Anthony Braxton (saxophone, clarinet, flute; b. 1945)
Anthony Braxton is considered a major influencer in the Free Jazz/Avant Garde Jazz movement. Recently I had to rethink how I had to approach this future jazz legend. I have always been apprehensive about diving into the catalog of Anthony Braxton (alto and soprano saxophone) due to a vast array of releases he has recorded. But I believe there is an album for everyone--from the well versed to the newcomer.
Braxton has a magnificent ability to shift between a wild inner cacophony of his solo compositions and beautiful collaborative efforts with quartets, quintets and large ensembles unlike many of his contemporaries. His music can resemble the best classical composer such as Cage, Schoenberg or Stockhausen as well as jazz legends John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman or Wayne Marsh to name a few.
One album that I feel can have appeal to both the experimentalist and the average jazz listener would be the two disc set entitled What's New In The Tradition (SteepleChase). This two disc set features Braxton and his quartet (featuring piano great Tete Montoliu) performing standards from Charles Mingus to John Coltrane. Many critics have mixed opinions about this date, mostly mentioning that due to the focus on standards the recording is too slow paced. I think this is true only if you are a diehard Braxton fan used to his more avant garde recordings. If you are just checking him out this is definitely the best and affordable entry point. It gives you great way to experience his playing and insight on how he deconstructs some classics. In addition, it's a perfect starting point to explore some of his more "out there" recordings.
If you are interested in some of Anthony Braxton's avant garde recordings I would look to the classics live recordings from his 1985 European tour with his most famous and adventurous quartet which included Marilyn Crispell (piano), Gerry Hemingway (drums) and Mark Dresser (bass). There were three albums all titled by the city in which they performed (London, Coventry and Birmingham (Leo Records)). After revisiting these albums just a few weeks ago it felt like a whole new discovery of a jazz great.
If you have ever wondered where to start and your interests lie on either side of the jazz fence you should start with these albums. It's more than just Jazz 101--get started.