|J A Z Z W O R D R E V I E W S
|Reviews that mention Cecil Taylor
Fred Anderson Trio
Birthday Live 2000
Asian Improv AIR “Official Bootleg”
Fred Anderson Quartet
Live at the Velvet Lounge Volume III
Asian Improv AIR 0074
Staying in the Game
21st Century Chase
Delmark DE 589
Consistency of expression is what has characterized the playing of Chicago tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson over the years. Furthermore, unlike many other musicians, there hasn’t been a subsequent lessening of his powers as he ages. As a matter of fact, now that he’s reached the venerable age of 80, his improvisational skills are at an exalted peak. Listen to these CDs for proof. They were recorded not only at Anderson’s 80th Birthday Bash, but when he was a comparative youngster of 79, 78 and even 71.
A founding member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, who recorded sparingly between the late 1960s and mid-1990s, Anderson has nurtured some of Chicago’s younger talents both by gigging with them, as well as giving them a place to play in his now legendary Velvet Lounge. Those years out of the limelight also created an idiosyncratic soloist, who – like Sonny Rollins and Eric Dolphy before him – now possesses an unmistaken reed texture whose sharp split tones carve a unique niche in every tune. Not only does the sax man put a lie to the cliché that “jazz is a young man’s art”, but he also proves that when they age jazzman don’t have to be cuddly and comfortable like Doc Cheatham or Eubie Blake. Additionally, as he demonstrates in four contexts here, stamina, innovation and sonic color aren’t the preserve of any generation. His playing can be threatening to saxophonists of any age.
Over the years Anderson has developed a tight coterie of associates, with many turning up on these discs. The oldest session, Birthday Live 2000, is a trio CD with bassist Tatsu Aoki and drummer Chad Taylor. Seven years later, with Live at the Velvet Lounge Volume III, Taylor and Aoki are still on board and tenor saxophonist Francis Wong joins the trio. Staying in the Game – an understatement if there ever was one when Anderson is concerned – from 2008, features him with bassist Harrison Bankhead and drummer Tim Daisy. Finally 21st Century Chase from 2009, retains Bankhead, brings back Taylor and adds guitarist Jeff Parker and tenor saxophonist Kidd Jordan – the later five years Anderson’s junior – whose tenure on the New Orleans scene is roughly analogous to Anderson’s in Chicago.
Anderson’s mature style is much in evidence as early as the first track on Birthday Live 2000. Both incendiary and knife-sharp, his carved-up timbres partition still further as he churns out double-and-triple tongued trills plus jagged Woody Woodpecker-like bites. Rappelling from just below the ligature down through the bow to the bell of his horn and back up again, the saxophonist’s glissandi radiate every which way. His explorations are backed by slapping bass strings plus opposite sticking and cross pulsing from Taylor.
Indefatigable and seemingly never at a lack for ideas – or breath, Anderson brings the same toughness to the third tune, which for all intents and purposes resembles a blues-flecked ballad. After an a capella intro from the tenorist, Aoki’s vibrating and quavering bass line moulds itself around Anderson’s rasping notes as the narrative is lengthened with emphasized phraseology and half-recognizable quotes from other tunes.
Flash forward eight years, and while Anderson has maintained his form, his playing is mellower. Bankhead’s supple walking now explores additional peaks and valleys in his accompaniment, while Daisy’s rolls, pops and bass drum kicks are as sturdy as Anderson’s solos. With the sidemen proficient players on other instruments as well as their own, intimations of other textures – if not the instruments themselves – show up on several tracks.
You could swear for instance that kalimba plucks are pressed into service on “Wandering”, or that Bankhead – who plays the six-string – has added guitar licks to his backing as well. Still the saxophone lines are moderato and unstrained, languid enough to indulge in an interlude of parlando, seconded by Bankhead’s unforced bass strokes. Similarly Daisy’s mallet-driven pulses on “Changes and Bodies and Tones” border on marimba textures as the bassist’s sul ponticello squeaks are moderated mid-range. Summing up the situation, Anderson builds his solo with pointillism, elongating and expanding note dabs and smears into a cohesive whole.
