Seven Standards 1985, Volume II
Magenta Records MA-0205
This album has to be one of the weirdest, most bizarre, and confusing records I’ve heard and seen. I scored the near mint condition LP at a local book store for four bucks, and I bought it out of sheer principle because you rarely see Braxton LPs. What sealed the deal for me though was the fact that not only is Braxton is joined by pianist Hank Jones, Rufus Reid on bass, and Victor Lewis on drums (all three are perhaps the least likely candidates to appear with Braxton), but that it is on the Windham Hill Records imprint Magenta. Who would have thought that Braxton would appear on the same label as George Winston and Scott Cossu? Remember what they say about curiousity killing the cat…….
Nothing about Seven Standards makes sense: the personnell, the record label, the cover art (which looks like a majority of the late 70s and early 80s ECM covers), or the playing. I am a huge Braxton fan, and I love a lot of his other takes on standards (a personal favorite is his Charlie Parker Project on hatOLOGY), but I have to say that everything is wrong with his alto playing here: the tone, phrasing, rhythmic and metrical feel, and melodic ideas are all terrible, but only because of the album’s straight ahead bebop context. A great deal of this album’s failure is because the rhythm section sounds about as lifeless as a rock. Until Jones took a solo I was convinced Braxton was playing over an Aebersold record. Neither Braxton, nor the rhythm section, make any attempt to reach an aesthetic comprimise. Braxton sounds like he’s drowning. He makes the changes, but just barely.
There is almost no interaction among the musicians in the course of the seven bebop standards, and the record left me in a state of confused laughter and disbelief. “Nica’s Dream” sounds like a plant wilting; Braxton doesn’t seem to know where exactly “Groovin’ High’s” head lays; and there is such a disconnect on “Moment’s Notice,” which opens the album, that it made me think it was entirely possible that the alto was recorded separately from the rhythm section and that these players didn’t know they were going to end up on the record together.
Ultimately, Seven Standards 1985 Volume II is the sonic equivalent of a bad date. Awkward, full of tension, devoid of chemistry, and with both parties occasionally trying to start a conversation (Monk’s “Ruby My Dear” and “Trinkle, Tinkle” almost work) but not getting anywhere, this album is a mess that is best quickly experienced once and then forgotten.
What makes Seven Standards particularly sad is that as volume two someone, presumably producer Michael Cuscuna, thought that the first go around required a return engagement. Everybody makes a bad record, and this just happens to be one of them.
Tracks: Momen’ts Notice; Ruby My Dear; Groovin’ High; Yardbird Suite; Nica’s Dream; Milestones; Trinkle, Tinkle.