Recorded in 1981, the original double-LP release of Garden provided non-European followers of Cecil Taylor their first glimpse at two very distinct changes. Given that he was using a Bösendorfer grand piano, the sound quality of his recordings improved greatly; it was finally possible to hear the fickle sonances and subtle timbres his lightning clusters produced. Secondly, his deeply percussive style was opening to other influences. The first volume opened -- as do all of his solo performances now -- with vocal extemporization and poetry, and on into the slowly evolving gradually revealing performance itself. On the second disc there is nothing but meat. Taylor is in full heat, flailing, banging, slashing out chords and high register trills with studied abandon and a careful attention to detail. Here is where Taylor shows his secret persona: the dancer. Rooted in blues and barrelhouse in some spots and in gagaku and kabuki theater in others, while in still others the classical ballet, Taylor's playing style opens itself to embrace all of the above and spit them back out as part of his own musical iconography. Because whether it's the Jelly Roll Morton blues stomp in the secret heart of "Stepping on Stars," traversed by Merce Cunningham's defiance of gravity or Min Tanaka's influenced movement of rearranging space and time, or in the Ellingtonian transmuted swing of "Driver Says," where Baryshnikov's movements through Balanchine (literally) informs the stride work along the middle register, it's all clearly part of Taylor's idiomatic manner of creating language from the air. And that language -- if you've ever seen him play -- includes physical movement. That he can translate it so effortlessly here -- as its freshness and newness envelope him -- is a profound change, if not in direction (since his restlessness is legendary), then in approach. This is a new music by Cecil Taylor, one that invites listeners in and gives them room to move around. This mature phase of Taylor's music is still blooming almost 20 years later, and continues to influence, inspire, and provoke. Garden, Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 is the post-'70s Cecil solo date to have. ~ Thom Jurek
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- The Dance Project (Parker, William (Bass))