have never much gone in for that whole "A String Tribute To..." business, but i'm pretty charmed by this cellist Gordon Withers, who has recorded an entire album of tunes by the outstanding '90s post-hardcore group Jawbox. is this necessary? no, but the cool thing is that it's a benefit for ex-JB frontman J. Robbins's son, Callum, who was born with a very serious spinal ailment. it also serves as a reminder of the solidity and grace of Jawbox's music. checking out "Static" in this format reminds what a strong song it is, just one of tons in their catalog. not a Jawbox enthusiast? i'm obsessed with "For Your Own Special Sweetheart," from 1994, which captures everything awesome about that period: muscle, dissonance, the occasional anguished shriek and sweet, sweet hooks.
caught Cecil Taylor again last night, which--to quote one of his album titles--is always a pleasure. in a kinda cool coincidence, i realized that the first post i ever wrote on this here site involved a solo Cecil show i saw at Merkin Hall in October of '06 (read my ramblings here).
i totally forgot until just now that i had actually caught the maestro only a few weeks later at Iridium (thoughts are here). that latter gig was the debut of his new trio with Henry Grimes on bass and Pheeroan akLaff on drums, and at the time, it was definitely the strongest time i'd ever heard Cecil live with a band. last night's show at the Blue Note had its ups and downs, but i'd say it rivaled that 10/06 gig for sure.
main difference was that William Parker (who happens to have a swanky new website) was in for Grimes on bass, which was sort of the main attraction for me. no disrespect to Mr. Grimes, but i'd always wanted to check out the Parker/Taylor connection b/c i'm a big fan of the Feel Trio stuff they had going with Tony Oxley back in the late '80s and early '90s. truly the bass/piano action was absolutely incredible last night.
the trio played two long pieces (maybe 30-40 mins apiece?). the first one took a while to ramp up, while the second one was pretty much balls out from the start. i was really impressed with the dynamics in the first piece. i remember distinct moments where all three were playing pretty furiously, but at a reasonable volume--there was a real sense of listening happening. whether or not the music was jelling at any one time had a lot to do with akLaff, who has an outstanding ability to bring a lot of heat but keep the volume in a reasonable place. when he stuck to this sort of abstracted groove thing that he does so well, using mainly bass drum, snare and hi-hat, the music really cooked. at times, though, he got carried away and was playing way, way too loud. he was beaming the whole time, clearly completely psyched to be there, and throughout the set there was this sense that he'd just sort of forget to listen at times. sorta unfortunate, but again, i really admire his subtle almost-but-never-quite-literal suggestions of the beat and i think that approach unlocks a hidden funkiness in Taylor's playing.
the one cool thing about those moments where akLaff was drowning Cecil out was that when he would finally let up, it threw the Taylor/Parker connection into stark relief. whenever that space opened, you could hear how gloriously in sync they were. not to dis Taylor's skills of listening and interaction but i credit this more to Parker--he just seemed to be working so hard to make his parts interlock w/ the piano. sometimes he was overtly playing off of what Cecil had just played, but other times it was almost as if he was playing the mirror image of the piano part. the two instruments were just incredibly fused and locked in; i'd say for certain that this was by far the strongest, most fruitful interaction between Cecil and another player that i've ever witnessed live. (btw, Parker was playing mostly pizzicato, but he let fly with some gorgeous bow stuff too from time to time.)
the first piece overall was much stronger and well-paced than the second. there were definitely a few times in the second piece when Parker and akLaff--and everyone else in the room--seemed to think it had come to an end, but Cecil would just start back up again. and also it's mighty tough, with a place like the Blue Note, to stay focused on the music when the waitresses are coming around with the checks near the end of the set. it just sort of deflates the experience. but the second set had moments of extreme fury, with Cecil doing those torrential stabbing runs he loves so much. also akLaff was playing on hand drums for awhile, which sounded excellent and opened up a lot of space in the music.
man, how could i forget the opening invocation/poem? Cecil always makes these dramatic entrances and this one was no exception. Parker and akLaff were alone onstage during the announcement of the band and they were laying down this subtle meditative thing. finally, after kind of an uncomfortably long time, Cecil comes padding down from upstairs in this insane red-and-black-striped get-up that had a strong pajama vibe with, as far as i could tell, no socks. he gets onstage and goes into one of his patented croaky-voiced poems, which took on this extra level of surreality given the commercial setting of the club. this verse was extra-scientific. it started off with (i think i'm remembering this right): "Music... is... about... weight distriBUtion." then the dude started riffing on trigonometry and whatnot! i distinctly remember a mention of "the hypotenuse." (now that i'm thinking about it, that could've been some deep abstract riff on the dynamics of a piano trio.) anyway, you gotta love this shit--epic eccentricity and always worth checking out.
since i feel as though i neglected his own performance in favor of the sidemen above, i'll just say that Cecil sounded excellent. he seems to take longer to warm up these days, but there are these tender, reflective moments, especially at the ends of the pieces, that i was really savoring.
someone needs to hurry the hell up and do a Cecil festival in NYC like the one they staged in Berlin in '88. i want to hear this guy for like two weeks straight, with all sorts of different bands, solo, etc. anyway, this was another awesome show. thanks, dude...
lastly, please dig this excellent live version of Elvis Costello's "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea," featuring a spot-on version of what might be the greatest single drum intro ever performed, courtesy of Attractions percussion demon Pete Thomas (this is indeed him in this clip, no?):