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Max Roach and Anthony Braxton - Two in One - One in Two

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Artist: Max Roach and Anthony Braxton

Album: Two in One - One in Two

Label: Hatology

Review date: Oct. 18, 2004

This has been a favorite recording of mine for a long time, and it’s a pleasure to see it reissued. When I was first getting into it, I already knew that the incomparable Mr. Roach would sound great with the great Mr. Braxton; indeed, their Black Saint record Birth and Rebirth had already confirmed that. It’s hard not to recognize Roach’s impeccably (and distinctively) tuned drums immediately, just as there’s little mistaking Braxton’s tone. Their instrumental voices and formal sensibilities have carried them each into vastly different areas of jazz’s geography. And this recording dates from a period when Roach was at his most adventurous – having also recorded hot sides with Abdullah Ibrahim, Cecil Taylor, and his own burnin’ quartet (for Horo) – and when Braxton’s music was still exploding in every direction.

But on this record – comprised of two long live tracks from 1979’s Willisau Festival, an occasion on which Braxton also recorded a smokin’-hot quartet set for Hat – their multiple streams of jazz and improvised music traditions really converge. It all still comes together for me in a single moment, midway through the first piece. Braxton had hauled out his gargantuan contrabass clarinet, and was woofing manically on the damn thing, when suddenly Roach did absolutely the most perfect thing he could possibly have done: he started playing triangle. What contrast. What intelligence. What humor. And as important as each element is, it’s hard not to think that contrast isn’t the key here.

These two gentlemen are miles beyond the trite (and frankly boring) imitative approach that often dominates duo improvisations. Roach and Braxton don’t just challenge each other, they are unafraid to simply destroy a motif or idea as soon as it establishes itself (of course, they linger when appropriate too, but this just gives you some idea of the wealth of imagination here and the speed, the resourcefulness of these two). The mood shifts from the ritual chamber to a postmodern Minton’s to a composer’s workshop, with an appropriately wide array of techniques to complement the general shift in idioms. Fire and repose, monologue and dialogue, density and space; it’s all here in a glorious 75-minute romp. And it goes without saying that there is a deep, deep sense of swing saturating the music – there’s a love and reverence for jazz’s multiple traditions that practically leaps out of your speakers. Don’t sleep on this killer reissue.

By Jason Bivins

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