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ANTHONY BRAXTON Three Compositions

Of New Jazz (LP-1968)

Label: Delmark Records DS-415


Format: Vinyl, LP, Album / Country: US / Released: 1968
Style: Free Jazz, Free Improvisation
Recorded at Sound Studios: Track A1 on March 27, 1968; Tracks B1 & B2 on April
10, 1968.
Cover, Artwork Zbigniew Jastrzebski
Liner Notes John Litweiler
Photography By [Cover] Ray Flerlage
Producer [Album Production And Supervision] Robert G. Koester
Recorded By Ron Pickup
A - 840M (Realize) ................................................ 19:50
(Composed By Anthony Braxton)
B1 - N-M488-44M-Z ............................................... 12:50
(Composed By Anthony Braxton)
B2 - The Bell ........................................................... 10:20
(Composed By Leo Smith)
Anthony Braxton alto, soprano saxophone, clarinet, flute, bagpipes [musette], accordion,
bells, drums [snare], mixed

Muhal Richard Abrams piano, cello, alto clarinet


Leo Smith trumpet, mellophone, xylophone, percussion [bottles], kazoo
Leroy Jenkins violin, viola, harmonica, bass drum, recorder, cymbal, whistle [slide]
Anthony Braxtons debut LP introduced an unconventional, often controversial new talent
whose career spanning decades and still going, without nearly enough attention, today
has been one of the most fascinating in jazz. At the time this was recorded, Braxton was just
under 23 years old, an affiliate of the Chicago-based Association for the Advancement of
Creative Musicians (AACM), which had been active (but barely documented on record) since
1965. The boldly titled 3 Compositions of New Jazz was among the first statements of the
group, preceded by AACM co-founder Muhal Richard Abrams Levels and Degrees of
Light (on which Braxton made his first recorded appearance; his own debut was his second)
and some of the albums that would lead to the formation of the Art Ensemble of Chicago,
with records by Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman featuring the extended AACM family.

3 Compositions resonated with the aesthetic being forged on these late 60s albums. This
was a radical new sound in free jazz, paring back the unrelenting energy and frenzied
blowing sessions that had become de rigueur in favor of space, extreme dynamics, humor,
and versatility in both instrumentation and style. Ironically, given the chilly reception with
which this scene was greeted at the time, Braxtons late 60s/early 70s work made in the
orbit of the AACM was one of the last times in his career that the iconoclast composer would
actually fit comfortably into any larger tradition or collective.
The AACM formed a solid foundation for Braxtons early musical experiments. He joined the
group in 1966, immediately after returning from a stint with the Army Band, stationed in
South Korea. At this point, the AACM was very active in Chicago, with a huge membership
whose activities frequently overlapped and intersected. Braxton played with many of his
AACM peers during this time, putting in his apprenticeship in the groups of Abrams, Jarman,
Mitchell, Gerald Donovan, and others. These groups werent recorded and didnt make much
impact outside their hometown at the time, but the wildly creative atmosphere encouraged
Braxton to push himself; he was both directly influenced by many of these musicians and
inspired by them to come up with his own unique contributions.
The AACMs influence started to expand beyond Chicago towards the end of the 60s, as
some documentation of these musicians finally trickled out. From 1968-1970, Braxton
recorded a string of albums with likeminded musicians from the AACM. In particular, he
formed a regular trio with violinist Leroy Jenkins (who like Braxton had debuted on Levels

