2 by 2
Clearly, reedman and ever-forward thinker Anthony Braxton and bassist Buell Neidlinger have well-established avant-garde credibility. But through the decades, both players have also covered a wide swath of jazz from more conventional quarters. So it comes as no surprise that the newly released, two-disc archival duet recording 2 by 2 is half populated by titles from the Thelonious Monk songbook. However, this is Monk performed by players who hold an abiding reverence for the material as well and a deep respect for the importance of progressive, creative intensity.
Historical value and timeless expressive powers prevail on this intriguing album. Recorded live in concert at McCabe’s in Santa Monica, on April 8, 1989, the pairing was a ripple from Braxton’s 1988 Black Saint album Six Monk’s Compositions (1987), recorded with a quartet including Neidlinger. Onstage, the empathetic accord between these two like-minded players is touching, sometimes edgy, and bustling with good ideas, keen sonic awareness and brusque energies.
Another commonality between them is a philosophical and actual fluency across the putative boundaries separating the jazz and classical worlds. In addition to diagonal variations on “Off Minor,” “Criss-Cross,” “Well, You Needn’t,” and a relatively straight “’Round Midnight,” the pair go into exploratory mode on improvised pieces (titled after-the-fact by Neidlinger) that nod to contemporary-classical icons. “Tonight the Night” is dedicated to Iannis Xenakis, and “2 at Once” pays homage to proto-minimalist La Monte Young.
This two-disc slice of the still-vibrant past celebrates a dialogue between artists with an inherent instinct for free play. The musicians share deconstructionist tendencies, blending the figurative and the abstract according to a logic that’s all their own. To be sure, 2 by 2 is two-for-one music, but it involves a more complicated, expressive math, as well.
— Josef Woodard