Anthony Braxton Credit: <a href="">Peter Gannushkin /</a>

My mother always told me, “When you get older, you’ll begin to see the world in shades of gray.” Generally speaking, she was right (as usual), but I often find that idiom falling short of my personal experience. Listening to the prismatic 12 Comp (ZIM) 2017, I finally understood why: I’d much rather see the world in spectral wheels, the way Anthony Braxton does. Throughout the 11 hours of 12 Comp, the experimental composer and reedist—an icon of the hugely influential Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians—investigates the ceaseless shifting of hues. Braxton’s ZIM music project, of which the works on 12 Comp are a part, expands upon his “language music” paradigm, which uses 12 broadly interpretable performance directions to guide musicians through his scores. These works all foreground processes derived from the same single directive among those 12, in a system that Braxton calls gradient logic: rather than describe the quality of a sound, as do many of his 12 language types (e.g., long tones, trills, multiphonics), gradient logic describes how sounds relate to one another and how they change. Braxton’s transformations are rarely as simple as unidirectional shifts (e.g., faster, quieter, shorter, sharper); given enough time, a single starting point can pirouette into wholly unexpected shades. Recorded in 2017 and 2018, the works on 12 Comp (ZIM) 2017 feature a core ensemble with Braxton on reeds, Jacqueline Kerrod on harp, Dan Peck on tuba, and Taylor Ho Bynum on various brass instruments. At minimum, they appear as part of a sextet—on Composition 402 they’re augmented by harpist Shelley Burgon and Chicago cellist Tomeka Reid—but for the album’s most undulating works, Braxton’s ensemble swells to a nonet that includes Reid, accordionist Adam Matlock, saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, trumpeter Stephanie Richards, and harpist Brandee Younger. Each track clocks in at about an hour, giving Braxton’s gradient logic plenty of space to play out on macro- as well as microstructural scales. The four works for nonet (Compositions 413 to 416) stretch Braxton’s gradients to the extreme, occasionally sheathing the ensemble’s angular interpolations in a dreamy haze. The three most recent tracks for septet, recorded at a 2018 London gig with harpist Miriam Overlach, volley fast-developing fragments—but lyric lulls still emerge stealthily, suffusing the texture with glitteringly impressionistic figurations. Don’t conflate the aerobatics of these tracks with equivocation—this is music on the move, and the journey is glorious.   v