Saturday, February 23, 2008
Life won't wait // More from your Cecil tailor
Extra Life--solo project of Charlie Looker, ex-Zs--played an awesome set at Union Pool last night. new songs made the show feel more well-rounded than a few others i'd seen recently--this is a band that can't help but improve exponentially. extremely aggressive, emotional, complex, occasionally kind of prog-poppy, which i very much enjoy. new drummer Nick (an astonishing player; check out Yukon) sounds super locked in. Tony was burly and awesome as usual (complete bias, but hey), Travis sounded great on sax and (!) Electronic Wind Instrument, and i could hear the violin more than i ever had before. very psyched to hear new record, "Secular Works," gettable from Planaria. go see them on tour!
have been trying to figure out what is the best way to document recent torrent of Cecil Taylor listening. i think i'm just gonna try to do some brief capsule reviews of all the records that i've had a chance to really spend time with. for now, let's say A means "essential/terminally fulfilling, etc.," B means "less than that; maybe marred by poor recording or overlongness or something," and C would be "not so great." not sure if i can think of any Cecil records that fall into that latter category, but maybe they'll come up.
Conquistador! - 1966 - A
as i indicated earlier, i think this is a really outstanding record, definitely one of Cecil's most "together"-seeming group efforts ever. the themes on the two long tracks are really potent and memorable, and the pieces contrast nicely (title track is adventurous and kinetic, while "With (Exit)" is eerie and apprehensive). band is unimpeachable, everyone playing with strong attention and sensitivity. again, i'll take this one over "Unit Structures" in terms of classic '60s Cecil.
Live in the Black Forest - 1978 - A
not as well known as "The Cecil Taylor Unit" or "3 Phasis," but maybe even better in terms of representing the mighty late '70s Unit at full strength. was really psyched to hear that this one is VERY well-recorded, with a lot of body on all the instruments. you can hear the band's signature bold exuberance in the solos and wonderful habit of passing themes around, stating them in staggered chorus. two long pieces, the second fascinating and joyous due to some easygoing swing from drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson. a deep, deep band, with three star soloists (Lyons, Malik, Ameen); also a lot of variety in the arrangements, including an edge-of-your-seat duet between Taylor and Malik on the second piece, "Sperichill on Calling" (love that title).
Fly! Fly! Fly! Fly! Fly! - 1980 - A
very wondrous solo session, which (please correct me if i'm wrong) i believe to be the only solo Cecil recorded in a studio. this is a tough, tough nut to crack, but worth it. short pieces, incorporating much of Cecil's signature Lick and Flurry playing (as taxonomied in an earlier post here), but as Howard points out in his new "Miles Ornette Cecil" tome, which i've only skimmed but plan to fully tackle soon, but the session also features a lot of very unique motifs which pop up again and again. one of the coolest things about the record is that a lot of it sounds like Cecil's signature playing, but more sculpted, elegant, pretty, rhapsodic, maybe even sentimental at times. there are these little twists and twinges of emotion throughout that make this an unusually patient and sumptuous record. aside from some insanely dextrous runs, the longer, more aggressive pieces near the end didn't grab me *quite* as much, but overall this one is very much essential due to its uniqueness. weird to hear him divide up a long recital this way.
and might as well recap some of the others i've discussed in recent posts...
It Is in the Brewing Luminous - 1980 (recorded in February, whereas Fly! was made in September) - B
as mentioned before, the recording quality of this one knocks it out of essential territory. trouble hearing rhythm section, esp. bassist Alan Silva, throughout, and two drummers, Sunny Murray and Jerome Cooper, as well. very cool to hear a) Taylor reunited with Murray, who's moving into his mature "elephant walk" style here, and b) playing w/ Cooper, who offers crisp, idiosyncratic commentary, but sound is frustratingly spotty. definitely one of those marathon live sets that has its incendiary moments but probably goes on too long for its own good.
Unit Structures - 1966 - A
was a little hard on this one before--only b/c i believe that it's unfairly hyped over Conquistador--but it really is a very compelling record. again, the first track, "Steps" feels scattered and underrehearsed to me and the second, "Enter Evening," seems a little precious, but the long third track, "Unit Structure/As of a Now/Section," is marvelous, definitely up there w/ the Conquistador material in terms of poise and virtuoso architecture. again, the band kills--as w/ Conquistador, the basses (Silva and Henry Grimes) and drummer (Cyrille) are heroically sensitive throughout. still need to give a closer listen to the last (hornless) track, "Tales (8 Whisps)."
The Cecil Taylor Unit - 1978 - A
bold, bold band, discussed above in the Live at the Black Forest section. all their recordings are remarkable. EXCELLENT recording quality (yes, that's always really important to me), and fearless playing, esp. from the backbeat-happy Shannon Jackson. was really delighted by this one upon revisiting it--sometimes i feel as though Cecil's group music has become less intricately woven and well-thought-out over the years (i.e., since the Blue Note stuff), but this is a very tight session. as i mentioned before, the band seems to inhabit Cecil's choppy sense of time when it needs to but also offer its own sweeping, exuberant statements. marvelously alive, forceful, wizardlike, etc.
and i'd give Riobec (duo w/ Gunter Sommer from '88), Garden (solo action from '81) and Winged Serpent (all-star international biggish band from '84) all an A rating. first one finds Taylor meeting his match in terms of zany glee and totally diving in the deep end; second one is just prime, prime solo Cecil, typical (or maybe "representative" is a better word--i only mean in comparison to other solo Cecil) in some ways but maybe the most poised, virtuosic and forceful i've heard--a big leap from the previous benchmark "Silent Tongues" (another A, obviously); and the third is raggedy at times but very fun, with Lyons leading the charge on a variety of staggered fanfares and all players seeming to have fun massing around the master and at times murmuring and whooping vocally in crazy ritualistic fashion.
need to listen closer to all three of those and to the Willisau Concert from 2000, the latter definitely an A, but not terribly, terribly familiar to me. it's one of those marathon solo-concert Cecils and much-beloved by Gary Giddins and other trustworthy folks. what i need to get a handle on is how it differs and builds upon the earlier solo records.
(by the way, if anyone doesn't know about this rad online Taylor discography and this live sessionography, check them out. invaluable stuff.)
anyway, i've been buried in this stuff, so i'm just trying to make sense of it all. going to hear Tyshawn Sorey tonight, so i'll be sure to let you know how it sounds!