3 Compositions of New Jazz

Anthony Braxton

3 Compositions of New Jazz

“Our emphasis is on the idea of total music,” Anthony Braxton told critic John Litweiler, who wrote the liner notes for Braxton’s bold 1968 debut. “We’re working toward a feeling of one—the complete freedom of individuals in tune with each other, complementing each other. This is going to be the next phase of jazz.” Thus did Braxton offer 3 Compositions of New Jazz, its plainspoken title starkly contrasting with the abstruse schematic diagrams he used to represent his work.
The first sound one hears on “Composition 6e” is disarming: It’s Braxton and his compatriots Leo Smith and Leroy Jenkins singing “la la la, tra la la.” They continue the singing motif throughout, but also bring in whistling and then a panoply of other sounds. Braxton plays not just alto and soprano sax but also clarinet, musette, and more; Smith plays trumpet as well as mellophone, xylophone, and kazoo; Jenkins plays violin, harmonica, recorder, slide whistle...the list goes on. All three play an array of percussion instruments.
Unabashedly, Braxton called this seemingly esoteric improvised music “jazz.” But to this cohort of Chicago musicians who made up the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), genre labels ended up mattering very little. The AACM, which survives to this day, emerged as a Black artist-run collective that created a performance infrastructure apart from the indifference and exploitation of clubs. Braxton, Jenkins, and Smith (who later took the name Wadada) were among the AACM’s early leading lights, as was pianist and cofounder Muhal Richard Abrams, who appears on tracks two and three.
Braxton’s “Composition 6d” is denser than the first, though closer to free jazz and more conventional sonically, while Smith’s “The Bell” is an invitingly mysterious modern chamber piece. (Abrams plays piano, cello, and alto clarinet on the latter.) It’s a highly exploratory beginning, the first of what grew into a huge catalog of Braxton recordings, ultimately securing his place in 2014 as an NEA Jazz Master.

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