Leo Records CD LR 416
Perhaps Anthony Braxton’s most uncommon yet satisfying CD of the past decade, TRIO TONE is memorable because the American saxophonist functions as part of an improvising trio rather than promulgating his own ideas.
Recorded on a busman’s holiday to Serbia-Montenegro in 2003, the disc features Braxton operating as one-third of a cooperative trio convened to play two compositions by Hungarian pianist György Szabados, which led to three subsequent encore/improvisations. Braxton, who is always up for unique collaborations, played and recorded with Szabados, in the early 1980s. Adding lustre to the match up is the presence of former Ganelin Trio percussionist Vladimir Tarasov, who is based in Vilnius, Lithuania. Outside of the trio, Tarasov’s associations have included Braxton’s colleague, American drummer Andrew Cyrille, the ROVA Saxophone Quartet and the Vilnius State Philharmonic.
A medical doctor as well as a composer/pianist, Szabados, 65, often mixes ethnic Hungarian sounds, improvisation and contemporary composed music in his works. His unique style has been recognized abroad since the early 1970s, a position that didn’t endear him to the ideologically restricted rulers of Communist Hungary for many years. The pianist, who has also worked with other improv explorers like Britain’s Even Parker
and the late German bassist Peter Kowald, also composed music for chamber orchestra and modern dance troupes.
“Trioton”, the almost 32½-minute showpiece of the CD, reflects those compositional smarts. Organized in a theatrical fashion, with each musician expressing his delineated role, there are times when the piece could be a radio drama with the instruments taking the place of the actors’ voices. Zestful and refreshing, the 30-plus minutes flash by with the speed of a three-minute pop song.
Set up by gentle clinks on Tarasov’s cymbals, claves and bells, interspersed with silences, the initial statement arises from the flutter and buzz of Braxton’s sax plus single low-frequency piano chords from the composer. Soon Szabados’ wiggling arpeggios have been dynamically transformed into a two-handed prelude, reminiscent of some of Cecil Taylor’s orchestral work.
With taps, rattles and shakes from the percussionist operating as a bed on which the disciplined close voicing of the piano keys lie to extend the theme, Braxton moves to the forefront, working out oblique double-tongued variations. Behind him, Szabados’ contributions reflect his dual background, at times as straightforward as Wynton Kelley, often this side of florid, as per a romantic, recital pattern. Rumbled snares and toms mid-way through causes the saxman to reed bites as his higher overtones vibrate out a secondary, complementary theme.
Right after that, the pianist’s slipping and sliding arpeggio-rich counterpoint to Braxton’s irregular pitches turns to a double-time fantasia of substitute chords and theme variations as he leans harder onto the keys. Now on sopranino, the reedist introduces squeaking multiphonics with Szabados’ fingering almost staccatissimo. Cutting into the duet first with the single slaps of triangle, then tweaking of different percussive elements, Tarasov weighs in with his only extended solo of the date, moving from direct bass drum hits to snare ratamacues. Generic within the compositional framework, his versatility presages dissonant, chordal runs from the keyboard and slithering reed fills. Braxton and Szabados, now quieter and more restrained, sound out cumulative chords as the finale, with Tarasov dotting the final “i” with a drum roll of the proper length.
Szabados’ status as a Magyar (Thelonious ) Monk finds its expression in “Black Toots”, which resonates with powerful, broken chords. Meanwhile Braxton, on soprano, sideslips irregular vibrated coloratura and trills choruses in false registers that almost squirm to atonality. At mid-point, the pianist’s solo turn suggests Monkish scurrying over the keys, but without ever quoting a Monkish lick. Theme recapitulation in concert with the saxist then brings in a cymbal splash prelude until three end in unison.
More examples of Tarasov’s command of silences as well as sound and split-second reflexes, the improvisations serve as a steam-respiring respite. Szabados uses pedal pressure to display the keys from a bouncy, tinkling top line to a resonating bottom quadrant and Braxton spits out unrefined, reed-bitten subtones as often as he trills glossily in the highest registers.
A reminder of Tarasov’s little-heard dexterity, Braxton’s teamwork as an instrumentalist and the scope of Szabados’ compositional power almost unknown in the West, TRIO TONE is an archetypal achievement.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Trioton 2. Black Toots 3. Improvisation 1 4. Improvisation 2 5. Improvisation 3
Personnel: Anthony Braxton (sopranino, soprano and alto saxophones); György Szabados (piano); Vladimir Tarasov (drums and percussion)