FMP CD 123

Sailing past his 75th birthday in March, pianist Cecil Taylor seems to have no trouble maintaining the creativity that has served him well since his first recording date almost a half-century ago.

How does the emphatic improviser manage to keep creative many years past when most musicians — even Louis Armstrong, his only challenger for transformation of 20th century music — fall into repetition and often self-parody? Very simply Taylor is always concerned with making it new. This can involved new compositions, new improvisations, new settings, or new combinations of musicians.

Take this CD recorded in Berlin in 1999, when the pianist was a mere stripling of 70. Not only are there three new instant compositions on show, but the backing trio is made up of three instrumentalists who had never played with Taylor as a unit. Designated as special guest, immutable Andrew Cyrille was the percussionist in the Cecil Taylor Unit from 1964 to 1975 and brings the same offhanded power here as he did then. Expatriate American cellist Tristan Honsinger, a linchpin of Amsterdam’s ICP Orchestra, has played and recorded with Taylor before, most notably in a 1988 trio session with British saxist Evan Parker. His staccato timing, shattering feints and spiccato lines wrap soloist and accompanist functions together into an atonal package.

Wildcard here is Surinamian-Dutch guitarist Franky Douglas, recording — but not playing — with the pianist for the first time. Someone whose strings are as apt to reverberate with tones that reflect power-rock as Free Jazz outer space cadences, his remarkable six-string effects add another hue to Taylor’s palate. It’s worth noting in passing that the pianist’s recorded bands have never before included a guitarist.

Playing for more than 77 minutes, the Taylor four strut their stuff without a bit of filler. However, there are points when the rolling rage of the pianist’s 10-fingered contrasting dynamics — and sound poetry cries — provide a certain atonal familiarity to the tracks. Yet the unexpected still lurks in nearly every bar line.

With Douglas providing distorted rhythmic echoes and uncommon, Ur-electric vibrating licks — is this the Latin blues à la Curaçao? — Cyrille moves from steamrolling, on-the-beat percussiveness to gentler tympani pitches. Meanwhile the cellist double and triple stops distinct lines — one minute following Tayor with legato sweeps that could find a home in a hip concert hall, the next minute playing off the rhythmic throb of the other two with worrying ponticello multiphonics that might amaze open-minded serialists.

When he gathers full steam, Taylor seems to slough off his septuagenarian ranking to exhibit once again the flailing force for which his high intensity playing has long been noted. But as benefits a man who has been at it so long — and a senior citizen to boot —there are disciplined passages of intense, lyrical beauty as well here.

As amazing as it seems to repeatedly have to write it, there’s very little inconsistency in Cecil Taylor sessions, and this CD is no exception to their overall high standing. With a new set of helpmates he’s turned out yet another premium disc.

With accelerating technique and imagination seemingly intensifying as he ages, just imagine how the recorded results of CDs done in his 75th year will sound.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Focus 2. Carnation 3. Cartouche

Personnel: Cecil Taylor (piano, voice); Franky Douglas (guitar, voice); Tristan Honsinger (cello); Andrew Cyrille (drums, tympani)