''I got a phone call from pianist Alexander Hawkins. He sounded excited and asked me would I be interested in being part of a new project with Anthony Braxton. My answer was out of my mouth before I could breathe, YES! I first became aware of Braxton’s music when I was an undergraduate living in Leeds. The library in the university had an eclectic collection of old vinyl records, ranging from John Cage to Cecil Taylor. My musical education at this point was a mix of jazz, classical and world music, etc. I was already deeply into Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman, but I had not really listened to Braxton’s music. I had read Forces in Motion and was aware of the great man but as I mentioned had not really delved deeply into his music. A friend had let me hear Braxton’s record The Coventry Concert. I was instantly into it, I liked the way the quartet played, they could sound like a kind of chamber music ensemble one minute, and a free jazz group the next. This was new to me, and at the heart of the sound was Braxton’s saxophone interventions that could cut the music and send it in a different direction.
''I guess I never really believed that some day I would get to work with him but somehow it happened and we toured Europe in 2020. The tour was recorded and is being released this year. What can I say, other than it was and is a great honour to make music with him. The tour ended just before the Pandemic hit, it was quite the comedown.
''Alexander, Neil Charles (bass) and myself have been playing together within various projects for several years now. We have built up a trust that you only get from working together within improvised music landscapes. This helped the group sound together very quickly and it wasn’t long in rehearsal with Braxton until we knew this was going to work. If I am honest, before this experience I was starting to get a little disillusioned with music and was starting to consider trying to find another way to live. From the moment I met Anthony Braxton and starting playing with him, he injected the music back into me and the group. His love for life and music is infectious. I have never met anyone like quite like him. He is generous, understanding, challenging, funny, intelligent, creative, curious, controversial and knowledgable all at once.
''He is of course one of the elders of the music, but has not stagnated, instead has kept pushing forward, remoulding, reorganising and breaking new ground. The group played standards but not how most would think of them. Braxton would say things to us about how he envisaged the music but would never tell us what to play. Instead he would suggest things and coax a group dynamic that would respect the compositions whilst attempting to stamp a new approach. This dissecting of the music often opened a door into an open space where we could roam and coexist with the original intent of the composition. At times there was only a vapour trail of the standard left but Braxton would somehow be able to carve his sound around us. We felt steeped in the history of the music while being able to add an ember to the fire. Sorry, I am getting carried away and starting to sound like a mystic! The point is that this experience was one that I will never forget. The stories Braxton told us of the amazing musicians he met along the way and how they changed him and inspired his music was special. I feel very lucky to have been able to play and record with him. The plan is to keep this group functioning in the future, if the world ever gets back to some normality. One thing will remain with me, something he used to say on the tour often ‘Hooray to Life’!'' Stephen Davis, top. Photo: IMC
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