Edition Festival a Celebration of Anthony Braxton’s Oeuvre


The centerpieces for the fourth iteration of Stockholm’s Edition Festival were two performances devoted to the music of Anthony Braxton that took place at Eric Ericsonhallen, a gorgeous octahedral structure that was a former church built between 1823 and 1849. Those sounds sat comfortably amid an unapologetically experimental program that spanned microscopic and microtonal music. The current work of Braxton—the polymath reedist, composer and educator who turns 75 next year—might have sounded jarringly far from Frenchman Kassel Jaeger’s meditative electronic music or the seamless mesh of field recordings and minimalist percussion in the work of composer Annea Lockwood (who turns 80 this year), but it shared both improvisational rigor and a broad-minded voracity.

It also was the first time Braxton had performed in Stockholm in three decades.

The evening opened with a densely packed, yet surprisingly agile, set from the Tri-Centric Project Ensemble: six regular Braxton collaborators (including violinist Erica Dicker, bassist Carl Testa and cellist Tomeka Reid) and 10 superb Swedes who were immersed in the compositions and Braxton’s ideas during an intense three-day rehearsal period. Although the ensemble’s lengthy set—a continuous flow of four pieces composed between 1976 and 2000—sometimes dragged, the players clearly did a remarkable job learning and internalizing the passel of material. Braxton watched from the front row as reedist Ingrid Laubrock conducted the ensemble from the outset, deftly deploying elements of his elemental Language Music—a set of 12 widely variable parameters used to shape the improvisational activity—to propel the group forward. Together, the musicians from the U.S. and Sweden produced sublimely shimmering washes of reeds and blankets of slippery brass, with individual extended technique and terse little blurts embroidering a careening rhythmic thrust that, in part, distinguishes Braxton’s polyglot vision. Eventually, subgroups conducted by Dicker, Laubrock and vocalist Kyoko Kitamura opened the performance up further, with thrilling layers of simultaneous action, such as Testa’s bracing arco lines, complemented by droning synthesizer tones slaloming against Dan Peck’s guttural tuba patterns.

The second part of the evening featured Braxton’s own octet tackling his “Composition No. 415,” a piece from his recent ZIM music catalog. That book of music is built from the 11th of his Language Music directives related to what he calls “gradient formings,” which focuses on volume and intensity. The performance further incorporated some of the graphic notation from other systems he’s devised, as well as a dip into one of his Ghost Trance Music pieces. But knowing such particulars—facts obtained following the concert—seems irrelevant in the face of a performance seething with vitality, much of it coming from Braxton himself, who was in constant motion, leaning into his solos, swaying as he listened. His playing was stunning, toggling naturally between buoyant, post-bop lines that swung hard and slashing yet weightless phrases marked by thrillingly sharp turns. Violinists Dicker and Jean Cook provided all sorts of grainy, visceral thrills during extended duo passages, writhing and singing over the rich churn of Reid and tuba player Peck. The octet also featured two magnificent harpists—Jacqueline Kerrod and Miriam Overlach—who produced lines of spindly ethereality and brittle bite, both against the grain of the string-rich ensemble and on their own. The display continues Braxton’s late-career sprint, supported by some of the strongest, most sympathetic players he’s had since the mid-’80s.

The curatorial touch of festival director John Chantler was masterful, sandwiching the Braxton evening with sets that sounded vastly different, yet offered telling complements. One of the best sets, the viola duo of Catherine Lamb and Johnny Chang, two Americans based in Berlin, delivered a stunning exploration of sumptuous microtonality rife with the sigh-like phrasing of Indian dhrupad. Percussionist and composer Sarah Hennies presented her deeply moving and idea-packed Contralto, a mixture of rugged chamber music that paired the quotidian and the sublime, and a provocative video component that explored trans identity through the difficulties presented by vocal pitch.

The closing night counted three sets filled with small sounds, especially in the duo work of Oren Ambarchi and crys cole, which was filled with quietly sibilant voices, delicately crunchy textures and deft multi-channel diffusion, presenting a beautifully immersive experience for listeners. They also joined with Hennies to perform a couple of pieces by Lockwood, another veteran whose ideas feel more relevant than ever. Between her installation that mapped sounds along the Danube, an afternoon discussion of her aesthetic principles, and the concert, her meticulous attention to sound seemed as crucial and pervasive as Braxton’s ideas.

Lockwood and Braxton both have followed visions once scorned, and it was hard to miss the admiration younger musicians and audience members expressed toward them throughout the inspired weekend. DB

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