When: Fri., Feb. 27, 8 p.m. 2015
ANTHONY BRAXTON DIAMOND CURTAIN WALL QUINTET
BALDWIN AUDITORIUM, DURHAM | FRIDAY, FEB. 27
In 2013, Anthony Braxton took a surprise phone call. The National Endowment for the Arts had selected the renegade saxophonist, composer and improviser as a 2014 Jazz Master, a rank he would share with the likes of pianist Keith Jarrett. For decades, Braxton's technical and textural explorations had made him a pariah of the jazz establishment, an easy scapegoat for the form's increasing nebulousness and decreasing swing. But now in his late 60s, Braxton had been invited to enter the coven. "The change has been very sudden—50 years, being 'the other,' and then suddenly, I'm a Jazz Master," he said in a subsequent interview.
What's best about Braxton's acceptance, though, is that he has remained steadfast in his vision—to turn jazz inside out, to make it sound new, to make it swing in his image. Whether collaborating with the harsh noise outfit Wolf Eyes, building ensembles of the best young improvisers around or developing new impressionistic methods of notation and composition, Braxton genuflected to his ideas, not others' ideas about him. In Durham, Braxton offers fresh testimony with his Diamond Curtain Wall Quintet, which employs a top-tier team of improvisers, including agile guitarist Mary Halvorson and expansive cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum. Braxton uses the SuperCollider programing system to interact with the musicians in real time as they read pieces from "Fall River Music," his ingenious, idiosyncratic notation system of symbols and pictures. The results are best when they balance the brittle and the beautiful, or when sounds that might seem harsh sublimate into catharsis.
Aside from his show tonight, Braxton speaks with poet Nathaniel Mackey at The Pinhook at 6 p.m. on Thursday night. After that free dialogue, the Raleigh-based improvisational collective Polyorchard will perform several of those graphic scores at new Durham jazz venue The Shed. That show is free, too, but don't scrimp on the master at the main event. 8 p.m., $10–$38, 1336 Campus Dr., Durham, 919-684-4444, dukeperformances.duke.edu. —Grayson Haver Currin