Anthony Braxton has proven to be a rather elusive character for me to pin down, physically as well as musically. He hasn’t played in Vienna since the first time I saw him, at Porgy & Bess in 2007, when I was admittedly not too familiar with his music. There have been occasional European concerts since then, but until last week I had only caught one of them, a 2008 show in Krakow which necessitated a 600-mile round trip. Braxton’s recent gig in the small Upper Austrian town of Ulrichsberg, near the border with the Czech Republic, wasn’t quite as arduous to get to, but reaching it had its own challenges, principally concerning when and when not to get off buses.
Four days after my last visit to Porgy & Bess for the second evening of the Franz Hautzinger residency, I was back there again – and so, funnily enough, was Mats Gustafsson, this time in a trio with Peter Evans on trumpet and Agusti Fernandez on piano. I’ve never been a huge fan of the trumpet, and having been underwhelmed by the rather queasy sound of Hautzinger I was quite prepared not to like Evans either. But the man was a revelation. Standing shoulder to shoulder, the trumpeter and saxophonist united in a jaw-dropping tour de force of fierce blowing and jumpy, agitated motifs.
Here was a quintessentially Viennese event: a three-night residency at the city’s premier jazz club, dedicated to the formidable improvising trumpeter and card-carrying member of the Reductionist school, Franz Hautzinger. The list of people joining Hautzinger for these gigs read like a who’s who of the Vienna free jazz/avant/improv nexus: Siewert, Gustafsson, Stangl, dieb13, Brandlmayr, Quehenberger (what, no Didi Kern?). Although I was previously unfamiliar with Hautzinger’s work, the presence of the aforementioned Siewert and Gustafsson was more than enough to tempt me out for the second of the three evenings, quixotically billed as What’s This Jazz Today?
I was very much looking forward to seeing Italian post-rock outfit Larsen in the intimate confines of the Rhiz. Their 2005 album Play was a work of considerable imaginative power, while I had very much enjoyed their set at the 2007 Donaufestival weekend curated by David Tibet. So there was every reason to expect another evening of engrossing instrumental music. Unfortunately, however, the group had brought along their occasional collaborator “Little” Annie Anxiety as guest vocalist. Larsen themselves were superb, especially in the way their multilayered compositions began with the merest hint of anticipation and gradually developed into brilliant, controlled explosions of noise. Sadly, though, I found “Little” Annie’s vocal contributions to be dullsville and her stage presence irritatingly shambolic.