The Willisau Concert
Intakt CD 072

What, after all these years, is there left to say about a new Cecil Taylor session? That it’s excellent? That at 73, after a recording career stretching back to 1956, the pianist still has the execution, stamina and font of ideas of someone half his age — if that isn’t being ageist?

(As an aside it will be interesting — but most likely disappointing — to audit the wares of some of today’s more vaulted young lions when they reach their forties or fifties, let alone their seventies.)

Probably the clearest understanding of what went on that day comes from the booklet note writer. He explains that Taylor was so eager to create on the 97-key Bösendorfer piano procured for him at this Swiss festival that he sat down and started playing before the intermission separating his set from the proceeding one had officially ended.

Long time Taylor adherents will also note what is missing during the course of his almost 71½ minute performance: chanting, poetry, grunts and groans and, as a matter of fact, many silences. Also, after pummeling the “tuned drums” for a little more than 50 minutes in the first section, then pouring his all into a 13 minute plus encore, the audience forces Taylor to play three additional encores, which he limits to slightly more than one minute each.

Obviously it’s the longest piece that’s most distinctive; combing as it does the mixture of violence and delicacy that characterizes Taylor’s work. The point about his creation, which has always offended jazz dilettantes such as filmmaker Ken Burns — and dare one say the Marsalis brothers — is that he brooks no compromise. Listening to Taylor, the audience must agree to enter into his sound world. Listeners must lose themselves in his singular perception and consecrate the sort of attention to it that many people feel is only appropriate for a thorough examination of their stock portfolio. These folks want entertainment value and simple, jocular melodies and don’t want to accept mere improvised music that way. Why, of course, seriousness must be reserved for Beethoven, Brahms, Stravinsky or other designated official art is a subject for sociological examination, not a musical one.

Even for a so-called jazz musician, Taylor’s often measureless tales are difficult, with their closest parallel the late music of John Coltrane, who incidentally once recorded with the pianist. Again, people with little knowledge of his work, imagine that his conception is more forbidding than it is. Audiences now know what to expect and sometimes at a concert, a non-believer will be converted right on the spot.

Like Coltrane, Derek Bailey, Lester Young or other instrumental prototypes, Taylor’s style is instantaneously recognizable as soon as he plays a few notes. Most of his sounds slide from medium to accelerated tempo, with repeated patterns, distinctive splashes of arpeggios and knife sharp torque part of the equation. Patterns include particular shadings of notes, reoccurring treble soundings, low, low left-handed asides and vigorous, full forearm smashed note clusters.

Trying to fully analyze his style, though, is like enumeration the paint samples in a Jackson Pollock creation: self-defeating. Instead most allow themselves to be swept along like the undertow in an ocean. With his endless energy and constant flow of ideas, what is produced is exclusively Cecil Taylor music. That’s why over the years in jazz there have been many little Teddy Wilsons and little Oscar Petersons and little Bud Powells and little Bill Evans, but never a pretender to the Taylor throne. Like Duke Ellington, another early influence, the pianist is beyond category. Those who put younger keyboard explorers like Marilyn Crispell or Matthew Shipp into a supposed Taylor school have obviously never listened carefully to any of the pianists.

Surprisingly, considering the strength that was exhibited in the longest improvisation here, the second is quieter, more restrained and filled with lyrical repeated patterns. Aurally Taylor appears to be barely touching the keys, while accelerated arpeggios are often succeeded by unexpected glissandos. The three final tracks are merely decorations, as amusing as they are short.

Again, what more can be said about THE WILLISAU CONCERT except that it’s another exceptional Taylor performance and proof that his talents are as potent as ever in the 21st century and his eighth decade of life.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. The Willisau Concert Part 1 2. The Willisau Concert Part 2 3. The Willisau Concert Part 3 4. The Willisau Concert Part 4 5. The Willisau Concert Part 5

Personnel: Cecil Taylor (piano)