Cecil Taylor

Corbett vs Dempsey CD 077

Cecil Taylor Ensemble


Fundacja Sluchaj FSR 10/2021

Cecil Taylor’s mature pianism was so instantly identifiable that it stood out no matter the context or affiliations. However it was only one part of his presentation, with composition, band leading and verbal poetics part of the package. Characterized by notable playing in both cases, what distinguishes Göttingen (1990) from Corona (1996) is that the former two-CD set has the American pianist and 11 mostly German ensemble interpreting his music, while Corona is a three-part improvisation involving Taylor and Sunny Murray, the drummer in his influential 1960s band.

Throughout the polyphonic and polyrhythmic sonic elevations and descents that make up Göttingen, place is made for other soloists to assert themselves along with the pianist. Most prominent are plunger blats from trombonist Heinz-Erich Gödecke; cascading glissandi from violinist Harald Kimmig; barbed alto saxophone interludes from Joachim Gies or Martin Speicher; and Kojo Samuels’ percussion collection which adds unforeseen sound fabrics as well as providing metrical pulses.

With characteristic Taylor sound poetry and vocal affirmatio from the band members, the ensemble’s first set evolves alongside incomparable piano clusters which manage to be percussive, lyrical, stealthy and looming at the same time. Meanwhile band sections are alternately harmonious or fragmented, interjecting particular whistles, slurs, beats or frails when appropriate, but keeping the exposition in dynamic constant motion. While miasma and cacophony are hinted at in this thickset of brassy trills, reed split tones and moderately stressed balafon echoes, Taylor’s tonal expression is always audible. His contrasting dynamics are best heard during calming interludes, but at one point backed only by drums, he appears to be playing a boogie-woogie riff. Other times his clipping and scratching keyboard work suggests an aroused Thelonious Monk, but his kinetics outpaced Monk’s phlegmatic expression

This multi-stylism is perhaps why individual pieces hang together with asides such as gutbucket-style trombone smears, formalized bass clarinet lowing from Ove Volquartz, screechy brass whinnies, excursions into Energy Music saxophone runs and massed string glissandi subsumed as part of orchestral color. Additionally at the end point of both sets, there’s a realization that not only have thematic motifs, no matter how faintly, been alluded to in the narrative, but also that the poetic verbalization serves as linkage and recapping of introductory themes. That doesn’t mean that narratives, especially in the second set, aren’t ripped apart and reconstructed again with sequences set aside for Kimmig to meld a soaring violin showcase criss-crossing darkened piano chording; or that tones aren’t ripped and speared during an intense Tobias Netta trumpet episode; or that right before the conclusion alto saxophone screams and tenor saxophone smears don’t approximate both the fluidity of Jimmy Lyons or the freeform saxophonists who succeeded him. But the group’s strained tonal sections and undulating full-orchestra crescendos segmented by waves of kinetic piano dynamics finally add up to a unique Taylor vision deftly interpreted by the band.

Six years later the leitmotifs which connect the introduction and finale of Corona is a collection of yelps, yells, harmonizing, and what sounds like a vuvuzula honk from the eight Taylor-affiliated musicians who didn’t play with the duo during that performance. While there are vocal exhortations from Murray and Taylor throughout, the focus is on building a duo intersection of timbral motifs, fragments and dynamics. Hard drum-top rattles and rumbles plus triangle and cymbal clanks begin to solidify the drummer’s interaction while crossed hand key pushes and rolling pulses figure into the piano introduction. Within a few minutes the exposition moves from andante to allegrissimo as Taylor’s sweeps extend into glissandi and dips into the piano’s nether regions, connecting with Murray’s metal clanging and snare clapping. With metronomic and staccato dynamics, the pianist interpolates passing tones as he works through the theme steeple-chasing up and down the scale, with timbres doubled by the drummer’s paradiddles and pops. As Taylor relaxes into some of his inimitable material, Murray ups the ante with percussion crackles and ruffs and the pianist responds with a darkened, but almost romantic patina of restrained tones. Reversing themselves with an upsurge in intensity, Taylor projects power with thematic detours and feints, cramming as many notes as are available on and in-between the piano keys for a penultimate statement. As the pianist explores his instrument’s lowest register, Murray ripostes with rolls and pops. This leads Taylor to emphasize more sparkling textures leading to a vibrating finale and the concluding poetry.

One of the most important musicians of the latter half of the 20th Century, these sessions like Beethoven’s later string quartets show his talents undiminished even as he aged.

Track Listing: Göttingen: CD1: 1. Set 1 – Part One 2. Set 1 – Part Two CD2: 1. Set 2 – Part One 2. Set 2 – Part Two 3. Encore

Personnel: Göttingen: Tobias Netta (trumpet); Heinz-Erich Gödecke (trombone); Joachim Gies (alto, soprano saxophones); Martin Speicher (alto, baritone saxophones); Ove Volquartz (tenor, soprano saxophones, bass and contralto clarinets); Harald Kimmig (violin); Cecil Taylor (piano, poetry); Alexander Frangenheim, Uwe Martin, Georg Wolf (bass); Lukas Lindenmaier, Peeter Uuskyla (drums); Kojo Samuels (percussion, balafon, elephant horn)

Track Listing: Corona: 1. Sector 1* 2. Sector 2 3. Sector 3*

Personnel: Corona: Cecil Taylor (piano, voice); Sunny Murray (drums); Dominic Duval, Tristan Honsinger, Jeff Hoyer, Chris Jonas, Jackson Krall, Elliott Levin, Chris Matthay, Harri Sjöström (voices)*