In New York, Do as the New Yorkers (Sometimes) Do...

...and see Cecil Taylor in performance, 28 March 2009, not too long after the eightieth birthday of the pianist, dancer, and poet... as New Yorkers indeed have been doing, sparingly - when the rare chances come - since the late 1950's.

Bruno Bollaert - Cecil Taylor, 2008

In the poetry he read that made up the night's first set, Taylor said a great deal about geometric forms. To what effect? I cannot say. Perhaps as he grows old [surely those who have seen him perform recently, still so close to the "top of his game," cannot say this man has yet reached elderly status, or perhaps redefines what we mean by such concept], Taylor will collect the poetry he has written over the years, some of it having appeared in scant form in album liner notes, so that the dear critic can begin to respond.

As for the second set, when he finally sat down to play the piano, Taylor certainly didn't disappoint. Sitting stage-right, I get to view Taylor's hands as they play those eighty-eight tuned drums (using a Steinway and Sons piano tonight, not the Bösendorfer with ninety-seven keys) and the score that presumably served as the basis for the evening's composition. From what I could see, small groupings of notes were drawn, in no obvious order, across the page. Each pause in the performance brought out another sheet. In short, a reminder that Taylor, like Ornette Coleman and the A A C M artists, has never operated with any sort of simple division between notation and improvisation.

As for the dexterousness that enabled the transformation of that score into the final performance.... To witness a Taylor in concert for the first time, I had to put aside the mindset I always enter into when listening to his solo records. In said mindset, I endeavor not to associate the sounds I hear with the image of a man playing the piano. Doing so, I had found that my mental processing did not keep pace: the expectation of a improvisation based around a pre-arranged fragment does not prepare the listener for what comes their way via Cecil Taylor. Instead, my ears travel to a different sort of soundscape - perhaps that occupied by long free-form Academic Electro-Acoustic or Modernist Classical works: a terrain of a "pure" sound always beyond our grasp but worth exploring toward anyway. Think not of the piano, though of course you still always are - how could you not? Nonetheless, only as such could I begin to follow, and revel in, the structures he creates. How to picture these sound structures, if one chooses to do so? Perhaps like so: wire, concrete, brick, finished wood, and mortar suddenly turn biomorphic, and grow into a forest, but the process is sped up a thousand times. Tiny kernels of material held in the palm of one's hand in a flash break apart and spring forth as mind-enveloping, sensory-overloading barrages of shapes and lines [geometry again!].

Bruno Bollaert
- Cecil Taylor, 2008

But here, I do see the hands. I see the man playing the piano. I sometimes look away, strain to follow. You want the moment that just passed back, to dwell a little longer, and the next moment as well, and the next.... After the performance, I don't want to leave and yet I'm tempted to say that the music itself didn't equal the heights of what I've heard on record. A quick judgment like so wouldn't take into account the numerous repeated listens I've given said records, in the mindset described above. I walk away from Merkin Hall thinking to myself that the privilege to hear the performance that had just ended again, and again and again, should not be a privilege at all - no, a calling, a right, a necessity.

For now, thanks to the
Inconstant Sol "sharity" site, I have copies of Praxis [1968] and Garden [1981], two rare solo-piano albums. Putting aside for the moment the more-plentiful solo recordings from the 1980's and '90's, these two records book-end the three solo albums I already had, Indent [1973], Silent Tongues [1974], and Air Above Mountains [1976]. (Another solo records was recorded in 1973, and another in 1980 - and who's to say what future releases await in the vaults? Actually, the Cecil Taylor Online Sessionography is trying to do precisely such.) Nothing impels further deeper listening of Jazz/Improvised music than seeing live performances, and so these five albums promise an abundance of listening to come in the following months.