Anthony Braxton, Krakow, Poland, 6 December 2008

With the memory of Anthony Braxton‘s inspirational concert at Porgy & Bess last year still remarkably fresh in my mind, it was a no-brainer to make the 600-mile round trip to Krakow to catch the maestro in action again. Playing with the same septet as the last time I saw him, Braxton did not disappoint, playing two engrossing hour-long sets (for the record, they were Compositions 356 and 183).

There was real group interaction onstage; I’ve never seen a group of musicians exchange so many signs, nods, glances and smiles on a stage as this lot did. This degree of communication between the group’s members was testament to the fact that there was a fair old degree of improvisation going on, even though all of them had scores in front of them and appeared to be following those scores pretty intently for most of the time.

Braxton was the star, of course – an utterly formidable onstage presence, powering the music along with his endlessly vital saxophone work. Of the rest, I particularly enjoyed Mary Halvorson’s contributions on guitar. There was something very Fripp-like about her playing, with its hard, splintery quality. I wasn’t greatly impressed by Taylor Ho Bynum on the brass, he seemed rather smug and histrionic to me (in marked contrast to the more focused energies of the rest of the group) and at times the brashness of his playing threatened to drown out the subtleties of the music altogether. Ultimately, though, this – my last concert of 2008 – was an enthralling performance.

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