It’s an incredible experience when you get to hear a master of jazz perform. It is a privilege when he’s also a professor at your university. Anthony Braxton, Professor of Music at Wesleyan, performed last night at Crowell Concert Hall with a rhythm section of bass, piano, and drums. Playing professionally for over 40 years, he has been a leader in exploring the free and abstract nature of jazz. Braxton’s music draws on standard jazz riffs but develops them in new, avant-garde techniques. Often diverging from jazz norms, Braxton’s style is sometimes criticized by mainstream jazz musicians, with popular trumpet player Wynton Marsalis going so far as to claim Anthony Braxton’s music is not actually jazz.
No one, however, can deny the genius that Braxton conveys in his playing and soloing. Backed by a talented rhythm section, Anthony Braxton shone in his ten-song set Thursday night in Crowell, broken up by a brief intermission. For this concert, Braxton focused on jazz standards, yet was able to maintain his own experimental flair. He began the performance on the alto sax with the forward-moving ballad “Invitation.” The group then played the upbeat tune, “Very Early” and then another ballad titled “Easy Living.” Braxton switched to soprano sax and played the heavy swing chart “Django” and the tune “The Duke,” which included sections with varying combinations of only a few of the musicians playing.
After a short intermission, Braxton came back on soprano with his small ensemble and played the fast-paced and artistically chaotic “Epistrophy.” This song was the epitome of Braxton’s brilliance in non-conventional jazz techniques. He then switched back to alto sax for the fast but smooth “Dolphin Dance” and the gorgeous, moving ballad “When Sunny Gets Blue.” Braxton then played the bright and happy waltz “Skating in Central Park” which showed a different jazz style than the previous pieces. Braxton and his ensemble closed the set with the fast-paced swing chart “Have You Met Miss Jones.” The piece included an avant-garde solo section that eliminated tempo and allowed the musicians to play freely and design unique rhythms and melodies.
Musicians like Braxton represent the musical brilliance that jazz is, regardless of its lack of popularity in modern society. While only a limited amount of young people actually listen to or play jazz, anyone can learn from Braxton’s talent and contribution to music. He has taken a style of music that, while experimental in nature, still has consistent norms that he experiments with, creating a unique sound within the genre. Anthony Braxton has experienced and influenced the changes in the field of jazz, making a contribution to music that is still evident today. Braxton showed the Wesleyan community in this concert just how intellectual and brilliant jazz music is and why it should be better appreciated in today’s society. The set of standards he performed represented how jazz has developed and how the new ideas of free jazz that Anthony Braxton incorporates into his music are not decreasing the importance and genius of classic jazz but rather expanding it.