Thursday, February 01, 2007

Cecil Taylor versus Behearer

Mwanji Enzana's blog recently featured a note on the continued interest in, the wonderful re-accounting of (loosely speaking) "jazz" during the Dark Ages (click on the link for the timetable for the Northsea Jazz Festival, July 1982) of disco and Flock of Seagulls, etc., namely, 1970-1990. Dave Douglas, Ethan Iverson and others went into a kind of list-making frenzy, and the results are generally excellent. If I could figure out how to edit the galldurned lists by year, I would add several recordings by a major figure in American music during this period, someone whose compositional and pianistic strategies emerged in a wholly new way (on record anyway) and then went through at least two other major transitions during this period: Cecil Taylor

Not that Taylor is ignored by the Behearer project. 9 of his recordings are listed for this 20 year period. Compare that, however, to Mr. Taylor's discography for the same period: at least 25 recordings, and that's counting the 11-CD FMP 1988 marathon as one release (the FMP box set is listed on Behearer, in its entirety, as one entry, "Berlin '88.")

Taylor recordings that were essential to me during this period and that I think could easily be argued belong on the lists include:

1973- Indent, Akisakila, Spring of Two Blue J's
1976- Dark Unto Themselves, Air Above Mountains (Buildings Within)
1978- Cecil Taylor Unit, One Too Many Salty Swift and Not Goodbye
1979- Max Roach/Cecil Taylor Historic Concerts
1980- It Is In The Brewing Luminous
1981- The Eighth
1984- Segments II: Orchestra of Two Continents Winged Serpents/Sliding Quadrants
1986- Olu Iwa
1990- Double Holy House

Notes by year:


Indent (and its equally stunning counterpart, "Solo," an obscure Japanese release on Trio Records) heralds the "new" Taylor brilliantly. It stands in stark contrast to any of his earlier periods and makes for fascinating listening A/B-ed with "Praxis," another obscure solo piano recording, supposedly from 1968. Akisakila features unbelievable and unrelenting energy and inventiveness from a bare bones trio with Andrew Cyrille and Jimmy Lyons. Some of the most remarkable "free jazz" drumming in the history of the music. Spring of Two Blue J's is simply gorgeous.


Dark Unto Themselves (sometimes erroneously called "Dark to Themselves," an error Inner City Records made that lingers) is absolutely ripping and features the buzzsaw drama of David S. Ware, ballsy trumpet from Raphe Malik, and the roiling and precise drumming of Marc Edwards. The composition is extraordinary as well, and meticulously arranged. Air Above Mountains (Buildings Within) is yet another revelation in the solo Taylor catalogue, somehow managing to be a flood-like onslaught of ideas yet minimalist.


Two recordings spotlighting the landmark Unit of CT, one of the greatest groups in the history of jazz: Jimmy Lyons, Raphe Malik, Ramsey Ameen, Sirone and Ronald Shannon Jackson. The Cecil Taylor Unit is the New World Records counterpart to "3 Phasis," which is listed at Behearer. It's especially remarkable to follow the much more ballad-like swells and tidal shifts on this one. As for One Too Many Salty Swift and Not Goodbye, it is, quite simply, one of the all time great albums, regardless of style, time period, what have you. It's an epic, even in its edited three record original release, clocking in at more than 2 hours. The CD resissue includes some stunning solos and duets that were a prelude. I've owned this recording since it was released and have yet to absorb it. Every time I sit with it I hear new things.


The Max Roach/Cecil Taylor duets from 1979 are *essential listening* for anyone and everyone. Hard to believe this recording is not on the list.


It Is In The Brewing Luminous is a gorgeous set featuring both Sunny Murray and Jerome Cooper, with particularly stunning solos from Jimmy Lyons and a great, massive yet delicate overall swing.


The Eighth, originally released as "Calling It The Eighth," in edited form, is especially worthy due to the constantly surprising and sensitive interplay of William Parker and Rashid Bakr.


Winged Serpents/Sliding Quadrants...How could this not be on the list as a shoe in? Relatively brief excursions featuring Taylor's indelible mark as composer and arranger. Great ensemble playing. Burnin' solos. In some ways this is a distillation of everything Taylor had done to this point.


Olu Iwa is a fascinating, layered recording. It marks yet another transition for Taylor into different territory. Check the personnel: Earl McIntyre, Peter Brotzmann, Frank Wright, Thurman Barker, William Parker, Steve McCall.


A new chapter in Taylor's solo approach is represented by Double Holy House. His ritualized spoken word and percussion is dubbed over solo piano. The piano atmospheres are more spacious, more explicitly bluesy, gloriously percussive and rumbling with low notes.

