Anthony Braxton and the AIMToronto Orchestra
Creative Orchestra (Guelph) 2007
Mike Heffley

These four CDs triggered a rush of glorious memories: the young community organizer from Chicago’s South Side, submitting graciously to his seemingly miraculous coronation; the transcendence--not avoidance, denial, or exploitation- -of the petty politics of race, identity, and power usually played to get that crown, the triumph of the higher path of gutsy intelligence, idealism, compassion; most happily, the new face his administration allowed the country I so loved to hate to love to show to the world, like some prodigal son returned to its rightful fold.

I speak, of course, of Anthony Braxton’s 1993 inauguration as Chair of the Wesleyan University Department of Music (yes, children, I was there on that historical day!). These CDs are among the ripe and juiciest fruits seeded then by the new visions of a “world music” twinkling in his eyes and his speech both to and about his then-and-future world.

"An orchestra is a family," he told the Toronto community (the Association of Improvising Musicians Toronto, he helped organize for Creative Orchestra (Guelph) 2007, lo these many years later (see his keynote address to the Guelph audience at Recorded live as part of the Guelph Jazz Festival, the orchestra rehearsed for a couple of intensive weeks with his erstwhile student-cum-fellow-reedsman Kyle Brenders, current Artistic Director of that family. Braxton jumped in for three days of that before the concert.

Their prep time shows magnificently in this CD. Any good organizer of large family gatherings can tell you the key to their success lies in artful orchestration of maximum spontaneity. The more you understand and strategize against the pitfalls peculiar to family dynamics--the boredom and contempt long familiarity famously breeds, the instability and chaos of the informal, the hurts and slights people inflict on those they know best-- the better your chances of leaping over all that to soar to their unique and deepest counterpleasures: each person allowed to be him/herself; to be known, accepted, celebrated unconditionally; to improvise comfortably the resolutions to any and all problems that may arise. And, rainbowing it all, unmediated access to the living soul and spirit, the shared history, of that particular family.

The AIM's name itself suggests its (informal, common law) ties to Braxton’s AACM family background--same concept of intentional community, based in a locale and organized around a similar common aesthetic, pedagogy, and mission. Braxton’s role as academic mentor and composer suggests him as the metaphorical father here, but he wears that mantle lightly, in shared community more than authority, and these clearly grown offspring play their roles with him in kind. The family’s overarching contexts--they are Guelph Festival, Toronto, and Canadian artists--place them in the “world” part of Braxton’s vision for his work as more a world than a parochially American music. (For reports from those front lines, see local reviews of the live concert [ and].)

Braxton's creative orchestras are also family events. They’re where the scattered extended family members reunite to present his/their music in its most public ceremonial finery. They often stand out among the world’s other such events as, say, Le Cirque de Soleil stands out from the shabby traveling carnival that hits your town now and then. Not always--since much of his work over the last two decades has been with students or former students, the proficiency level with his material can vary--but it tends toward the high end enough to justify it as a strategy. In this case, it leaves that chart behind entirely.

The arc and flow of the track list feels consciously shaped; whether done so at the live performance itself or for the CD, it adds to the overall feel of creative orchestration. Compositions 306, 307, and 91, in that order, are woven in with three “language improvisations,” a weave that showcases the powers and talents of the players (and one singer) independently of the pieces in mirror-like balance with the same genius in bringing each piece’s concept and inner workings to the grandest sonic spectacle of self-evidence via focused intention. The “friendly listener” is kept comfortably on the edge of his/her seat, pondering images such as world tennis championships being played by four-armed deities, each arm wielding a racket in a four-ball volley that ends only voluntarily; or a troupe of ancient hominids conversing with great panache in a language that clearly has complex rules and syntax, but is still a year or so shy of connecting the first semantic meaning to its sounds; or some priceless Rube Goldberg contraption engineered by the makers of gleaming Lamborghinis out of pure precious stones and metals mined and forged not by slave labor for slavish commerce, but by artisan-workers teasing and seizing them out of the earth to process, shape, and own and drive themselves.

The listening experience is enhanced but not completed when the listener learns that the “languages” are "short notes," "long tones," or "trills" or whatever; that the two later compositions were penned sometime around 9/11, and my book length interview with the composer (, and the earlier one--and the climactic last track here--done a couple of decades prior (reminding us that this approach to family-partying has been going on for some time now, and is as timelessly fresh each meticulously marked time). It is fun to know such things, but also superfluous to the point of the power at play.