Anthony Braxton at Cafe Oto
By Anthony Braxton’s standards, his ZIM Music septet is a relatively modest affair. But the hour and a quarter of unbroken music they produced during the second of their three nights at Cafe Oto this week proved to be astonishingly rich and complex in its range of gesture and effect.
The musicians — Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet, flugelhorn and trombone), Jacqueline Kerrod and Miriam Overlach (concert harps), Jean Cook (violin), Adam Matlock (accordion, recorders and voice) and Dan Peck (tuba) — responded with great enthusiasm and devotion to Braxton’s scores and to his methods of internal organisation. He supplied most of the visual cues — holding up fingers, making a diamond shape with both hands, giving nods — but sometimes letting others take over, notably Barnum but also Matlock, who seemed at one stage to be supplying pre-arranged prompts to one of the harpists.
This was a music of nudge and feint, of swells and silences, of stutter and blurt. Bynum alternated passages of a glowing beauty (his flugel reminiscent of Kenny Wheeler) with the expressive use of mutes, notably on cornet in a Bubber Miley-style wa-wa outburst which was immediately answered by the leader’s cackling alto saxophone. Matlock’s accordion was sometimes the glue that held the music together, but he also provided vocal embellishments and added the winsome sound of two recorders blown simultaneously. Kerrod and Overlach employed unorthodox as well as traditional techniques, sometimes sliding small steel rods between the strings or tapping the frames of their instruments, the combined effect not unlike that of Derek Bailey in full flow. Peck twice launched into a kind of walking-bass pattern before disrupting the tempo, like a man alternately strolling, sprinting and jogging in order to throw off a pursuer. Cook played one compelling solo that seemed to consist almost entirely of harmonics and yet somehow simultaneously employed a scraping of double and triple stops.
Braxton, who alternated between sopranino, soprano and alto saxophones, made his strongest individual contribution right at the start, with a tumbling, paper-toned alto improvisation that seemed to be powered by a perpetual-motion engine as it wove in and out of the ensemble. But the point of the evening was the way his success in blending premeditation with spontaneity gave rise to a constantly shifting set of textures and a dynamic flow that kept the audience, as well as the musicians, on their toes.
* The ZIM Septet’s final performance in London tonight is sold out, but on Thursday at 3pm Anthony Braxton returns to Cafe Oto for a conversation with Alexander Hawkins.