Mellow, yet still tough in his outings, the saxophonist manages to stretch tones almost to the breaking point, without ever severing the thematic thread. If he overblows while vibrating his horn’s metal, as he does on “60 Degrees in November”, the supplementary intervals and vibrations are perfectly balanced as they’re masticated with bites and tongue slaps. Chromatic improvisations from all hold everything together.
This relaxed, yet bellicose command is maintained when facing off against another tenor man, as Anderson does on the last two discs. No one plays for almost 70 years without devising strategies for different situations. Recorded at 2007’s Chicago Asian Jazz Festival, Live at the Velvet Lounge Volume III, for instance, allows the veteran tenor saxophonist to maintain his parameters throughout.
Case in point is a tune such as “Beyond the Bridge”. The head is sounded by Anderson’s harsh, irregular vibrato, then echoed with similar – but more accommodating – tones from Wong’s sax. Gritty, with reed bites and tongue stops, the two aurally march in unison with Taylor’s sticks flying into ruffs and rebounds and Aoki stop-start bass thumps. At times Wong, whose timbre is thinner than Anderson’s, could be playing “Hickory, Dickory Dock” as he operates in double counterpoint to the older saxophonist. That is until the drummer’s double-timed ratamacues and the bassist’s vibrating strings push Anderson to unleash his idiosyncratic stabbing pitches which are then answered by jagged, staccato octaves from the younger saxophonist.
An equivalent tart interface occurs on “Positive Changes”. However the impetus for Anderson and Wong combining for a series of tongue flutters and split tones which modulate up the scale with rubato intonation is some impressive bass work from Aoki. Moving beyond sul ponticello to a strained, near-vocalized pitch, the bassist descends the scale while sounding every string simultaneously.
The scene had been set with “Andersonville”, where each player stakes out his individual musical turf. Aoki’s thumps and pumps, Taylor’s whapping snares and cymbal vibrations plus the lockstep reed-biting and sonic curves from the saxophonists kick in almost as soon as Anderson sounds his signature ferocious cry. From then on Anderson appears to pushing and prodding every musical tone he can find in as many varied angles as he can – and Wong does the same. Steaming ahead, the two build up a polyphonic head of steam, double and triple-tonguing, appending connective arpeggios and sluicing vamps. Crumbling the lines to fine musical powder, the simultaneous staccato spewing never completely obliterates the piece’s musical shape.
Two years later Anderson’s 80th birthday bash at the new Velvet Lounge, not far from the old location, and featuring 75-year-old Jordan as well, was no exercise in nostalgia. The only bow to the past is that the two-part title tune reflects comparable tough tenor battles of the 1940s and 1950s. Adherents of the style were Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons and most pointedly Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray “The Chase”. However sharp ears will notice that by the end of the almost hour long improv here, both John Colrane and Johnny Griffin have been nodded to as well.
No exercise in neo-con nostalgia, this “Chase” announces its modernity from the top: a capella squeaks and squeals in altissimo variants played by Jordan with vocal exhortations and hard air expelling. Anderson counters with a “Pop Goes the Weasel” theme, Taylor and Bankhead hit, Parker twangs – and the chase is on. Jordan, a horse-raising aficionado, uses smears, clipped notes and effective glossolalia to take the lead as Anderson canters besides him with lower-pitched contrapuntal runs. Neck and neck, Jordan’s tone is more splintered and almost in the alto range while Anderson’s growls are practically moderato in comparison. Taylor’s ruffs and flams plus Bankhead’s walking stay back on the track, while Parker’s knob-twisting licks and abrasive twanging provide the equivalent of a spur to a horse’s flanks.
Eventually as diaphragm-vibrated timbres, elastic tonal interpolations and ragged split tones rend the air, both tenor men reach an extended rapprochement. Agitato and staccatissimo, neither can best the other – if that ever was the intention – and each maintains his distinctive identity. Getting to the point where each finishes each other’s phrases, a coda includes Jordan’s nod to Griffin via a quote from “Wade in the Water” and Anderson to Coltrane with a snatch of “A Love Supreme”. The finale showcases perfect parlando double counterpoint.
