Algonquin: Great Performances from the Library of Congress, Vol. 18
Bridge 9146

Presumably to be known from now on as Cecil Taylor’s “classical” CD, ALGONQUIN is a live recording of the Library of Congress recital that premiered the pianist’s McKim Fund commissioned duet for violin and piano.

Employing the prodigiously skilled violinist Mat Maneri as his partner, Taylor —who had never previously played with the fiddler — molded his individualistic approach to the setting to create something that’s both memorable and unique in his massive discography. This four-track recital from Washington, D.C. isn’t a clichéd “gentle side of CT” anomaly, but proof one again that improvised music’s most inventive keyboardist can amaze in nearly any setting.

Surrounding two restrained intermezzos for solo piano and solo violin, the composition makes its greatest impact with the more than 30-minute “Part One” and the almost 13½-minute duo encore that is “Part Four”.

Despite the august setting and instrumentation, ALGONQUIN isn’t that far removed from a regular Taylor concert. With the pianist verbalizing scraps of poetics to introduce the music, its main distinction at the top is Manner’s almost standard glissandi and arpeggios. Accelerating from single internal piano string strokes, Taylor finally unveils more characteristic speedy runs and contrasting dynamics — seemingly testing different quadrants of the soundboard in turn.

Within the expected piledriver chords however, are lilting impressionistic lines and delicate sweeps from his right hand. Because of this, the violinist often introduces jettes as well as virtuosic sul tasto and echoing pizzicato flourishes. Soon the pianist has created a distinct countermelody filled with tremolo slides, hammering octaves and building block arpeggios. This, in turn, forces Maneri into a Paganini-like stance, all flying staccato, ricochet bowing and double and triple stopping. Fully himself, Taylor ratchets up the tempo for a fantasia of uneven note clusters and resonating dynamics, eventually strumming andante cadenzas. Arching a moderato line, the violinist makes a few swipes in the lower register of his instrument until the pianist moderates his touch down to adagio tremolos and into silence.

More of the same, “Part Four” finds the melody crawling out in uneven note clusters under Taylor’s fingertips. As Maneri slides into shuffle bowing and lets the bow bounce off the strings, the high frequency harmonics get faster and more insistent. When the fiddling turns spiccato, the piano voicing becomes even harsher, turning to broken chord fortissimo. Together the two men’s taut instrumental lines rise and fall almost in unison, reaching an uncountable measure of bobbling prestissimo. Then, as if the resolution was as much a surprise to the performers as the audience, they downshift to slow-moving single notes.

Proof of Maneri’s adaptable talents and Taylor’s improvisational and compositional skills, ALGONQUIN impressively exposes a side of the pianist that should be showcased more often.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. Algonquin Part One 2. Algonquin Part Two 3. Algonquin Part Three 4. Algonquin Part Four

Personnel: Mat Maneri (violin); Cecil Taylor (piano)