Monday, August 15, 2011

A Satisfying Interruption: Tyondai Braxton's "Central Market"

Traditionally, I am not possessed by school spirit, but I do like playing drums.  Who doesn't?  Last year, at the school district's annual "employee pep rally,"  I hid in plain sight by beating the skins like a rabid gorilla.  This maneuver was so successful that I received several requests from my campus coworkers for repeat performance at this year’s pep rally.  Sounds easy enough - I show up at 8:30 am to make my contribution to the school by playing drums really, really loud.  Everybody wins.

The evening previous, however, my wife’s obstetrician had set up an ominous sonogram appointment with our perinatalist at 7:30 am.  With our daughter’s due date just ten days away, an early call like that rang with a bit of urgency.  There was the possibility that it was nothing, but it was enough to ensure a bit of a sleepless night.

That morning, I set up a pretty rickety set of last-second arrangements with some staff members and, perhaps naively, envisioned myself beating the odds by walking into the gym and playing the part of the dutiful school band director at the last possible minute.  For this to pass, my wife and I went early and in separate cars to the appointment.  When she pulled up beside me in the empty parking lot, I grinned and rolled down the window with this blasting through the speakers.  .

Uffe's Woodshop by Tyondai Braxton on Grooveshark

Her perplexed reaction was pretty much what you think it might have been, and, as you might suspect, it was particularly satisfying.
Central Market
This track is from Tyondai Braxton’s 2009 album Central Market, which I have had on the radar since I heard he left Battles.  As much as I have been shaking my fist at the sky over his departure, I have also been keen to extract and isolate the role that Braxton played in the groupIt seemed totally insane to me that anyone who is interested in producing contemporary avant garde music would walk away from the experimental success of Mirrored.

Central Market, however, seems to go much further than mere experimentalism.  It blurs the traditionally Euclidean division between chamber music and rock in a way that was simply not possible within the confines of Braxton’s previous project.  When I began spinning it at the beginning it this month, the album’s playful energy and symphonic palate immediately brought Zappa’s orchestral work to mind: an oeuvre that is a source of constant inspiration to me.  I can't help but post this amazing piece as an example.

Although Zappa’s background and subsequent “day job” was as a rock musician, his passion was the orchestra.  Through little more than a few trips to the library and a whole lot of creativity, he created a unique style that, I thought, might have been more of an aberration in the chamber music repertoire than a new postmodern direction.  Braxton’s Central Market confounds this assumption by harnessing a similar, but distinctive, conceptual vitality.

It’s not all strings, kazoos, and sixteenth note triplets, though.  Additionally, Central Market sometimes bears a striking sonic resemblance the second side of King Crimson’s Three of a Perfect Pair from 1984, a distinctively noisy part of the 80s Crimson repertoire.  This live performance of Dead Strings, Central Market’s closing track, shows Braxton looping up a cacophonous cyborg storm.

I think that many solo careers are supported more by the ego of the artist than true creative vision.  A few artists, though, seem to be justified in going solo, simply because their musical concept spills beyond the possibilities of their originating projects.  Although his track record is pretty short as of now, Central Market might indicate that Braxton fits into this category.

Dead Strings was playing as I pulled into the hospital’s parking garage at 8:45.  Needless to say, I never made it to the pep rally.  The perinatalist immediately sent us to the hospital, where, for the next eighteen hours, selections from Central Market danced through my head.  The next day, still dressed in my band t-shirt and khakis, I was the proud first-time father of a healthy baby girl.

What happened at the hospital is another story.....   


  1. Congratulations on the birth of your daughter! Speaking from experience, I can safely say that it's about the most amazing thing ever...

  2. Holy crap, Jeff! This post perfectly fits into the question that I mentioned on facebook that I wanted to ask you. What a strange coincidence, I randomly was just listening to some Frank Zappa (Dancin' Fool & San Ber'dino) and it occurred to me that I have no idea who his successor(s) are. Incidentally, you introduced me to King Crimson years ago, thanks (it played a role in the long drive to the Texas/Oklahoma border.) I had Zappa's The Yellow Shark years ago, but the CD disappeared at some point and all I was left with was the thick paper CD jacket. Have you listened to it? Who else is a Zappa heir apparent?

  3. Well, I actually watched to the Zappa YouTube video and it's from Yellow Shark, so I'm an idiot, but still the questions remain.