Bankhead’s sul ponticello introduction of the second part spectacularly exposes both the root notes and their fundamentals, but this pacific interlude soon gives way to more reed flaunting, taken chromatically or in broken octaves. Here and throughout the rest of the CD, the heavily vibrated multiphonic reed runs shares space with the guitarist’s curvaceous strums plus an occasional clank and click from the drummer. With Trane’s “Cousin Mary” and “Giant Steps” alluded to, the two wrap up the exciting essay in impov by honoring their direct influence as well as their tenor forefathers.
An equivalent chase in the future from others would undoubtedly have to touch on the saxophone advances of Anderson himself. From the originator, however, most of are exhibited in multi-faceted examples on these four discs.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 21st: 1. 21st Century Chase Part I 2. 21st Century Chase Part II 3. Ode to Alvin Fielder
Personnel: 21st: Fred Anderson and Kidd Jordan (tenor saxophones); Jeff Parker (guitar); Harrison Bankhead (bass) and Chad Taylor (drums)
Track Listing: Birthday: 1. 22:40 2. 13:14 3. 14:24
Personnel: Birthday: Fred Anderson (tenor saxophone; Tatsu Aoki (bass) and Chad Taylor (drums)
Track Listing: Staying: 1. Sunday Afternoon 2. The Elephant and the Bee 3. 60 Degrees in November 4. Wandering 5. Springing Winter 6. Changes and Bodies and Tones
Personnel: Staying: Fred Anderson (tenor saxophone; Harrison Bankhead (bass) and Tin Daisy (drums)
Track Listing: Live: 1. Andersonville 2. Acceleration 3. Beyond the Bridge 4. Positive Changes 5. Best Time of Life 6. Discreet Identifier
Personnel: Live: Fred Anderson and Francis Wong (tenor saxophones); Tatsu Aoki (bass) and Chad Taylor (drums)
December 17, 2009
Monk’s Music Thelonious Monk and Jazz History in the Making
By Gabriel Solis
University of California Press
Originally scorned, then patronized, yet eventually lionized, the career and compositions of Thelonious Monk (1917-1982) offer a lesson in the evolution of musical reputations. Today, both jazz’s neo-conservatives and its avant gardists claim the pianist’s as one of their own. Each makes its claim based on interpretation: fidelity to Monk’s scores or his ideas.
This volume synthesizes the situation, but except obliquely, comes down on neither side. Gabriel Solis, a professor at the University of Illinois, analyzes Monk in terms of sometimes bewildering academic theory, provides notated transcriptions of Monk’s records and compiles opinions of more than a dozen musicians. What emerges confirms his statement that “looking backwards and forward are not necessarily mutually contradictory.”
First active in the mid-1940s, Monk was a bop fellow traveler, but never a bopper with his anti-virtuosic approach to rhythm and harmony. Famous by the 1960s, he maintained his idiosyncratic style. Monk’s compositions’ playful mix of linear and cyclical motifs is defiantly post-modern. In his self-contained world, he re-recorded the same tunes and often refers to others he had written during improvisations. Cast in standard head-solo-solo-head formation, the compositions are inimitable. As pianist Jessica Williams says: “A musician playing a Monk tune sounds like Monk because Monk tunes sound like Monk tunes.”
Following Monk’s death however, the burgeoning jazz repertory movement turned from the ideas of older musicians who interpreted Monk’s challenging music their own way. As Solis writes: “All jazz performances involve …the act of molding something new out of something old [from which] … musicians develop the sense of their own place in music”.
Instead Monk’s son, drummer T.S. Monk, under the auspices of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, created authorized scores, “classicizing” the music as a link to the mainstream that went back to Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington and forward to the neo-boppers, including trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and pianist Marcus Roberts. These classicists “advocate a right way to play Monk’s music along similar lines and each have borrowed extensively from the cultural legitimacy of the Western classical tradition,” writes Solis. He asks: “Why would a canon developing in the final years of the 20th century, for an African American music … itself primarily a product of that century, follow a number of modernist aesthetic ideologies more reflective of 19th century European music?”
