Sunday, March 1, 2015

Anthony Braxton Diamond Curtain Wall Quintet, Durham NC, February 27, 2015

Well the Braxton show was fantastic! The Diamond Curtain Wall Quintet played in Baldwin Auditorium down at Duke. As you can see from the photo above, the performers are encased by these large wooden panels that really blended perfectly with the space to create a perfect acoustic environment for the music. The quintet was arranged in a semi-circle on stage: Braxton on the left, with alto, soprano, and sopranino saxes, plus the computer setup for the SuperCollider software; Andrew Raffo Dewar on sorpano sax; Mary Halvorson in the center, on guitar; Ingrid Laubrock on tenor and soprano sax; to the far right, Taylor Ho Bynum on cornets and trumpette basse (which looks like a short trombone with valves).

They played one long piece, about an hour long (an hour which sped by in what felt like, oh, 20 minutes). The piece started off with all three sax players on soprano, playing high piercing shrieks matched by the computer and Bynum squealing in high register, punctuated with dark chords from Halvorson. There were charts in evidence; although I couldn't see them from where we were sitting (about 10 rows back, in the center), I did see a flash of pink or magenta from the edge of Laubrock's music stand.  They played a lot from the charts, and there were lots of blurringly fast unison lines, as well as a catchy melody that felt like a descendant of one of the Ghost Trance lines, only simpler and catchier. Early on, Braxton broke into a beautiful, achingly tender soulful ballad on alto. There were various combinations of players, primarily duets, one of the highlights being a fantastic duet between Dewar and Laubock on soprano. During that, Braxton and Bynum looked at each across the stage and just grinned. It was great to see the delight on all the players' faces as they created this amazing sound world for us. They were clearly having a ball.

Another fantastic moment came near the end with an aggressive soprano solo from Braxton, playing super-fast lines with circular breathing. He was very dynamic, controlling the flow with hand signals and physical conducting with the sax. Bynum served as the perfect foil for Braxton, complementing his playing and drawing him on. There were  several unison breaks and tense moments of silence, all orchestrated by Braxton, all eyes on him as he motioned and gestured with his eyes and with the sax. And all the while, the electronic sounds of the SuperCollider bubbled along. Laubrock was beautifully subtle and brilliant. In fact, all of the players were at peak form. Incredible playing from the awesome performance!


  1. Awesome, Sam! Wish I could have been there.

  2. Thanks for the fine report. Sounds like a great performance.