As we get into the outermost regions of the book’s listening experience, a range of references gather together to open this chapter.
The cosmic system-building begins with Ornette Coleman. If you’ve not yet had the strange pleasure of encountering his music, I envy you. Arranged in chronological order, and roughly following the discussion in the book, here is a Harmolodic playlist for you.
If George Russell’s music sounds comprehensive to you, that’s because he was theorizing and writing through much of the twentieth century. From Dizzy charts to his own conceptually rich pieces emerging from his Lydian Chromatic Concept, Russell was unmistakable.
Anthony Braxton is still, well into his 60s, indefatigable, insatiably curious, and infectious in his energy. I won’t confess how many of my music shelves are devoted to Braxton’s work, but I will say that anyone seriously interested in this great artist should start with For Alto and 3 Compositions of New Jazz, and proceed from there to investigate (by hook or by crook) some of his Arista recordings from the mid-1970s. If you can afford the now out-of-print Mosaic box, jump on that and enjoy forever. Crucial pieces Composition 96 and Composition 98 belong in any serious collection of Braxtonia, and from the mid-1980s until 1993 the so-called Drespellingway quartet recorded a number of jaw-dropping sets, from the 1985 England tour (documented on a series of twofers by Leo records, and featuring marvelously rambling interviews with the man, too) to the masterpiece that is Willisau (Santa Cruz is just behind). The later works, from his Ghost Trance and Falling Water musics, from the Trillium operas to his Diamond Curtain Wall group, are sometimes more conceptually rich than they are musically satisfying. But when they work, as with DCW, it’s magic.
In the book, I refer less to particular recordings than to conceptual constants in his ever-growing Tri-Axium System. Here, in chronological order, is an arrangement of some of my personal highlights of this comprehensive body of work.
If you’ve never before experienced Wadada Leo Smith’s music, prepare to enter a world of singular beauty and emotional depth. Aside from his early work with the Creative Construction Company (alongside Braxton and violinist Leroy Jenkins), Smith documented much of his own work in the 1970s and 1980s on his Kabell label. John Zorn’s Tzadik issued a 4-disc compendium of these recordings, and it’s absolutely essential. The good people at Nessa are responsible for releasing two Smith classics, Spirit Catcher and Procession of the Great Ancestry, both of which will appeal to a vast range of listeners. And over the last fifteen years, Wadada has been on a serious tear, much of his work from this period documented on Tzadik and Cuneiform. I’d single out Tabligh, Golden Quartet, Heart’s Reflections, and, of course, Ten Freedom Summers. When Wadada sent me an autographed copy of the latter in the mail, it felt like a validation of everything the book is about. Such a great moment. Such great music.
Cornetist and composer Butch Morris is all over a number of crucial post-1960s documents, and some of you may recognize his name from the great early 1980s David Murray Octet records. But Morris’ own classic records, like Current Trends in American Racism and Homeing, are almost criminally under-regarded. I’m partial to the mid-1990s release Dust to Dust. And for those truly interested in Morris’ conduction methods, I’d look to his international summit Berlin Skyscraper and the massive, multi-disc box from New World.
And, rounding out this last thematic chapter are a number of references sonic and sidereal. The Ra tune is a stone classic, as is the collection of Gagaku (from the early 1970s, on Everest). Huun-Huur-Tu are, to my ears, the masters of contemporary Tuvan throat singing. My main man Olivier Messiaen is as cosmic as it gets, and this long piece is one of his deepest. And of course, though many of their listeners did not and do not know it, the Head Maggot Overlord, Mr. Starchild himself, knew how great a musical and figurative debt Parliafunkadelicment always had to Mr. Re, Mr. Ra.