and Degrees) and trumpeter Leo Smith, sometimes adding Abrams (as on the B-side of 3
Compositions) or drummer Steve McCall. Once this group moved to Paris in mid-1969, they
were known, for a short time, as the Creative Construction Company, but while the Art
Ensemble (who also went abroad) flourished in that milieu, the CCC quickly broke up and
Braxton briefly gave up on music, moving to New York to play chess.
Regardless, this was a vital and productive era for all these musicians, who were rapidly
developing new musical ideas and expanding the possibilities of jazz, at times making music
that pushed beyond even the most liberally defined boundaries of the genre. Such concerns
would be a hallmark of Braxtons career, and this album proves both a valuable document of
early AACM ideas and a first hint of Braxtons own idiosyncratic aesthetic.
The Braxton/Jenkins/Smith trio was characterized, like many of the AACM musicians, by their
multi-instrumentalism, and none of them stick to any one instrument for very long,
particularly on this albums side-long first piece. Among other variations, Braxton and
Jenkins insert primitive drumming, Jenkins plays harmonica, Smith plays bottles, and Braxton
plays accordion and bells in addition to his saxophones and clarinet. This kind of instrumentswitching and insertion of unusual sound-making devices was a key innovation of the early
AACM. It enriches and complicates the texture of the music, introducing novel and even
lowly sounds, challenging the idea of jazz virtuosity with a palette thats as open to junk and
clatter as it is to speed-blurred sax solos. This trio was also, like the early Art Ensemble
before Don Moye joined, unmoored from rhythm by the absence of a regular drummer: all
the musicians contribute percussion, but theres no one keeping time or providing a steady
percussive backdrop of any kind, so the music floats freely and time seems to stretch while
theyre playing.
The A-side of 3 Compositions is a 20-minute piece written by Braxton, titled, like most of his
compositions, with a combination of graphic symbols and abbreviations, though its easiest
to refer to his work using the retroactively applied opus numbers; this is Composition No.
6E. The LP opens with what might be thought of as the head of the tune, except that its
carried by the musicians harmonizing tra-la-la and gradually adding instruments like slide
whistle and kazoo. The playful instrumentation on 6E suggests this groups determination
to toy with tradition. This piece, especially, was a remarkably risky way for the young trio to
introduce themselves. The music is spiky but languid, spacious but not without momentary
bursts of aggression. Its meandering music that gradually wanders its way into being.
The composition is a vocal piece for trio, a likely callback to Braxtons youthful love of doowop. That interest in non-jazz forms of black music was another point of correspondence
between Braxton and the rest of the AACM musicians, one thats not often attributed to him.
Hed subsequently come to be seen as quite distinct from the rest of the AACM, and the Art
Ensemble would be the group most known for gleefully mixing R&B with jazz, but even from
this early stage an awareness of, and affection for, a broad spectrum of black music has
always been one current in Braxtons music as well. (Braxton even toured with the soul duo
Sam & Dave in the mid-60s, though they quickly fired him for playing too free.)
The vocals mostly appear at the beginning and end of 6E, as the group sings the theme in
rough harmony, then echoes the melody on a slide whistle with jangling bells in the
background. From there, the simple melody provides a jumping-off point for further
elaborations and improvisations. The basic structure isnt too dissimilar from the head-soloshead format of much earlier jazz, but the thematic material, and the way the group
approaches it, deviates substantially from whats expected in the form.
It takes almost two minutes for Braxton to enter on sax, high and sweet, stating the melodic
figure more conventionally and even then, his rich, full line is assaulted from every side by
Jenkins parodically simple harmonica, clanking percussion, and continued out-of-tune

mumbling/singing. After another couple of minutes of this, Smith finally picks up his trumpet
and Jenkins switches to violin, meaning that it takes four minutes for all three players to
actually play their primary instruments.

Braxton, of course, drops out almost immediately to play a crude martial drum beat. The
music is constantly shifting in this manner, with new combinations and textures being
introduced at every moment. Theres a sense of delightful, mischievous amateurishness to a
lot of the proceedings; all three men are masters of their main instruments, but theyre
constantly throwing so much else into the mix that it makes the very idea of instrumental
technique seem like a distant secondary concern at best. The music is balanced between the
strange beauty of its often submerged thematic material, the eerie, haunting quality of
many passages, and the charming humor with which the musicians undercut and subvert
those more serious, emotional currents.
Theres a particularly sublime passage almost halfway through where Braxton, Smith and
Jenkins actually do converge as a sax/trumpet/violin trio. Smiths guttural trumpet
interjections prompt Braxton to push his own line from melodic improvisations into squealing
upper-register explorations, and Jenkins joins with screechy violin patterns serving as a

