|The Percussion Ensemble plays Composition 174; Taylor Ho Bynum at the laptop.|
My Alabama trip was incredibly rewarding. Actually, "free-jazz pilgrimage" is a more apt description than "trip." Wednesday night's concert was a solo performance at the Bama Theater in downtown Tuscaloosa, and Braxton performed exclusively on alto saxophone, as is usual for his solo concerts. The audience seemed to be composed of music majors there for their concert quotas, curious newcomers to Braxton's world, and genuine Braxton enthusiasts. Wisely, probably, Braxton opened with a a lyrical, relatively accessible piece, followed by an overtly impressive virtuoso offering.. Only then did he venture into the more challenging elements of his sound world - multiphonics, vocalizing through his horn, extreme register changes, etc.
|University of Alabama big band|
Thursday night's concert featured the University of Alabama percussion ensemble and big band. I could have let myself be disappointed by the fact that Braxton didn't play a more active role, either as instrumentalist or conductor, but I wasn't disappointed at all, because the music was excellent. Taylor Ho Bynum, the trumpeter who has worked closely with Braxton for several years, was the main conductor; was joined by a second conductor on one piece and two others on another. The first piece was Braxton's Composition 174, for percussion ensemble and recorded voices. This was the piece I was least looking forward to, and the one that surprised me the most. The recorded narration could be interpreted as a dramatized visit to another planet, a commentary on the music, or both. The total effect was magical, much to my surprise. This is not the kind of thing I thought I would like, but I loved it.
|Noffsinger and Braxton|
Anyway, it was a stunning ten minutes or so. The large percussion section, on all manner of marching percussion instrument (including vintage field drums), gave the piece an impact that the recording just couldn't match. I was giddy, and when I wandered through the halls of the music building looking for a bathroom, it was clear that the students were just as exhilarated.
|Composition 58. Bynum conducting; Dewar, Noffsinger, and Braxton seated on left.|