Alan Braufman – Valley of Search (1975 / 2018)
The avant-garde can be notoriously difficult to perceive – a constellation of brilliants lights, cloistered from view. It is a proximity of creative risk, integrity, and ambition – those very things which we presume to demand of the arts, bound to a forward momentum, forced to live in the shadows while others capitalize on its work. It is a space for which basic forms of infrastructure and support rarely come. A nomad. An orphan. A neglected giant whose present is all too often relegated to an unmentioned past. Even for the indoctrinated few – those willing to venture out on a limb and take the journey at hand – to rise to the inevitable challenges it presents, it can be an endless struggle to simply catch a glimpse of what limbs exist – to know what is as much as what was, and thus achieve might come to be. It is an endless ouroboros. It falls to the fans and artists, clamoring in the dark for breadcrumbs, to illuminate the path – to resurrect history and keep the contemporary afloat. The record at hand, Alan Braufman’s first solo release, Valley of Search, originally issued by India Navigation in 1975 and now reissued by Valley of Search – the imprint’s debut, offers a multi-generational window into this all too familiar tale – an album of astounding artistry which was lost, found, loved, and is now being given new life – a nomad, an orphan, a neglected giant – a crucial voice in the constellation of light, telling us what was, so we might know what is and may be. It is one of the great artifacts of 1970s avant-garde jazz, which few have ever heard.
Art, when it achieves greatness, offers a vision of what is possible – the who we are and what we might achieve. It is humanity looking toward the horizon, dreaming of evolution and change. As it was for Kant, it is through these objects that we catch a glimpse of freedoms which might be gained. If for this reason alone, the historic neglect of avant-garde music – a creative realm which delves toward territories where others have not been – the purest of quests for freedom, comes with dire consequences. Great art rarely grows in a vacuum. Each generation must build on the back of what has come before. The loss of and obscuring of history – of where our forebearers have been and what they have achieved, risks relegating the present to an endless repeat. Without access to its history, art is hobbled – unknowingly retracing its steps, incapable of performing its crucial function in our lives. Freedom isn’t a loop. Its power is bound to possibility – of becoming a better version itself. To move forward, one must always look back.
As a great many of us know, it has been a remarkable period in the history of music – one, largely in the hands of the vinyl revival and reissue culture, of resurrection and reappraisal – offering profound but neglected artists their rightful place and due. While there is an inevitable justice within these sweeping gestures, there is an urgent necessity. The long absence of the these objects has slowed us down. Without them, our past became unknown and with it the future obscure. And this, beyond the beauty and incredible creative achievement which it holds, is why the current reissue of Alan Braufman’s Valley of Search is such an important thing. It is an opening of a window, all too often closed, into a seminal part of avant-garde’s past. It captures a moment – the incredible things which overwhelmingly important artists achieved in the dark – a flowering seed from which so much grew, and so much of our future may still spring.
Alan Braufman belongs to a generation of artists which is incredibly close to my heart – that of “loft era” New York – a period beginning during the first half of the 1970s, running until the mid 80’s. Sparked as a great many free jazz artists began to return from Europe, having migrated there toward the end of the 60s, in the classic Dickensian sense, it was the best of times and the worst. Empowered by their creative achievements and freedoms they had been given during the time away, their art form was at towering heights – becoming something which had never been heard or imagined. Despite this, their efforts fell on deaf ears. Audiences, record labels, and venues in the United States had all but abandoned them – the white counterculture having embraced folk and rock, while the majority of African Americans did the same with funk and soul. These artists, with those they returned to, where in the process of creating some of the best music that ever was, but had nowhere to be heard. Rather than give up, they banded together – offering their homes as venues or starting makeshift clubs in storefronts, beginning their own record labels, and embarking on a process of endless collaboration and mutual support. Within the realm of music, this generation gave us the original DIY. Unfortunately, as inspiring as it was, and as much they endlessly played, for a great many artists, documentation was slim. Bound to these circumstances, we find the reason for which so few people know Alan Braufman’s name – a player of profound power, who didn’t get nearly enough opportunities to record and transcend pitfalls of time.
Serious fans of avant-garde jazz will have encountered Braufman singular voice on sax and flute on Richard Landry’s Solos, issued by Phillip Glass’ Chatham Square in 1973, Cecil McBee’s incredibly sought after effort for Strata East, Mutima, from 1974, Carla Bley’s Musique Mecanique, and a series William Hooker’s efforts, beginning with his second LP, issued in 1982. But, as great as all of those albums are, it is upon Valley Of Search, issued by India Navigation in 1975, his debut as a bandleader, where it all comes together and truly shines.
The India Navigation catalog is one of the great archives of 1970s and 80s avant-garde music. It was also one of a very small number of efforts during the loft era, documenting its output, which was not artist run – founded by a fan and tireless supporter, the lawyer Bob Cummins, who was known to help artist with legal advice. While its catalog is slim by most standards – around fifty titles, it is as iconic as they come – led by Cummins’ passion and ear, rather than by names and the hope for financial return. As such, it captures one of the purest visions of what occurred in NY during those years – a community taking form in sound.
The fact that Valley Of Search appears very early in India Navigation’s discography is telling. The label had begun with the Revolutionary Ensemble’s incredible Manhattan Cycles, but then went into a two year lull. Like so many releases within that scene, it may have been conceived of as a one off. Then in 1975, a second release miraculously appears – Valley Of Search, kicking off a flurry of activity which stretched over the coming decade. It had been recorded in a small storefront space in 1974 by Cummins, presenting two short sets with no alternate takes or cuts. It only takes a glance at the ensemble to know why he was there – Braufman on saxophone, Cooper-Moore on piano, dulcimer, and voice, Cecil McBee on bass, David Lee on drums, and Ralph Williams on percussion. It takes less than a listen to understand why those recordings kick-started India Navigation back to life. Valley Of Search is fucking astounding. It’s a monster – one of the great unheralded documents of free jazz in 1970s New York – a monument to the generation to which it belongs, it’s creative heights, ambitions, and overwhelming heart – a tapestry of wonders, weaving intoxicating polyrhythms with a brilliant interplay of structure and tone.
Admittedly, it’s hard not to account for taste. Valley Of Search hits nearly every one of my sweet spots – channeling the ethnic diaspora of the Untied States, radical political consciousness, while falling simultaneously embracing the fire of outright free improvisation and the deep soul and heart of spiritual jazz. It’s got a weight which pulls you under – immersive and transcendent. One of those records which changes you from within – that rare brilliance, achieved by a small ensemble with a huge chugging sound.
I could easily exhaust all the available adjectives within my arsenal of praise for this one. It’s as essential as they come. A lost piece in the puzzle. History emerging in the present and illuminating the path. The sublime in sound – the freedoms of past through which the future might unfold. Stunning on every count.
The beautifully produced LP comes with fantastic new liner notes drafted by the always brilliant Clifford Allen. Check it out below, and pick it up from Valley Of Search or a record shop near you. If you read this in time and are anywhere near New York City, Braufman is performing the album in full tonight in Brooklyn at National Sawdust with his including Cooper-Moore and James Brandon Lewis. It’s as rare as events come and an absolute must if you can. You can get more info and tickets here. Get there if you can!
Alan Braufman – Valley of Search (1975 / 2018)