Composition No. 23E is a thematic structure for extended improvisation that was composed in 1974. The science underlying this work was conceived as a vehicle for fast pulse and/or ensemble postulation without infrastructural (or compositional) markers—to be openly used by the creative music ensemble to suit the needs of the moment or intention. In this context Composition NO. 23E can be utilized as a platform for dynamic fast pulse group interplay as well as for designated solo statements (i.e horns over a charged bass and percussion unit). The reality of this effort was designed in accordance with the composite dictates of my quartet music pedagogy—to be integrated into a greater co-ordinate music master pattern for performance (or investigation). Composition NO. 23E is designed to participate in the gains solidified through the post-Taylor Ayler continuum of creative music—in particular, the energy and intensity implications of post-Ayler functionalism. To really execute this work is to establish a highly charged musical environment that is decidedly distinct from pre-Coleman dynamics (or particulars). Composition No. 23E is a vehicle to come to terms with those gains as well as a platform to integrate the composite continuum of Trans African pedagogy. The instrumentalist in this sound universe is challenged to respond to another level of information and ensemble interplay—this is true for the solo as well as the ensemble context. Composition No. 23E establishes its own creative terms as well as 'nature'. In doing so it provides a unique platform for the creative musician to build and grow from. I have dedicated this work to the restructuralist saxophonist and composer Albert Ayler.
Composition No. 23E is designed to establish two musical environments before interpretation. The work must first be interpreted as a ballade-like structure on its first reading and later transformed into a fast pulse platform for open interpretation. The nature of how this transformation is brought about is central to the reality dynamics of Composition No. 23E. This is so because the positioning of materials in the work is not separate from the nature of its results. Re-reading (re-interpretation) in this context serves to accent the position of thematic materials as well as the germ fundamental criterion of the composite music. By the time actual improvisation is brought into play both the musicians and listeners are clearly familiar with the focus and material specifics of the work. A complete reading of Composition NO. 23E's written material alone takes from seven to ten minutes. The transition from ballade to intensity is constructed to accent both the focus of the music (including its materials) and its direction. Contrast is utilized in this work as a clarification and structural factor for every level of the music. Through this process a material and conceptual focus is imprinted into the composite reality of the music for the musicians—in their extended improvisation—and the audience. Composition No. 23E is designed to establish a supercharged music not separate from the dictates of earlier creative models—whether these models are as diverse as 'Honeysuckle Rose'—interpreted by Fats Waller—'Cherokee' or 'Giant Steps.' This operating criterion is not separate from the composite continuum of Trans African functionalism.
The composite form of Composition No. 23E is A (B1) C D1 D2 (B2) A1 C and the reality of its components can be viewed with respect to what is activated in that breakdown. This is not an extended multi-implemented work that activates several levels of 'deliberate focuses' but rather a monophonic line with an alternate bass accompaniment) that is simply constructed. All of the materials in Composition No. 23E have been economically designed for extended improvisation—as opposed to elaborate notated structures that leave little room for personal input. The actual composing of this effort was undertaken from material specific directives the germ material and the work contains no over-arcing serial or harmonic operatives. Once those specifics were established, Composition No. 23E was written as I heard it during the moment. A breakdown of its material nature (and intentions) are as follows: Section A introduces the first thematic materials of the work. It would probably be more correct to refer to this material as the first thematic statement as opposed to the concept of a completed musical phrase. Because the whole of Composition No. 23E can be viewed as a unified extended musical phrase—that is, as one long musical phrase punctuated with various spaces (and timbre shifts). Section A in this context actualizes the first use of this phrase and is designed to establish the composite terms of its extended treatment. In actual terms this section can be viewed as two short thematic motives constructed to sustain a slow pulse (and/or extended) time parameter. The use of this material is also accented by the percussionist using mallots on the cymbals to create a soft ballade type textual environment—yet with no actual time pulse. The forming canvas environment of the music is further sustained by the absense of the bass—(or the absence of a 'bottom' to anchor this material). To create the sound and vibrational environment intended for Composition No. 23E the percussionist actually open (begins) the music alone and plays softly on cymbals for an extended period before the notated material begins.
Section B1 is positioned at the end of the second written phrase of Section A and—along with Section B2 can be viewed as the primary germ foundation of the total work. The germ foundation in this case being the use of repeated notes between the upper and lower instruments of the ensemble (in my traditional quartet instrumentation the upper and lower instruments divide into reeds and brass—and/or piano— against the string bass—but this division is open to whatever instrumentation is utilized, or desired). The repeated note principle underlying Composition No. 23E involves the entry and re-entry pattern that revolves around Concert B (as it is used in the composite music—and as this criteria activates the lower voices)—(string bass for my quartet)—into the music. Once the string bass completes this function (there are three inter re-entry sections in B1 and B2) it then proceeds to anchor the music by droning the last Concert B under all of the written material in Section C.
Section C extends the focus of Section A's notated material in that it develops the basic shape and focus of the music without changing its established material nature. This section continues to reveal the conceptual dynamics of Composition No. 23E's composite focus—and in doing so can be viewed as either the second thematic region of its total infrastructure or the second region of its material clarification. The use of the string bass (or lower voices) also helps to establish the nature of Section C's material 'slant'. All of the written material in this section is suspending over the droned Concert B that was activated in Section B1. After this section the string bass tacets.
Section D1 is the only tutti section (between both voices, appearances and lower without percussion) in the entire work. This section has been constructed to break the continuity established in the previous continuum of the music. In doing so the 'non-motion' is maintained—and re-emphasized. Section D1 in itself consists of a nine-note phrase executed only once by the horns and bass. From this point the bass again tacets while the horns quick move into the second half of its sound time parameter—that being section (D2)—which consists of two melodic phrases moving into Section B2.
Sectino B2 recapitulates the specifics of Section B1 as far as material specifics are concerned. Again there are three inter re-entry points of Concert B to be played by the upper and lower voices—as in Section B1. But this time the string bass is instructed to alter his/her use of this material and use it instead as a 'generative' point toward open improvisation. Starting from an arco Concert B executed in the same manner as its use in Section B2 the bassist gradually open up into a staccato-like open line pattern that serves as a propulsion factor to the composite ensemble. It is from point that Section B2 begins to establish the final terms of Composition No. 23's composite purpose. By the time the upper voices (horns) have completed the notated material of Section B2, the bassist has progressed from a repeated re-entry Concert B—played piano or pianissimo as a long extended arco note—to a fortissimo open sound mass of staccato arco improvisation. It is from this point that terms are being re-aligned for Composition No. 23E's actual extended treatment. To really experience the nature of this transformation is to experience how the material focus of the work gradually changes during a seven to ten minute cycle. This is so because even at Section B2 there are no quick changes or material additives inserted into the music. What remains instead is a steady sound continuum that establishes a non-pulse ballade-like sound environment into an intense charging-like music.
Section A1 is the final section of Composition No. 23E. All of the remaining factors are established in this last remaining area—that being (1) the gradual use of open improvisation into all improvisation (2) the move in the string bass to open pizzicato under the forming solos (if designated) (3) the change in the percussion from the brushes to sticks (4) and finally establishing the dynamic peak that will characterize Composition No. 23E's extended treatment.
Composition No. 23E was composed in the summer of 1974 in the Black Forest of West Germany during a quartet tour. The first performance of this work was done during that same period and it has since been performed many times (in both trio, quartet and quintet formation). The musicians on the first performances were Kenny Wheeler, Dave Holland and Barry Altschual.