Admittedly this is a lot of Taylor. But one could argue that the period from 1970-1990 was his most prolific, his most unrelenting and tenacious in the face of overwhelmingly depressing antithetical forces in America. Sad that almost all of these recordings were recorded or released in Europe. But maybe including more Taylor from 1970-1990 on Behearer is some slight way to remedy that.

Wrapping up this Taylor-like, epic post, I'm spinning "The Eighth." Jimmy Lyons! I had forgotten that the proceedings are launched by a Lyons solo. The fiery and sure backing of Parker and Bakr, and Taylor's earth-rattling dialogue with Lyons: simply not to be missed.


the improvising guitarist said...

The other striking thing about the decades you’re talking about is that the ’70s had some of the ‘clearest’ playing/structurings from Taylor: this is the stuff that my piano teacher gave to me for ‘analysis’, and this is the stuff that I generally give to my students for study. On the other hand, it’s in the following decade (well, from the late ’70s—chronology is an inexact science) that Taylor’s (and his co-conspirators’) work leaps in complexity. I love this music for its information rich, (almost) sensory overload, but heaven help anyone trying to ‘get into’ Taylor from his 1980’s work (although some of the poetry still displayed this ‘simple’ ‘clarity’).

S, tig

Mwanji Ezana said...

I agree with your summaries of the albums I have ("Brewing," "Salty Swift" and "Dark"), except "The Eighth." I really like Lyons and Taylor on it, but find Parker and Bakr a little monochromatic and indistinct. Maybe I just haven't listened to it enough (got it recently).

Good Times said...


"The Eighth" is THE pinnacle of the piano/bass/drums/alto saxophone instrumentation. A real watershed. The end of an era. As good as it gets.

Rashid Bakr (on "The Eighth") = King of all drummers on the Planet Earth at that time in that area of music. (Glenn Spearman ranked him right next to Andrew Cyrill.)

On that record, Rashid Bakr put a certain kind of playing to rest--no one before or after played that way, that well with Cecil. After that it was on to another (no less exciting, but markedly different) direction and strategy with the drums (Bendian, Oxley and everyone else.)

The rhythm section of Bakr and Parker on The Eighth = "The Alpha and Omega." It is a pity that Bakr and Parker never got to record with Charles Gayle in a trio (much in the same way it is a shame that Graves, Parker and Bark never recorded...)

When Bakr and Parker are the rhythm section, the "soloist" can do anything and still be totally supported. No matter how far 'out' the soloist went (Taylor, or Gayle) Bakr and Parker still 'kept the party going' so to speak.

+ + +

Does this Behearer thing look like a marketing push disguised as canonical study to anyone else?

Did I miss Dixon's Thoughts, and Son of Sisyphus? Is Wee Sneezeawee, Give It Up, Something In Return, Burnt Offering and Jump Up on the list--or are have they been let out to make room for Weather Report, Jeff Beck, The Head Hunters and the Brecker Brothers?


peter breslin said...

thanks to tig, Mwanji and SJZ for comments. I started a new thread on about Taylor's solo piano versus ensemble playing. I might start another thread on Behearer in general.

I got called a Nazi, Fascist nihilist on there the other day.


peter breslin said...

by the way Sir Good Times, Jump Up, HELL YES. I was going to include mention of that in my original post but Jimmy Lyons deserves more than footnotes.

As for marketing, yeah I figure Clear Channel got a hold of Behearer and soon Christian Jazz will start showing up on there. I am not kidding.

the improvising guitarist said...

“I got called a Nazi, Fascist nihilist on there the other day.”

I hope I don’t come across as blaming the victim here, but what did you say?

S, tig

Good Times said...

"If you quote the bible, use profanity or call someone a Nazi who isn't, you've lost the argument."

said by I don't remember who.

Bravo on the good work! Post the link!

peter breslin said...

Here's what I wrote:

"As for free jazz, well, my pantheon of originals...Duke, Monk, Parker, Dizzy, Booker Little, Mingus, Miles, Max, Dolphy, Ornette, Cecil, Coltrane (etc.)...they wanted to leave the word "jazz" behind many decades ago. There is clearly absolutely no jazz tradition, let alone a free jazz tradition. There's amazing stuff that it is anyone's loss to miss. The music is mystery, the edges, lines, boxes, lineages, perceived agendae are all artificial, are all crafted based on some narrowing vision or other prejudice, enforced for self-serving purposes. A handful of Brits and Germans and other assorted visigoths and vandals pose absolutely no threat. They bring a certain...pillaging spirit that only serves to inspire. Players play and the world spins. Free free free. wahoo."

The whole exchange is on the last comments page at under the comments for "UNITY: A Lack Thereof - New Years Eve 2006 - William Parker and Friends"

since there were only 240 comments or so I figured I needed to stir things up....