Although Monk sidemen such as saxophonist Steve Lacy relate that once Monk decided on a method of playing his tunes he stuck to it, they also mention his humor. This quality is missing from bland Monk tribute CDs analyzed by Solis. Marsalis plays Monk in “a mannered fashion” and Roberts presents “perhaps the purest canonical approach to constructing Monk’s legacy” on a recording permeated with “the portentous air of seriousness”.
When “outside” musicians interpret Monk, however, as the Art Ensemble of Chicago did with pianist Cecil Taylor, they re-contextualize the melodies with additional rhythmic inflections as well as quotes from other versions of the piece. “The avant garde sees Monk’s music as a set of vehicles for improvisation that extends the expressive registers available to performers,” Solis writes, concluding that “they rather than the institutional mainstream can be seen as the real keepers of jazz’s core tradition.”
As he writes: “Conflict between mainstream and alternative orientations in jazz and Monk’s place in the conflict can shed light on … the uses of music in the making of socio-cultural positions … and … allows for a consideration of alternatives to the classicizing model of historical jazz repertoire”.
For someone as idiosyncratic as Monk, that judgment appears just about perfect.
-- Ken Waxman
In MusicWorks Issue #101
July 2, 2008
Free Jazz and Free Improvisation
An Encyclopedia by Todd S. Jenkins
Greenwood Press Volume One A-J; Volume Two K-Z
By Ken Waxman
January 31, 2005
Reviewing a stand-alone project like Free Jazz and Free Improvisation presents a unique set of challenges, since you must deal with what isnt covered in the 500-odd oversized pages of these two volumes as much as what is.
From the downbeat author Todd Jenkins has to be commended for his Herculean task, collecting from various sources essential information about Free Music and putting it into approachable form for the student, the researcher as well as the improvisational newbie.
Further props in his favor include the introductory essay, The Path to Freedom. In around 40, well-measured, pages, he manages to touch nearly every major current in so-called outside music from the late 1940s all the way up to the present. Subtantially, in the body of the book, his list of individual entries ranges from the irrefutable pioneers -- such as John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor -- all the way up to many newcomers including Bay area saxophonist Rent Romus and Boston-based trumpeter Greg Kelley.
Jenkins is knowledgeable enough about the scene in general to include listings of such little celebrated entities as Muhal Richard Abrams influential Experimental Band and the pan-European Quintet Moderne, to cite two entries. Cognizant of Free Musics universality, he also has a good percentage of entries on non-American performers -- European and Japanese in the main -- as well as separate slots for important nightclubs and record labels. As stand-alone entries, his extensive dissections of the careers and recorded work of important stylists such as Taylor, Anthony Braxton and Evan Parker are exemplary.
That said, Free Jazz and Free Improvisation also encompasses several egregious flaws that compromise the volumes status as a reference source. Emphasis is put on certain trends, musicians and record labels to the expense of others that in the future could prove to be as momentous. Furthermore, for a hard-cover publication destined for library shelves and as a long-term reference, an appalling number of omissions, typos, proof reading, editing and even factual mistakes appear.
In many instances also, Jenkins writing is gauche and graceless, relying on such cliched expressions as avoid like the plague, like it or lump it, welcome with open arms and packed to the rafters. This may be OK for a rush job destined for next day newspaper publication, but a book, especially an encyclopedia, is a monumental undertaking that should avoid cringe-worthy prose since it will be consulted for years to come.
Briefly, Jenkins is on the most solid ground with his shorter entries, since they pithily state the basic facts and locate the data in the improv continuum. In some of these however, and many of the longer entries, a form of omnipotence weakens the strength of he information. Endless detailing of individual LP and CD tracks and sessions is something best left to record reviewing. Plus, following the lead of Leonard Feathers pioneering, yet not wholly successful, efforts in his Encyclopedia of Jazz, opinions of others conversant with the works discussed should have been added to Jenkins own. To use an obvious cliché, disagreements and preferences are what make horse races.
