Monday, February 25, 2008
wanted to weigh in on two fascinating mid-period Cecils that i got to spend some good time with today.
Spring of Two Blue-J's (1973) - A
this beauty (pictured above) was originally released on Cecil's private label Unit Core. i've never seen the original, but i've got a decent burn of it. side one is a 15-minute-ish solo piece, and side two is a roughly 20-minute quartet track w/ Jimmy Lyons on alto, Sirone on bass (dig his excellent solo near the end) and Andrew Cyrille on drums. both pieces are apparently titled "Spring of Two Blue-J's," suggesting that they're versions of the same composition (Cecil seems to do this sort of thing often, e.g., the several records entitled "Looking" that were recorded in '89), but i don't hear much continuity between them. the solo piece is an absolute stunner, containing some utterly crazed, demonically intense playing that sounds like a player piano with a jammed score. but also there's this stately, heartbreaking theme that Cecil plays right at the beginning and then about 11 minutes in, and he toys with and atomizes a second motif at about 7 minutes in that almost sounds like a jaunty klezmer melody. i feel like i've been noticing this kind of thematic material in the solo records a lot more lately (it's definitely there on "Fly! Fly! Fly! Fly! Fly!," discussed a few posts down) and this aspect of Cecil's music really excites me. the quartet piece isn't *quite* as memorable--there's a lot of scampering, hectic playing that's kinetic yet slightly familiar--but it is an excellent example of the dynamic between these players. in the early minutes of the track, you can really hear how Lyons is a centering force in this group--his initial entrance is so elegant and the whole band sort of seems to mass around his fluid, tart, lyrical fanfares.
Student Studies - (1966) - A
this one really knocked me on my ass. it's not a record you hear a lot about, but truthfully, i feel as though it should be considered a vital companion to the Blue Notes of the same year. Student Studies was recorded in Paris in November, less than two months after Conquistador, and the band is a stripped-down version of the one on the record: Lyons, Cyrille and Alan Silva on bass. the title piece--spread across the first two long tracks--contains two successive themes, the first an insistent sax pulse laid over an ominous arco bass drone, and the second a darting, spirally sax line that the other instruments sort of scamper behind. the improvising here is very dramatic, with very little feeling of treading water. there's this awesome moment at about 2:10 into the first piece where Cecil pounds a few notes and Silva lets out this dissonant arco squeal right on his heels--really cool and memorable. anyway, the aforementioned themes are each woven in about three times, interspersed with some nicely diverse improv sections, including a Taylor/Cyrille duet section in the first piece and a Taylor/Silva duet section (gorgeous, slow, ominous, creepy, etc.) opening the second one. a really coherent piece! the third track, "Amplitude," is also a killer, definitely one of the most unique Taylor cuts i can think of. this piece really gets into a "little instruments" vibe reminiscent, to me, of early AACM stuff--interestingly the first major AACM document, Roscoe Mitchell's "Sound," was also recorded in '66, though i can't find the exact date. anyway, "Amplitude" features bells, gongs, woodblocks, whistles and all kinds of other auxiliary instruments, including (and this is really cool) some kind of preparation on the piano, i.e., metal objects presumably placed inside the instrument to generate a rattling sound. all this percussive texture really gives this piece a unique, adventuresome feel--wonderfully vivid recording too. the last piece, the crazily titled "Niggle Feuigle," kind of reminds me of the title track to Conquistador, with an upbeat, Latinish rhythm from Cyrille and boldly beautiful soloing from Lyons. all in all, a VERY diverse record and again, worthy of consideration alongside the other, better-known '66 masterworks, Unit Structures and Conquistador.
now i saved the best for last, an actual VIDEO (i was shocked when i found this) of the Student Studies band in action in Paris in November of '66. apparently it was manually taped off the TV, but still:
given the eclectic atmospherics going on here--note Taylor and Silva getting in on auxiliary percussion and Lyons LISTENING intently--i think it can reasonably be assumed that this is a version of "Amplitude." i haven't listened closely enough to determine if it is in fact the version from the record. wouldn't that be a trip... (has anyone seen any other footage from this period??? it's definitely the earliest video of Cecil, or any of these dudes, i've ever seen.)