The website says: "Leo Records
is a small independent company producing highly original, innovative, improvisation-based new music; music that refuses to be submitted to the market forces, that goes against the grain of current wisdoms; music that asks questions, provokes debate, generates ideas." In an effort to promote that aesthetic, they have released over twenty titles by renegade saxophonist/composer Anthony Braxton, one of the latest being Solo (Milano) 1979
, a solo alto concert of primarily Braxton compositions, with a couple of standards thrown in for good measure.
Braxton emerged, in the late 60s, as one of the first black artists to acknowledge a debt to European new music, including composers such as Stockhausen, Xenakis and Schoenberg. His solo album from 1971, For Alto
helped to create a space for solo instrumental performances; his work with Circle was a last gasp in free improvisation for Chick Corea, before he moved on to more accessible work.
Braxton’s work encompasses everything from solo to small ensemble to pieces for large groups. Nowhere is he more exposed, however, than in a solo performance setting. With compositions that revolve around pulsing motifs but are largely improvisational, Braxton creates a relatively engaging set which will nevertheless have limited appeal; fans of artists such as Roscoe Mitchell and the Art Ensemble of Chicago will, however, likely find this set to be a revealing document of Braxton at a particular point in time.
The surprise of the set is the two standards - Golson’s "I Remember Clifford" and the Green/Heyman composition, "Out of Nowhere". Even when improvising around the pieces, Braxton never loses sight of the essence of the compositions. This is quite revealing, as some of Braxton’s own compositions can often seem quite abstruse; but in the context of listening to him approach these two standards, it makes it easier to find and appreciate a certain lyricism in his own compositions.
The only complaint with this release is that there were clearly problems with the source tapes. When listening in headphones, channels occasionally fluctuate and cut out slightly, which is somewhat jarring when trying to focus on the music. Nevertheless, Solo (1979) Milano
is a valuable document of an artist who is, at the best of times, enigmatic; the recording sheds some light on Braxton’s compositional process by placing it directly against two well-known standards, and is well worth exploring.