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Old Mar 12, 2010, 02:49 PM
Gavin Walker Gavin Walker is offline
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Jazz Feature for March 15: Pianist/composer Cecil Taylor: "Conquistador".

In a way, this Feature will constitute a birthday tribute to one of the most controversial/mysterious/iconoclastic figures in Jazz and improvised music: the one and only Cecil Percival Taylor. He was born on this day (March 15 although some say March 25) 1929 in New York. He, of course, will celebrate his 81st Birthday. Pianist/composer/poet, Taylor, thoughout his long and storied career has always been a prickly figure, outspoken, sometimes talking in riddles, highly opinionated, intense and given to long monologues that ramble from subject to subject that one does not dare to interrupt unless you want to be subjected to Taylor's temper. This writer has some fond memories of Taylor when Brian Nation (the creator of this site) and the original Vancouver Jazz Society, that Mr. Nation founded, brought Taylor and his Unit to the Legion Hall at Fourth Avenue and Trafalgar for 4 nights in the 70's. I was happily willing to drive Taylor back to his hotel after the performance on most nights. I didn't know Cecil but his music was familiar to me and his performances at the Legion were astounding and earth shattering. To this day I feel Taylor is best experienced in person. Taylor brought drummer Beaver Harris, tenor titan David S. Ware and trumpeter Rafe Malik to this gig. As Taylor was always hungry after his gig, we went to a late might eatery called "Honey's" on Hornby Street and Taylor and I talked into the night. I will always remember our conversations and his opinions on everything from Eric Dolphy to Lennie Tristano to Miles to world politics, dance, civil rights and down the line. I even took him over to the Cave (across the street from Honey's) and watched him do a solo dance to a long forgotten funk band that was playing there. Taylor could bust a move with the best of them. I found Taylor as interesting to listen to talk as I did to listen to his music. The next time I saw Taylor was at "Oil Can Harry's Jazz Room" where I got to hang a bit with alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons who was to Taylor, what Charlie Rouse was to Thelonious Monk. The last time I witnessed Taylor was at the theatre at the old Expo site where he performed solo. That was a presentation of the then fledgling Coastal Jazz and Blues Society. That performance was as mesmerizing as any I've ever heard from Cecil Taylor but enough of my digressions and to the point and tonight's Feature.

Although he wasn't working much throughout the 60's, Taylor had become a revered figure in so-called avant-guard Jazz. One of the pioneers, as it were. He had a number of fine recordings out since his debut in 1956 on Transition, called "Jazz Advance" (It was re-released on Blue Note), on Contemporary called "Looking Ahead", a number on Candid, especially "The World of Cecil Taylor", half an album on Impulse under Gil Evans' name called "Into the Hot" and some music recorded on his first European tour on Fantasy called "At The Montmartre" in Copenhagen. In 1966 Taylor's recording profile took a upturn and he did two albums for Blue Note. His first was called "Unit Structures" and the second is tonight's Feature: "Conquistador". Both are classics and essential listening. Taylor's bands have always been called "Units" and the title "Unit Structures" emphasized the fact that Taylor's music IS structured and not as some of his many detractors have said, "aimless ramblings and chaotic dissonance with no form or shape". Conquistador may even be seen as one of Taylor's most "accessible" recordings although it is like all things Taylor, it is a listening challenge but if I were to introduce a Taylor ensemble recording to someone who had never heard Cecil....Conquistador would be it. Taylor's solo piano performances are challenging but his ensemble recordings with the Unit pose different problems to the listener as the music is usually denser and busier.

The people involved on this date are the core members of his Unit. Alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons is Taylor's right hand man and really a horn extension of Taylor's concept. Jimmy began his career in New York as a post-bop player playing along side Jackie McLean, John Jenkins, Phil Woods, Clarence Sharpe and others working out of a basic Charlie Parker concept......that is until he got involved with Taylor in the early 60's. Lyons found his true voice with Taylor and was associated with him until Jimmy died in 1986 of lung cancer. Lyons' death was a huge blow to Taylor. On this recording you can hear traces of Lyons' bebop backgound in his phrasing and tone. Aside from Cecil, Lyons is the strongest voice here. Trumpeter Bill Dixon is an important and original voice in improvised music and like Taylor, a founding member of Jazz music's avant-guard. Dixon and Lyons blend so well here and their lines are seemless as if played by one horn. Dixon was not a regular Unit member but understood Taylor's aims. Two bassists work hand in glove here. Henry Grimes generally plays pizzicato and Alan Silva plays arco (bowed) their lines intertwine in a sonic spectrum underneath the horns and Taylor. They were both regular Unit members. Drummer Andrew Cyrille was one of the few drummers who instinctively understood Taylor's concepts and along with the great Sunny Murray, understood Taylor's abandonment of traditional time signatures. Taylor found those signatures too confining and yet Taylor's music is highly rhythmic. Rather than a regular time feel, Taylor's music pulses. The rhythms rise and fall with the intensity of the solos. Murray and especially Andrew Cyrille understood this and Andrew was associated with Taylor for many years. Conquistador is in two movements lasting around 37 minutes and it IS a challenge but if you are up to listening to Taylor's music with the same concentration as he and his bandmates are giving out.....you will be rewarded with an aural experience that will stay with you for a long time.

Along with Cecil Taylor's Birthday Feature shortly after 11pm: "Conquistador"; we'll have many more goodies in store as we're back to our regular starting time of 9pm.....see you then................
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