Although the selection of entries is catholic, too often additional information is missing. Jenkins includes the full birth date, place and year of birth for many musicians, for instance, while other listings lack one, the other or all three. Communications via the Internet has made such lapses dubious. A Web page search or e-mail to the person involved could have yielded the missing date. In 1956 and thereafter, Feather sent out a questionnaire to those musicians he wanted to include in his encyclopedia; 21st Century transmission makes this task that much simpler.
Certainly every reader will have a list of who or what should or shouldnt have been in the volumes, but a couple of omissions seem more than inexplicable.
The most glaring oversight is lack of a separate listing or even an index references for CODA, the Canadian jazz magazine with a worldwide circulation. Cadence -- founded in 1975 -- and its affiliated record labels rate an entry, while that publication and Signal to Noise, which began in the very late 1990s, are cited as periodicals specifically oriented towards new music in the end notes.
CODA has had its ups and down over the years, but as a journal published continuously since May 1958 as its masthead states, it has been a constant champion for Free Music almost from its beginning. During the late 1970s in fact, the magazines affiliated Sackville and Onari label released some now-classic Free Jazz/Free Improv sessions, a role which Cadences labels admirably fills today.
Another puzzling omission is that of New York trombonist Steve Swell, especially since many of the players with whom he associates rate their own listing. A few others musicians who could be included are, from Europe: pianist Michiel Braam and reedist Ab Baars of the Netherlands, Spanish pianist Augustí Fernández and British drummer Paul Hession. Then from the United States: Mississippi drummer Alvin Fielder, Texas trumpeter Dennis González, New Yorkers, saxist Michael Marcus and pianist Uri Caine, plus drummer Gino Robair and saxist Francis Wong from the Bay area. And thats only thinking of 10 at random.
Where would the publishers have found room for these entries? Removal of quasi-improvisers who come from the rock music world such as Thurston Moore, Jim ORourke and Fennez [!] could provide some space. Plus a 17-page, year-by-year Chronology of Events from 1949 through 2003 at the beginning of the volume that lists births, deaths and record releases already included in the text, could have been excised.
Adding or removing entries may be merely an exercise in different priorities between this reviewer and the author. But mistakes and misstatements arent open to discussion.
To list a few, again at random:
Barre Phillips is described as a British bassist in the entry on Peter Brötzman, but correctly as an American in his own
Big Nick Nicholas was a tenor saxophonist, not a blues singer
Violinist Billy Bang didnt found the String Trio of New York, it was a cooperative effort between him, guitarist James Emery and bassist John Lindberg
No effort is made to explain that the Rev in tenor saxophonists Frank Wrights name was a nickname for his soulful playing, not a legitimate ecclesiastical title
Sun Ra didnt play in the big band of Erskine Caldwell, the author of Tobacco Road, but in the band of Erskine Hawkins, the popular trumpeter
Ajay Heble isnt the former Guelph Jazz Festival director, he still holds that post
John Coltrane recorded Olé for Atlantic not Impulse and Ascension for Impulse not Atlantic; the reverse is stated in the introduction
Poet/activist Amiri Barakas name change reflected his Pan-African revolutionary Marxism not a conversion to Islam as is misstated twice
Novelist Jean Toomer, who is mentioned in the entry on altoist Marion Brown, is a he not a she
While this list may seem excessively nitpicky, precisely because Free Jazz and Free Improvisation is an encyclopedia, these missteps are particularly egregious. Even in the 21st Century anything printed between hard covers is given extraordinary respect, so these errors will be perpetuated for some time.
While Free Jazz and Free Improv followers can pick up these volumes, they should be very conscious of these faults before doing so. Perhaps one way around the conundrum, would be for the author to annually publish a yearbook that would bring things up to date. Another welcome gesture would be if buyers could be provided with an set of corrections should they purchase the volumes. The information could even be e-mailed after the publisher is contacted.
Despite Jenkins hard work, it appears that Free Jazz and Free Improvisation is still only another small step on the road to completeness for individuals and institutions that seek a permanent collection of facts about these genres.
January 31, 2005
CECIL TAYLOR & THE ITALIAN INSTABILE ORCHESTRA
The Owner Of The River Bank
Justin Time/Enja JENJ 3317-2
Probably the first musician who legitimately melded African-American improvisational skills with hyper-European instrumental prowess, Cecil Taylor is a true citizen of the world.
