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


Markus Müller


What you are now perhaps listening to, while you read on, is the reproduction of excerpts from a concert of Cecil Taylor "in various combinations" (as it was put in the programme notes at the time by the promoters FMP, with Rashid Bakr (drums), Harri Sjöström (soprano), Charles Gayle (tenor), Tristan Honsinger (cello), Longineu Parsons (trumpet) and Sirone (bass), the opening set of the "25. Workshop Freie Musik" on April 8, 1993 in the "Akademie der Künste" in Berlin.

What you are now reading, while you are (perhaps) listening to this CD is the supplementary reworking of a text which was written after listening to the afore-mentioned concert, and published in Juni 1993. Not that this would make things any easier for you or myself. But to me it makes sense to pay respect to that special moment, which has been residing for more than two years in my heart and on paper, (from a close distance, distant closeness), in order to give it the time (the lines) it deserves, while "...our modern perception of time spans such wide periods, where an era becomes visible in a generation, a generation in the work of a lifetime, a lifetimes' work in a picture....." (Carl Einstein). And, after all, it was only when I listened to the tape of this CD again that I finally understood why I was so impressed with the concert and even understood Taylor's music anew. And, as "we" think we know Cecil Taylor's lifetime achievements, we are not only thankful but also touched, because "Always a pleasure" adds an nth dimension to this picture (and nowhere else is this picture more precisely described as in Ekkehard Jost's detailed account of Taylor's recordings in the accompanying booklet to the legendary FMP-Taylor-box from 1988); "Always a pleasure" is a masterpiece. Forza:
But we always hear only ourselves.

That is and always has been limited enough. There are too many who would find listening easier, if only they knew how to talk about it. This has to do with peoples' highly insecure and diverted feelings. People are so created, that they only know where they are when fed with some kind of definite communication. They need means to sort out their feelings, in so far as this requires considerably less involvement, considerably less personal effort, and, above all, the lack in understanding can be substituted, exchanged or abstractly replaced.

But sometimes it is completely different: Cecil Taylor's concerts are dangerous. Those who have listened to him once, have crossed the line. For example in the "Akademie der Künste": 08.04.1993, 21.10: the lights were dimmed. Cecil Taylor came on stage, singing-talking-dancing-buoyant .

We know today, that our perception creates its view of the world in three stages: 1. The incoming sensory information 2. The internal conceptualisation of this data in a constructivist sense. 3. The control of this conceptualisation by means of an internal censor, which means the dominance of regularising past events in relationship to the non categorisable or the new. And, when you read Dietrich Diederichsen: "Well, actually I have been to several 'magic' concerts of his (Taylor)", you ask yourself if this thing about Taylor, or music in general, is really so simple. If you believe in the reality of things, of music, its elucidation through artistic means (as if through opera glasses) does not have quite the same effect as if experienced directly, in close proximity. If one looks at Taylor though opera glasses, one does not have the impression of looking at Taylor, but of his image in a magnifying glass. But is the real picture the actual picture? And then what is listening to this CD, an opera glass?

But we were talking about Taylor. And it cannot be the aim of a revolutionary act in the realms of culture, to reflect life or to explain it, but to add to it. In this sense Taylor, or Improvised music, or music in general, if it works, hammers a wedge into the holy trinity of: 1. Incoming sensory information, 2. Internal conceptualisation, 3. Internal censorship. When Taylor came on stage, singing-talking-dancing-weightless, which was not actually a stage, but a five centimetre high impression of a stage, the internal censorship had to work overtime. He who has seen it, knows. In a single step, in a single word exists the total information about shamanism as yet accessible to us. This is that strangeness, which is really strange to us, it is that otherness, that we want to see and feel and comprehend.

