walls just like all those heavy new rock platters) were these two albums by the Creative Construction Company, a working jazz co-op that somehow caught my eye way back in my stool days when I'd read DOWN BEAT at the library during study hall trying to act like some sort of hot stuff, at least in my own time frame. And after all this time I gotta admit that I dunno exactly what lit my ass re. wanting to hear this group with a might've been the list of instruments next to each player's name which seemed about as impressive as all of those Association and Frank Zappa records which displayed a wide array of exotic instruments I thought added zest to an already exciting music, or maybe it was the plain fact that this Braxton guy who had been getting mucho press was in the outfit. Most likely it was the group's name that turned me on even though it does sound like the title of some long-forgotten PBS children's show of the day.

Yeah I gotta tell ya that the mere idea of this ultra-free music even existing (and being relayed to anxious open-eared kids even via the ultra-staid DOWN BEAT) was more'n enough to get THIS not-so-dim bulb hot enough to actually dish out the $5.99 for CREATIVE CONSTRUCTION COMPANY on the ultra-miniscule Muse label. In retrospect it ain't hard to see just how much of an impact this 'un had on me, for this rec was the introduction of the entire AACM soundscapading oeuvre to this rabid teen and held such promise for those starved for new vistas to the point where, after coming home from the very same family vacation where I netted the thing (trip also rendering the likes of WIZZARD'S BREW, CHUNGA'S REVENGE, HOT RATS and A BEARD OF STARS amongst other worthies into my collection) I actually unwrapped my copy and played in full force upon my 4:00 AM arrival home even when the folks were tellin' me I should go to bed! Talk about unbridled devotion to the form!

Anyhoo, the entire concept behind these recordings was enough to keep me spellbound as much (if not more?) as the Coleman and Coltrane I had been listening to for the past year or so, as did a lotta the machinations behind what was going on in the avant garde jazz scene of the late-sixties on. And with Braxton's popularity on the upswing and his name appearing either as leader, sideman or as a member of groups such as the CCC or Circle (which also included onetime collaborator Chick Corea???) I was so glad to finally discover what the CCC was all about perhaps still thinking of out-there abstractions strictly in rock terms a la Zappa and Beefheart, but it sure was gonna be fun to find out all about it. Was this another AACM head-on attempt to create another cooperative (and attention-grabbing) group like the Art Ensemble? (As Robert Palmer's surprisingly good liners denote, the Braxton recordings of the previous few years were in fact CCC efforts released under the reedist's name because his was much more identifiable.) Whatever, when I plunked the needle down to hear what it was all about I certainly was surprised...this music was an incredible free, perhaps too cacophanous sound that at the time I found rather incomprehensible even after listening to the usual bigname attempts at creating a free music, usually getting hampered by major lable constraints in the process.

Oddly enough, after thirtysome years and many records down the crustacean tubes CREATIVE CONSTRUCTION COMPANY sounds a lot calmer and (to get hippie about it) "together" than the madness it seemed like that hot August night oh so long ago. Contrary to what a neophyte like I would have thought, this disc seemes to be led more by Leroy Jenkins' free violin (as well as his wheezing harmonica and various typically AACM-ish "small instruments") than it does Braxton's woodwind arsenal or trumpeter Leo Smith for that matter. Heck, "guest" pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, whom the LP-long track "Muhal" is obviously dedicated to, seems to play just as much a part in the direction this group is heading as star Braxton making me wonder why those other albums weren't properly credited as CCC offerings as well since the collective imput of even those seems to override Braxton as being the sole star of the series. But maybe I shouldn't ain't any worse'n some soon-to-be jazz hero getting the star treatment on an album he played as a sideman on only a few years prior.

And in case you're taking notes, the CCC, at least on these live tracks recorded at "The Peace Church" (yech!) was rounded out by drummer Steve McCall as well as guest bassist Richard Davis who way too many wonks out there will remember and remember only as the bassist on Van Morrison's MOONDANCE.

Strange as it may seem, the second volume from this live gig that got released a year later (entitled "No More White Gloves (With Sand Under Your Shoes Doing a Dance" [!], and that title is funny at least on a black consciousness level) doesn't quite zone me the same way the first volume does even with more of that fantastic Jenkins violin sawing (better'n Ornette and maybe even ex-student Billy Bang), but like some of these creative efforts I might have to let it to soak into my system a bit longer. Still, this entire live sesh (why it wasn't released as a double I'll never know, and why this as well as some of the other Muse/Inner City catalog isn't available readily in the here and now is also tantamount to somethingorother I'd care not to even think about these days lest it get my bile up!) is pretty snat in its own abstract AACM way and even this far down the line you can hear the reverberations echoing back and forth in the music of such interesting free jazz co-ops like Freedomland and many of those other long-forgotten aggregates I used to tune into via cybercast way back inna early-to-mid oh-ohs, a time I'm strangely feeling hunger pangs for considering how a lotta the verve and sway of the avant garde has been taking a back seat to...I dunno, a shallow shell of its former self? Heck, last time I looked there was this review of a show where Braxton was playing his avant scronk to some kid doing stand up comedy! And I guess progress is progress and all that, but did it all have to come down to this???

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