Lionized as a combo leader and soloist, the now 75-year-olds orchestral talents are less well known, since rehearsing any large band is time-consuming and expensive. Luckily as part of the celebration of the Italian Instabile Orchestra (IIO)s 10th anniversary, the Talos Festival in Puglia, Italys arranged for this match up. The result gives Taylor the largest collection of orchestral colors to work with since he soloed with Michael Mantlers 21-piece band on COMMUNICATIONS in 1968.
Unlike that legendary CD and the few other large bands the pianist has organized over the years, the 18-piece IIO has a more-or-less stable personnel made up of Italys top exploratory players. Thus, a disciplined and experienced group is on hand to interpret the graphical notation that makes up Taylors more than one hour score, and before this, during a series of rehearsals, was able to add individual interpretations of Taylors work.
THE OWNER OF THE RIVER BANK is no concerto for piano and orchestra however. Instead Taylors presence is conspicuous only when each compositional motif or movement ends with a piano intermezzo that brings on the next section. Viewing the bonus video track included on the disc, you can see that the pianism isnt all Taylor either. Umberto Petrin, the IIOs regular keyboardist, contributes as well, with only certain characteristic runs and, of course, his muttered throat singing directly attributable to the American.
Taken all of a piece, The Owner of the River Bank is not only so-called avant-garde and so-called jazzy, but also includes surprisingly lengthy impressionistic -- even romantic -- passages. Throughout, violinist Renato Geremia, cellist Paolo Damiani and bassist Giovanni Maier are as apt to play caprices and arpeggios as spiccato, sul tasto and ponticello. Additionally the alp-horn-like smears of Martin Mayes French horn and the thunder of Mazzones tympani are put to good and original use.
But dont confuse this composition with a Third Stream exercise. At points the massed trombone choir spits out an overlay of triplets or liberates plunger sounds from deep within the horns bells. Screaming trumpet counter motifs vibrate from trilling rubato to chromatic explosions. Meanwhile the five reed players peep, slurp and low as they smear tones every which way.
By midpoint, the somewhat tentative sound shards coalesce into harsh building blocks of sound superimposed upon one another -- and held together with Taylors high frequency cadenzas. Rolling bounces and backbeats from tympani and drums give the piece rhythmic heft as a serpentine soprano saxophone line -- perhaps from Mario Schiano -- slithers sensuously through tremolo barnyard blasts from Carlo Actis Datos baritone saxophone and triple tonguing from one trumpeter, likely Pino Minafra.
Later on, the dynamic accents the pianist snatches from each side of the keyboard give way to a sort of legato duet with Petrin. No matter how impressionistic the two get, theres still an underlying exploratory rhythm. Yet while no one would figure these passages are played by Alfred Brendel and Walter Klein or any other so-called immortal classical piano duo, theyre obvious not by a jazz duo like John Lewis and Hank Jones or Willie The Lion Smith and Luckey Roberts either.
Finally the band members distinctive Italian personality asserts itself as well. Among the double-stopping bass and cello lines, a spiccato violin section, plus wah wahs and smears from the syncopated horns, are group verbal improvisations that mirror Taylors vocal riffs. When he growls, they provide doo-wop vocalese and buffo pseudo opera. Theres even a quasi-Dixieland interjection, where Lauro Rossi or Giancarlo Schiaffini adds some Kid Ory-like laughing plunger work, and a trilling, double-tongued clarinet -- Gianluigi Trovesi? -- momentarily references Johnny Dodds. To counter, a trumpet line snakes over the massed band and Taylor contributes a high-intensity tremolo.
Taken at double speed, the suites penultimate movement finds the composer characteristically applying contrasting dynamics as he surges over the keys. With the other pianist playing treble clef accompaniment, Taylor shifts the harmonics northward helped by fricative percussion and colored air circulating through the reeds. When an almost martial contrapuntal theme arrives from the surging brass, its quieted by another piano display.
