Anthony Braxton entered the stage last night by ducking through the small door under the d.c. space banner. In his rimless glasses and gray sweater, the 35-year-old Chicagoan looked more like a math professor than a jazzman. In his soft voice he dedicated the show to pianist Bill Evans, who died this week. Braxton then took his gold alto saxophone and without benefit of a microphone disected one musical problem after another. He showed the analytic gift of a mathematician and the flawless technique of a conservatory musician.
On one piece he contrasted a graceful line against a rough bark. Then he showed how the contrast changed at different volumes. Sometimes he played so softly his fingering was louder than his notes. Another piece consisted of a long series of bird-like squeaks followed by a series of earthquake rumbles. Significantly, Braxton often titles his pieces with mathematical formulas. His cerebral music should appeal to progressive classical audiences as much as to the average jazz fan.
The Hands Jazz Trio opened with a set that ranged from melodic mainstream ballads to fast and furious free jazz. The three young North Carolinians moved to Washington last March. None of them possesses overwhelming technique yet, but they already show a good melodic instinct. Pianist Frank Kimbrough played with a lyrical validity full of open spaces. Lyles West filled those spaces with loud, droning bass lines that built strong harmonies.
Anthony Braxton and the Hands Jazz Trio return to d.c. space tonight.