FMP/FREE MUSIC PRODUCTION - An Edition of Improvised Music 1989-2004


Wolfgang Burde


JULY 15th,88

Those of us who can remember the Cecil Taylor, who, in the seventies, in the Berlin Philharmonie, hammered out hour-long cluster cascades in the piano with a kind of obsessed monomania, and used the piano almost like a permanently returnable 'sound-machine', or 'polished' it as if it were a glittering mirror of sound, whose emphatic 'sound' dialogs then 3ushed forth, while the left hand vigorously rubbed his head, those who used to love Cecil's purism, his absoluteness, his hardened crystalline material, allowing no wavering or carelessness, would be amazed as they watched the stylistic, flexible and imaginative improvisation process taking place as the Workshop-Ensemble was put through its paces under his guidance.

In the old times,-`his great secret was just how he was able to get this cluster material, this cosmos of breathtaking, articulated sounds, cascades and driving-whirling scales, 'swinging'. Nowadays, it is fascinating to see how he guides a heterogeneous group of 13 jazz musicians through a process lasting three quarters of an hour where yelling or clapping, in rebellious mood as soloist or in smaller groups or even in 'big band' format, they make such a music that at every instant a oneness, a shifting feeling of coherence remains distinct that, especially in the processes of free jazz, is so easily abandoned in favour of a destructive type of playing or solo eruptions, or grating conversations, or minimalistic 'coasting'. Cecil Taylor's Workshop Ensemble expresses time, and shapes the whole process with such flexibility of musical language - this also applies to the changes in instrumental colour, the dynamic shading, the type of articulation - that it can actually be experienced as a meaningful Jazz process. However, it is very quickly apparent that in spite of all the concentration, despite all the relationships of the players to each other, Jazz is not treated as a tasteful so called 'Saloon-bar' phenomenon. Taylor insists, from the outset, on passion, on emotion and he himself kindles his Jazz through screams, or longer recitations that he, as a High Priest of Jazz, speaks almost like a ritual, almost cries in ecstasy "Bay-bay-bay bay, bay, bay, three have to play: you, you and you".

The rest of his words tinged with a passionate, threatening challenge for someone to start playing: zsssss.

At first, one is content with Chamber music. Individual musicians - trombone, violin, saxophone - display themselves, after flute, clarinet, trombone and drums have already started, using a loose kind of material that, for the first time, after about five minutes and after several of the horns have been thrown together in the tussle, thickens into an explosive wall of sound, to a type of chaotic structure that is well known from the Jazz at the end of the 'sixties'.

A finely woven carpet of bass - and drums - articulation sounds develops, and over the top a wide, vaulting trombone solo. It is held together also through the use of a certain kind of figurative material, through secondary riffs, which are constantly picked up one at a time or by those vocal 'Ah' outburst, cried out like a choir, or left gently floating only to be pushed aside with a Sch-sch-sch sound into the piano, so that the Maestro can be heard as narrator in the background, and after ten minutes, can then launch into a full scale vocal lamentation in which a strangely gilded, angelic type of voice, full of energy, cuts in. Virtuoso cadenzas from both violin or saxophone are, occasionally tinged and 'counter pointed' with voice and then, after a long pedal tone from the bass instruments, the particular strains of the soprano saxophone and the oboe become audible for the first time, backed by the sound of the whole group, until once again the breathtaking, desiccated, broken-up violin cadenza takes hold over an emphatic trombone solo and all of a sudden the virtuoso violin transforms the total music. Once again the choir-like cries: "he" and "ho" or glissando-like protests.

It is such alternations between the textures and the individual groups, that make this jazz process so interesting, the change from chamber music to jazz from the "band", between accompanied recitation and a diverse, thoughtful kind of playing, right through and beyond the bounds of Pianissimo.

After 20 minutes, a marked change in the material can be heard: staccato, repetitious notes in three/four time dominate, thus giving the whole structure again some kind of resemblance to the coolly, formulated beginning: single 'sound' groups introduce, at regular intervals, different material, and you can feel, and then hear how the whole ensemble once again organizes itself into an enormous, orchestral appendage, and how in a huge shriek, pulls itself together-backed by some intense drumming, and the basses. Until it finally reaches this last, great outburst, several so called 'smaller concerts' have taken place whereby single groups of instruments 'combat' against each other in a musical battle. And then what follows has the gentleness of a 'last refrain', in which each instrument takes on its solo role, regularly accompanied by the ritualistic, vocal interjections of the Master in the background. This kind of coda shows, once again, Taylor's supreme sense of timing.

"Bay-bay-bay -bay, bay, bay, three have to play, you, you and you".

Let's listen friends.

Translation: Paul Lytton

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