As soon as Taylor sat down at the piano, and Rashid Bakr was on the drums and the trumpet player Longineu Parsons was playing a flute, which I did not manage to identify as to its origin, the extension of life began. Music is at times a huge chess board, that covers the whole world. Later, I could not even remember how it started. First Taylor, Bakr and Parsons. Then Sirone, Tristan Honsinger, Charles Gayle and Harri Sjöström. The band started at such a pace that I could hardly keep up with it. Into the bargain Taylor kept playing faster and faster. I wasn't able to hear any faster.
Astonishingly, my wife, the whole audience and everybody else around stayed with me, no matter how fast it got. Then suddenly: silence, we got on to square 2 and we all knew: if we could reach square 8 we would be kings. And we all got to square 8. (And there were a great many of us. The exhibition hall of the Akademie der Künste was full). Taylor played a concentrated, highly sensitised suite. Out of the dense trio structures (Taylor, Sirone, Honsinger) and, as far as my memory serves me, Honsinger that evening, fought with triple forte flageolet textures for three hours, until the horsehair of his bow whipped about his cello like shredded sugar cane: a tidal wave, 'die Welle', Taylor's staccato bass lines, Bakr's 'time time time-Tony-Williams-cubistic-machine', Honsinger's textures and Sirone's "Hipster, hey presto-bass", float around the place like northern lights photographed by Ansel Adams.
Extreme concentration, extreme precision, a "lightning field", 'ein Blitzfeld', striking "into/out of" a gothic tracery, weightless and built out of pure sound. The tidal wave and I felt as if we were able to hear every single note. As if under a microscope I heard the multiple layering, the microscopic details of the work between Sjöström and Gayle, who has to get his tenor into a sweat in order to get the pads to close. Parsons, a kind of Super-Don-Cherry. He and Sjöström, a kind of axis: Sinus-unisono. Breaker after breaker and you could hear every damned note and Cecil Taylor, my friend from Berlin said, who had come with me to this his second only jazz concert (Brötzmann and the Märzcombo in Wuppertal was his first concert), played with a strobe-effect, he played at such a pace, that the keys transformed, by a continuous slow glide into a kinetic sculpture. The auditorium, all of us: The hitch-hikers' guide to the galaxy. Go go go. Miles Davis "Four and more". The melancholia of high speed (?), dense, humid heat stretched across a chess board, that covers the whole world. Pause. Breathe out. The photographers standing around the stage and smiling happily, as if on drugs, they had forgotten to do their work, what work, we all had forgotten ourselves.
Taylor, I heard later, thought he hadn't played like that since Jimmy Lyons.

First of all and it still seems true today:
We always only hear ourselves. "Always a pleasure" is, in my opinion, a keystone in the discussion about the relationship between Taylor's so-called conceptual recordings (for example "Conquistador", "Unit Structures" and "3 Phasis") and the so-called energy recordings (for example "Live in Vienna", "Corona" and "One Too Many Salty Swift And Then Goodbye"). Even the line-up, and the functions, which the musicians take over, refer back to all the "Units", or rather groups, that Taylor has worked with since "Unit Structures" (May 19, 1966). "Unit Structures", as well as "Conquistador" revolved around a two bass foundation (Henry Grimes, Alan Silva). After that Ramsey Ameen and Leroy Jenkins (both on violin) and Sirone, during the 70s and 80s, 'bowed' a continuing stream of events, which came to its logical conclusion on "Corona" (November 3 and 4, 1989) with Harald Kimmig (violin), Muneer Abdul Fataah (cello) and William Parker (bass). Taylor has been playing with Honsinger (cello) since 1993 and Honsinger is the "titanium rope, that never frays...", Honsinger plays the melodies, Honsinger plays layers of events and the organisation of these events is the most important criterion for the development of this music. Longineu Parsons with his long breaths reminds one of Bill Dixon's legendary contribution to "Conquistador", and also a bit of Raphé Malik in the 80s. Sjöström and Gayle are like Jeckyll and Hyde or a double Jimmy Lyons?! Sirone is Sirone.

But maybe you weren't listening while you were reading? Let it be said: like sirens, long held unisono of Sjöström and Parsons drag the listener into the maelstrom. The parforce is opened by short motives, which can already be called classics, laid down by Taylor and answered by the reeds like the mating calls of wild animals. The short phrases become a frantic call and response and Sjöström develops his playing on the basis of this opening sequence. The distribution of roles becomes evident pretty quickly. Sirone and Honsinger play continuously. Gayle overblows expressively and exclusively full force, Sjöström rounds things off, adds intensity and breaks things up, he plays "under-Gayle and meta-Gayle" at the same time, and he plays in the decisive moments during the course of the performance. Parsons breathes through and out, his improvisations are either like the afore mentioned mating calls or cut across Taylor's tempos (and Honsinger's). Bakr's drumming doesn't happen (when compared to the theatrics of Ronald Shannon Jackson or the 'overall'-approach of Tony Oxley). He plays for the group, but while Honsinger gives everything, Bakr "only" gives pointillisms.

The determining factor is, that this Taylor-band succeeds in creating a "Constructivist Expressionism" or "Expressionist Constructivism" with multiple boiling points, which overturns and re-establishes the relationship between chronometric time and perceived time: Taylor's silences sound longer than they actually sound. Maybe here the same as with Webern applies: "I don't want symbols. I want the things themselves." The world sounds without opera glasses, unfeigned, real. It is time: start listening, it will be your pleasure.

Translation: Isabel Seeberg & Paul Lytton

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