Friday, July 23, 2010

Avant Garde 101: Anthony Braxton Deconstructs Charlie Parker

I have heard there is a recipe for deconstructed Caesar salad: you assemble the ingredients and eat each one separately without combining them.  Avant Garde jazz is a lot like that Caesar salad.  I acquired Anthony Braxton's Charlie Parker Project largely because I am so in love with Braxton's Monk album.  I was hoping for more of the same, on the principle that avant garde do wonderful things when they sacrifice some of their cherished freedom and navigate the parameters of good hard bop composition.  I didn't get what I was hoping for.  

What I did get is very interesting.  You might get an idea if you imagine Charlie Parker's music interpreted by an visitor from the Crab Nebula.  Being open to all, including alien invaders, I am entertained.  Nonetheless, I am trying to keep the spider thingies away from my beagle.  

Here is a perfect chance to see what avant garde is.  Braxton's live recording is devoted to mysterious morphings of Parker compositions.  You really have to forget about the salad and be prepared to listen to discourses on the veins in the lettuce.  As an illustration, consider this Parker number from the Dial recordings.
Charlie Parker/Scrapple from the Apple/The Complete Dial Recordings
That's a nice bebop classic, with crackly sound.  Dexter Gordon does a great version of it.  The melody is clear all the way through.  Now listen to Braxton's version. 
Anthony Braxton/Scrapple from the Apple/Charlie Parker Project
That's Charlie Parker after he has been eaten by some H.P. Lovecraft worm.  You have to like the guttural slither of sound from the horns and Joe Fonda's bass if you are going to make it through.  If you do, you can hear the melody begin to emerge from the slither. 

Well, that is by God avant garde.  I have been enjoying it all evening.  Let me know what you think. 


  1. sometimes I think Bird is like an absolute that can't be covered well, other times I crave to hear other people playing his kind of jazz. I don't know, really. free jazz is good, but I'm not familiar with Braxton at all, been listening to Trane, Shepp, Ayler, Dolphy, etc... will have to take a closer look.
    thanks for the post!

  2. You're welcome, Amused. If Bird can't be covered well, a lot of jazz is in trouble!