The finale features ascending chords goosed by a prestissimo drum beat, a romantic, moderato piano part and more individual vocal interjections -- topped by conspiratorial whispers and keening growls from Taylor. Double stopping, sul tasto bowing from the cello mix with emphasized airy reed smears and tongue slaps, until an agitated piano melodies leads the band to silence.
Often veloce, sometimes andante, usually frantic and frequently discordant, this bravura display of musicianship confirms the compositional, interpretational and creative talents of all 19 players.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Part 1 2. Part 2 3. Part 3 4. Part 4 5. Part 5 6. Part 6 7. Part 7: Mpg movie
Personnel: Guido Mazzon, Luca Calabrese, Alberto Mandarini (trumpets and voices); Giancarlo Schiaffini, Sebi Tramontana, Lauro Rossi (trombones and voices; Martin Mayes (French horn and voice); Eugenio Colombo (sopranino saxophone, flute, voice); Mario Schiano (alto and soprano saxophones, voice); Gianluigi Trovesi (alto saxophone, voice); Daniele Cavallanti (tenor saxophone, voice); Carlo Actis Dato (bass clarinet, baritone saxophone and voice); Renato Geremia (violin, voice); Cecil Taylor and Umberto Petrin (pianos and voices); Paolo Damiani (cello, voice); Giovanni Maier (bass, voice); Vincenzo Mazzone (drums, tympani and voice); Tiziano Tononi (drums, percussion and voice)
September 20, 2004
Algonquin: Great Performances from the Library of Congress, Vol. 18
Presumably to be known from now on as Cecil Taylors classical CD, ALGONQUIN is a live recording of the Library of Congress recital that premiered the pianists 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 thats both memorable and unique in his massive discography. This four-track recital from Washington, D.C. isnt a clichéd gentle side of CT anomaly, but proof one again that improvised musics 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 isnt 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 Manners 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 Taylors 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 mens 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 Maneris adaptable talents and Taylors 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)
August 23, 2004
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 Amsterdams 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 Taylors palate. Its worth noting in passing that the pianists 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 pianists 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, theres very little inconsistency in Cecil Taylor sessions, and this CD is no exception to their overall high standing. With a new set of helpmates hes 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)
May 10, 2004
CECIL TAYLOR ENSEMBLE
The Light of Corona
FMP CD 120
Keeping your attention fixated on the centre ring on this three-ring circus performance by a Cecil Taylor nonet is only a little more difficult than usual.
Thats because while the piano-as-ferocious-lion taming act of pianist Taylor is as riveting as always, distractions abound. There are acrobatic leaps and bounds on show from the horn section and a definite clown act arising from one member of the rhythm section.
The overriding impression youre left with following this 1986 performance from Berlin however, is how Taylors seeming omnipotent power can bend any group of musicians to his will. Also, as with nearly every Taylor production over the past 40 years, the organization and output of the music on the CD are more singular than what youd find in any other airing by a nine-piece band.
Divided between one massive -- 52½-minute -- track, unsurprisingly entitled One, and a nearly 23-minute encore called Two, each tune is organized differently. The second adds various other sounds to a full bore Taylor solo performance; while the first is more of an integrated orchestral showcase, like many of the pianists ensemble outings of the past few years.
Monkeyshines in the person of cellist Tristan Honsinger are the distinguishing --and disruptive -- element in both these tracks. For the expatriate American cellist -- who first recorded in trio format with the pianist in 1988 -- clowns around enough instrumentally and vocally to make it appear that hes second billed on the circus poster. For once Taylors distinctive vocal forays and unique keyboard runs come up against japes from someone who can create as quickly as the pianist can and spit out dadaistic vocalizations equally as bizarre as anything from Taylors mouth.
Thats another caution: stay away from this CD if you despise the pianists vocal exhortations. Not only do they appear infrequently throughout both tracks, but it also takes a good nine minutes of throat clutching, strangled mumbles from Taylor before the distinctive instrumental exposition kicks in.