makeshift rhythm section. The thick, dense sound becomes difficult to probe, with the trio
seamlessly melding their individual sounds into a single grand clamor.
When, after all this woolly, wandering improvisation, the head finally returns in
recognizable form at the very end of the piece, it beautifully completes the joke. The piece is
both a parody of traditional jazz structure and an affirmation of the forms possibilities. 6E
at least kind of sticks to the rules its theme statements bracket group improvisation but it
does so much within those loose boundaries that would never be expected or tolerated in
even the most out jazz performances of the time.
Abrams joined the trio for the records B-side, which is split between another Braxton
composition (6D) and Smiths The Bell. Abrams plays piano on 6D, laying down a
steady, almost unceasing bed of frenzied chords, occasionally sweeping scales up the
keyboard and generally filling every available space. In Braxtons terms, the piece is
concerned with fast pulse relationships, an apt summation of Abrams percussive playing
here. One of the only rests comes, with a sly wink, after the chaotic 10-second fanfare that
opens the piece: a few seconds of dead silence, and then its back to the maelstrom.
Because of this constant foundation, this track winds up being far less radical than 6E. Its
a more conventionally structured piece, especially by the standards of late 60s free jazz:
after the initial chaos with everyone playing at once, the musicians politely take turns
soloing atop Abrams pounding base, sticking to their primary instruments and laying out
when another soloist is playing. This is not a structure that would appear often in Braxtons
ouevre. Much of the challenge and originality of his ensemble work is rooted in his quest for
new structures and new composition/improvisation and composer/performer balances within
his music.
Even with only Abrams and one other musician playing at any given time, the group makes
an impressive racket. Smith is up first with a concise, confident trumpet line, varying the
dynamics between bold, clean notes and passages that have a muffled quality, as though
played from a distance. These shifts actually work quite well with Abrams piano: the
trumpet vacillates between speaking clearly over the background or shyly letting its
statements disappear into the accompaniment. Jenkins violin solo, by contrast, is lengthy
and meandering, quickly running out of ideas as he scrapes the strings in a manner that
coheres all too well with Abrams relentless virtuosity.
Unsurprisingly, Braxtons alto sax solo is lively and vibrant, flexibly shifting from rapid
streams of notes to harsh squeals and little playful asides before heading imperceptibly back
to the main line. Inspired by Abrams and AACM horn players like Mitchell and Jarman,
Braxton was starting to perform solo alto sax concerts around this time, and within a year
hed record his landmark For Alto, a double LP of solo saxophone music. Already its obvious
that hes something special as a soloist, but Abrams doesnt give him much room to play
with the pacing or dynamics. When Braxton pauses for effect, the space is merely filled in
with relentlessly hammering piano. Abrams own solo spot, at the end of the piece, before
another burst of chaotic group playing, varies a bit from the carpet of sound, introducing
some loping rhythms and dynamic shifts, but the overall effect is still monotonous. If 6E
represented this band satirizing and playfully expanding the parameters of late 60s free
jazz, 6D finds them cohering to the status quo, a rarity in Braxtons work.
The final piece on the album is the Smith-penned The Bell, which returns to the restraint
and dynamics of the A-side, albeit without quite the same raucous sense of humor. This is,
rather, a stately and relaxed piece that documents Smith a great and sadly undervalued
composer and musician at an early stage of his evolution, much as the rest of the album
does for Braxton.

The first half of the piece is dominated by Jenkins violin, played gently and softly, emitting
long, mournful tones that quiver and fade. The other musicians similarly play in ways
designed to let tones decay and waver towards silence. Braxton inserts breathy, rustling sax
interjections, Smith plays slow, interrupted lines with plenty of space and pauses, and
Abrams switches between piano, cello, and clarinet but contributes only momentary
shadings no matter which instrument hes on. The overall mood of the music is hushed and
expectant. In the second half, the sound becomes even more sparse and pointillist, with
occasional jarring horn blurts intentionally adding an uneasy quality, shattering the peace. A
metronome ticks away relentlessly in the background, setting the steady time that would
usually be supplied by a conventional rhythm section; here, the group seemingly ignores
even that rudimentary rhythm, setting their own patient pace.
Despite its quietness and seeming simplicity, this is intense, involving music, torn between
serenity and tension, playing with space and silence in ways that anticipate Smiths
subsequent 70s recordings, both solo and as leader of the shifting-membership ensemble
New Dalta Ahkri. Its much less indicative of the directions in which Braxton himself would
head after his initial forays under the AACM aegis. As a result, the inclusion of this piece here
adds to the albums eclecticism and contributes to the sense that its a true document of a
few different currents within the varied early AACM, not just a snapshot of the young
Braxtons interests.
Indeed, the AACM is so fascinating precisely because it represented the intersection of so
many strong, individualist visions, so many musicians pursuing their own ideas in many
different ways, united mainly by a commitment to following their own idiosyncratic visions,
rather than by the specifics of the visions. 3 Compositions is notable for introducing Braxton,
one of jazzs most singular composers and musicians, but with the input of Smith, Jenkins,
and Abrams (the latter a crucial mentor to all these musicians and many more) its also a
valuable cross-section of the AACM during its unruly, inventive, under-documented first
phase, before the collective, with all its disparate intellects and ideas, became virtually
synonymous with the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
50 Years of AACM - Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians