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Anthony Braxton and Gerry Hemingway - Old Dogs 2007

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Artist: Anthony Braxton and Gerry Hemingway

Album: Old Dogs 2007

Label: Mode

Review date: Jan. 6, 2011

A couple of years back, Clean Feed celebrated its 100th release with an excellent four-disc set of hour-long improvisations featuring multi-instrumentalists Anthony Braxton and Joe Morris. Now, Mode releases a four-disc compendium of 2007 recordings by Braxton and percussionist Gerry Hemingway, a long-time collaborator of the professor. With the Clean Feed set, there was an element of surprise, as the Braxton/Morris partnership was something of an uncertainty. Old Dogs 2007 is less of a risk given the two’s history, but it does present the first recordings since their quartet with Marilyn Crispell and Mark Dresser disbanded in 1995. Thankfully, these four CDs find the veterans bringing freshness and invention to each moment while creating lengthy, unified structures.

Each disc is roughly an hour long, but no track indexing is provided. Both musicians play a number of instruments, and the only thing missing from Braxton’s recent instrumental arsenal is tenor. (It was stolen.) The recording is reverberant without ever suffering from muddiness or lacking detail. Braxton can go from whisper to bluesy shriek to guttural growl in a matter of minutes, and Hemingway usually follows suit with an array of hardening and softening color on drums, marimba, vibraphone and electronics.

The set is a surprising mixture of communication and independence. Their relationship allows for autonomy to give way, at strategic moments, to fascinating connections, like when both men start to swing hard midway through the first disc. Hemingway isn’t often associated with this more traditional mode of expression, but he support’s Braxton’s free-bopish rhetoric with gusto. The fact that they can morph from such hard-hitting retrospection into a beautifully current and transparent passage for saxophone and electronics demonstrates both diversity and organic development of the highest order.

It would be foolish to attempt any sort of encompassing description of the four hours of music in this set. If the gorgeous electronics and alto duet that opens the second disc might be understood as representing more recent approaches to their respective crafts, then the soprano and drums duet later in the same improvisation harkens back to the more extravert moments from Braxton’s 1980s music. Each player keeps the other at the top of his game, and each epic track is worth the journey for that reason. More than many other Braxton sets, this one presents a varied and satisfying listening experience from start to finish.

By Marc Medwin

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