This is where Honsinger distinguishes himself. Off-and-on sparkplug of Hollands ICP Orchestras, he knows how to get noticed in a large group and in this one he plays Abbott to Taylors Costello -- or is Barnum to his Bailey? His innate verbal theatrics allows him to act in his own psychodrama. Here he spews out unconnected words and phrases that entwine Taylors vocal pyrotechnics, at the same time as his cellos swipes, pulls and double stopping makes their presence felt in the spaces left by the pianists full-frontal attack.
Acclaimed master of the solo piano recital since at least the early 1970s, Taylor uses arpeggio runs, key clipping and pressured overtone timbres exactly where he feels theyre needed. He shades different quadrants of the keyboard -- extended with pedal pressure -- at different times, but in no predictable order. Furthermore, on One, Honsingers arco cello glissandos and triple stops shadow him so closely its as if theyre Siamese twins in a midway sideshow display.
Not that the other musicians are idle either. Drummer Jackson Krall, who with bassist Dominic Duval was beginning his stint as the rhythm team in Taylors trio emphasizes ratacuses, roughs and rolls when needed, while the bassist becomes a circus strongman, pushing out sonorous four-string propulsion most of the time.
Together and alone, the five hornmen knit together an expansive big top full of exaggerated split tones and particular extended techniques. Somehow it also appears as if the three saxes are able to replicate bassoon and oboe tones as they slide sounds into the mix. Finnish soprano saxophonist Harri Sjöström, who would later become a fulltime members of Taylors quartet for a while, may be responsible for this fitting double-reed impersonation; or it may be alto and soprano saxophone man Chris Jonas, later in The Brooklyn Sax Quartet.
Theres no mistaking the serpentine filigree of tenor saxophones Elliott Levin, flute work. However, since Levin, who recorded with erstwhile Taylor associate Denis Charles is also a published poet, maybe part of the Bedlam glossolalia here comes from his vocal chords as well. Harsh sharpshooter blasts as well as the odd plunger shake characterize the contributions of trombonist Jeff Hoyer, who has also recorded with avant violinist Leroy Jenkins; while trumpeter Chris Matthay supplies a few bugle call-like showtime fanfares and occasionally a grace note.
Despite the apparent cacophony, every player appears to have his designated part down, and if you listen carefully, youll hear each negotiating a particular way through the thicket of mostly cello-bass onslaught. At the end, sharp, short flute squeals extend the melded polyphonic horn parts.
Before that happens Taylor has ranged all over the piano, sometimes investing his octave jumps, arpeggio emphasis and repetitive distinctive patterns with minute snatches of pseudo-stride and a contemporary music overlay.
Two -- the encore? -- begins with Taylor exploring the nooks and crannies of the back frame, escarpment, key bed, lyre and soundboard of his instrument, moving from delicate finger pressure to hard blacksmiths smacks during its first five minutes. Abstrusely, Duval enters on the offbeat and then the horns create counterlines, reverberating off the piano mans characteristic style. Staccato, Taylor may be pitch- sliding some of the time, but theres also a blues underpinning that if slowed down and isolated could actually be hard bop. While all this is going on, Honsinger plays legato, and Kralls cymbals splash. Finally, as the cellists output threatens to turn Continentally folksy, the other musicians turn vigorously passionate. Curses, cries and yells ring out from throats, underlined by the occasional drum roll, bass thump and flute whistle. Honsinger sounding out Dadistic syllables serves as the coda.
Welcome to the world of Cecil Taylor.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. One 2. Two
Personnel: Cecil Taylor (piano); Chris Matthay (trumpet); Jeff Hoyer (trombone); Chris Jonas (soprano and alto saxophones); Harri Sjöström (soprano saxophone); Elliott Levin (tenor saxophone, flute); Tristan Honsinger (cello); Dominic Duval (bass); Jackson Krall (drums)
August 4, 2003
The Willisau Concert
Intakt CD 072
What, after all these years, is there left to say about a new Cecil Taylor session? That its 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 isnt being ageist?
(As an aside it will be interesting -- but most likely disappointing -- to audit the wares of some of todays 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 its the longest piece thats most distinctive; combing as it does the mixture of violence and delicacy that characterizes Taylors 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 dont 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, Taylors 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, Taylors 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. Thats 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 its 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)
April 5, 2002