Anthony Braxton’s Zim Music at Cafe Oto

I attended the final night of Anthony Braxton’s residency with his Zim Septet at Café Oto in Dalston London.  I am not going to attempt a full review, others have done that, notably Thomas Rees on the Jazzwise site, see here, Richard Williams on The Blue Moment site, see here, and Geoff Winston on London Jazz News, see here.  I will restrict myself to presenting some of my reactions.

anthony braxton
Anthony Braxton

It appears the each night of the residency sold out, and the audience on the night I attended was an interestingly diverse crowd, typical of the Dalston area and of the regular Café Oto audience.  It had a good age range and gender balance, though it was not particularly ethnically diverse.  The reaction was extremely positive; the set lasted for 75 minutes without a break for applause creating that intense and focussed experience characteristic of improvised music.  At the end the audience exploded and gave the ensemble a standing ovation.

The music was fascinating.  It began with a cascading solo from Braxton on alto saxophone and then moved into sequences of structured passages involving the whole ensemble cued either by Braxton himself or Taylor Ho Bynum which then led into solo passages involving Braxton or Ho Bynum with the rest of the ensemble – two harps, tuba, violin and accordion – providing underlying textures.  There was a strong sense of momentum in the whole piece with the movement in and out of structured passages and the solo sections.  75 minutes of music requires a lot of concentration on the part of the listener, but there was so much variety that my own concentration did not lapse.

I was particularly impressed by Ho Bynum’s solos; he moved between cornet, flugelhorn and trombone, and always made a significant statement.  He also seemed to play an equal role in cueing the ensemble passages and also generated some of the most interesting duo or trio interactions.

I have one reservation about the evening’s music.  I have mentioned the momentum of the piece and how it flowed seamlessly between the different sections.  However, I felt that overall there was an absence of drama, and I think this comes from fact of there being no drums in the ensemble.    Without percussion there were not those peaks of excitement that I love in the best of improvised music and contemporary jazz.   But I am probably missing the point!

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