Saturday, October 29, 2016

Stratification and Articulation: Five Quotes about Cecil Taylor

Cecil Taylor performing at Keystone Korner in San Francisco in 1977.
Cecil Taylor performing at Keystone Korner in San Francisco in 1977. PHOTO: KATHY SLOANE

I've been going through some old files I've accumulated over the years (I don't think of myself as a pack rat; I'm more of a personal musical archivist/clipping service for myself), and I found this fantastic special jazz supplement from the Village Voice back in 1989 dedicated to Cecil Taylor. I'm so glad I held on to it. Here are five quotes:

No artist has given me more pleasure than Taylor, in part because I know that what I get from him I can get nowhere else. He recharges my batteries, wakes me to possibilities, exonerates my mind for wandering--because anywhere it wanders is sanctified by the music that took it there. (Gary Giddins, "Outer Curve: Mirror and Water Gazing," Village Voice, 1989-06-26)

In the long, celebrated (and celebratory) "D Trad, That's What" [from Nefertiti, the Beautiful One Has Come], all the possibilities of Taylor's new music rush to the surface. There's nothing superfluous in it, as packed and many-noted as the music is. The pianist's lengthy central improvisation rises and falls as the garrulous right hand is countered by the constantly developing answers at the other end of the keyboard; Murray's playing, now bright, now heavy and ominous, is equally varied in accent. When Lyons returns for his second solo, Taylor is somehow galvanized into redoubling his intensity, and the trio takes on an orchestral breadth and grandeur. They careen on to a finish that appears from nowhere. It's a free improvisation that makes Coleman's Free Jazz seem conservative, and it's no wonder that such a performance seeded so much of the free jazz of the subsequent three decades. (Richard Cook, "At First: To Play What One Hears," Village Voice, 1989-06-26)

Cecil's alchemization of piano into orchestra forced his drummers to rethink favored playing patterns. And the rethinking was mutual. Cecil had to reformulate his playing at the promptings of his diverse drummers. (Norman Weinstein, "Drum Song: Rhythmic Eclipse (time)," Village Voice, 1989-06-26)

Long before one begins to hear and appreciate the unique structural features, the rhythmic and tonal connections, and the formal processes in Taylor's music, one cannot help being impressed by his heightened manual artistry and technical competence, But Taylor's pianism involves much more than just the stunning ability, so readily demonstrated, to play fast. At least as important as that frenzied interlocking of motifs and those cascades of clusters is the clarity with which all this is achieved--it's not as though Taylor, quasi delirious, sweeps over the keyboard, muddying the contours with too much pedal. On the contrary, what lifts Taylor's playing beyond mere technical dazzle is not speed alone, but rather the compounding of speed, density, and the precise articulation of every single detail. (Ekkehard Jost, "The Player Advances: Area and Plain," Village Voice, 1989-06-26)

Closely related to call-and-response patterns is the technique of stratification, or layering, which can be thought of as a temporal variant of the call-and-response idea. In stratification, the "call" and "response" simply occur simultaneously instead of separately. (Ekkehard Jost, "The Player Advances: Area and Plain," Village Voice, 1989-06-26)

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