The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Friday, February 15, 2002
What a good piece on Cecil Taylor Mr Sinker has written (albeit in 1999). Read and peruse please.

It took me a long time to work out the mischief and humour at work in the New Thing, so used was I to the storm-the-rampants LeRoi Jones manifesto and the starving-in-a-garret reality of the musicians' standards of living as graphically described by Valerie Wilmer in As Serious As Your Life. Also of note is the "Monk influence" red herring, and the fact that the one white pianist of whom Taylor spoke (and speaks) with unstinting praise is Dave Brubeck.

My first auditory contact with CT was on Into the Hot, a 1961 album credited to Gil Evans and packaged as a sequel to his previous year's masterpiece Out of the Cool, although Evans acted strictly as executive producer rather than being particularly involved musically. The album was intended to spotlight two composers whom Evans felt overdue for serious attention. One was John Carisi, a trumpeter previously best known for his composition "Israel" for Davis' Birth of the Cool band. His three contributions pass the time interestingly enough but stilted in that curiously Schulleresque "academic" way; a bit like Evans if he didn't himself possess some mischief.

The other three tracks are given over to Cecil and his then working band, featuring Jimmy Lyons, Archie Shepp, Henry Grimes and Sunny Murray, and seem to come from another planet entirely. Still fundamentally bop in origin, but pushing intervallics much further than Rollins ever dared (but then was Rollins ever comfortable with a pianist, Monk notwithstanding?) with not a little nod to George Russell's Lydialand. "Pots" and "Bulbs" are frenetic compositions, yet with an underlying solemnity that plays against the playfulness.

The most astonishing track, however, is the 10-minute closer "Mixed" to which Cecil added two more horns: Ted Curson on trumpet, and the young Roswell Rudd on trombone. Although the latter two mainly contribute ensemble atmospherics, the A-B-C-B-A structure of the piece - which is supposed to depict the blossoming and decline of a love affair, sort of Mills & Boon "Pithecanthropus Erectus" - packs an immense emotional punch; Taylor never letting up in his urging chordal rolls and rhythmic thumps. As with Mingus at his best, the ensemble threatens to boil over into chaos but never quite does.

From thereonin Cecil is frequently humorous and mischievous but never what you would call earnest (he certainly didn't rate Bill Evans much, claiming that the engineers turned up the volume on the piano to make him sound more powerful than he actually was - but, then, was Bill Evans about power? Surely not). I will not reiterate what Sinker has said but would merely add that it's best with CT to start at the end and work backwards. If you start with 1955's Jazz Advance - a quartet session with Steve Lacy, Buell Neidlinger and Dennis Charles - you may well submit to Coltrane-type wot's-the-fuss-all-about doubts, especially as it starts with a take on Monk's "Bemsha Swing."

Apart from the records which Sinker mentions, you should also hear his work on Mike Mantler's JCOA "Communications" double from '68. His solo feature "Communications # 11 (Parts 1 & 2)" take up the whole of the second album and rightly so - for this is a rare chance to hear Cecil in unambiguously confrontational, even belligerent mood. Alternately flowing with and pushing against the dense chordality which Mantler has constructed for him, the orchestra finally drops out and leaves him and Andrew Cyrille to thrash their way through (and no pre-po mo forays into Bud Powell land as per "D Trad, That's What"). On Part 2 Alan Silva's arco bass comes more to the fore, and CT responds approvingly.

The European Orchestra wotsit in '88 on FMP is a bit of an all-star do-your-party-piece yawnathon which only really comes to life when they shut up (apart from cellist Tristan Honsinger, who just keeps on scribbling) and Taylor launches off again.

I also didn't realise until relatively late how much humour there was in the Brotherhood of Breath, either - I used to consider Mongezi Feza's trumpet squirms as awesomely frightening, given foreknowledge of his early death, but now see the puckish irreverence of his playing (not that there wasn't pain - check out his and Dudu's schizophrenic moodswings between lyricism and noise on "Davashe's Dream" off the first Brotherhood LP on RCA Neon).

But I just remember motoring through northern Italy in the summer of 1980 with a tape of "One Too Many, Salty Swift And Not Goodbye" in the dashboard and thinking just how exhilarating this sound was. And is.

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sparks in stone lanes

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