AKISAKILA (Japan PA 3004-5)
Cecil Taylor / piano, Jimmy Lyons / alto saxophone, Andrew Cyrille / drums.
Recorded: May 22, 1973 in concert in Tokyo.
Akisakila is the only currently available recording by the Cecil Taylor Unit that captures something of the essence of the trio’s music as it is now being performed live. The essence, it seems to me, is this: Taylor’s music has less to do with the presentation of a particular piece of music (though there are certainly identifiable compositional interests) than it does with the total re-creation/transformation of the sound environment of the listener.
The length of Taylor’s pieces, their “intensity,” is almost entirely directed toward breaking through the listener’s defenses, to completely destroying, to the extent possible, the split between audience-performer. For as long as the music exists as something “out there,” something able to be objectified, so one concentrates on it rather than simply experiencing it. The difference, it seems to me, is crucial. The former attitude approaches the music as a western linear “art” form (able to be codified, commoditized, and finally commercialised) whereas the latter “understands” and simply accepts the music as the organic improvisational sound ritual which it actually is.
The music envelops, but does not overwhelm, the listener; it draws the listener into it, yet leaves space (even in its density) for the listener to exist within it. One may then enter into the musical expression rather than simply witness its realization.
Following from which, this is not really a review as such but only the acknowledgement of the recording of an important musical event. The music is here, limited solely by the LP medium which necessitates that the sound remain enclosed within speaker boxes and that the listener’s environment be un-transformed (to change the record) three times in the course of the hour-and-a-half presentation. Still, in the absence of hearing the Taylor Unit live, Akisakila must be the next best thing.
Henry Kuntz, 1975
Cecil Taylor biography:
Cecil Percival Taylor (born March 15 or March 25, 1929 in New York City) is an American pianist and poet. Along with Ornette Coleman, he is now generally acknowledged to be one of the innovators of free jazz.
Taylor’s first recording, Jazz Advance, was released in 1956, and is described by Cook & Morton in the Penguin Guide to Jazz: “While there are still many nods to conventional post-bop form in this set, it already points to the freedoms which the pianist would later immerse himself in.”
Taylor is known for being an extremely energetic, physical yet subtle player, producing exceedingly complex improvised sounds, frequently involving tone clusters and intricate polyrhythms. At first listen, his dense and percussive music can be difficult to absorb, often described as if playing “88 tuned drums.” He learned piano at six and went on to study at New York College of Music and New England Conservatory. After first steps in R&B and swing-styled small groups in the early 1950s, he formed his own band with soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy in 1956. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, it was often difficult to find work, despite landmark recordings such as Unit Structures, Nefertiti the Beautiful One Has Come, and a pairing with John Coltrane (Coltrane Time/Hard Drivin’ Jazz).
Taylor played and recorded predominantly with alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons from 1961 until Lyons’s death in 1986, along with drummers Sunny Murray and later Andrew Cyrille. Within that group, known as “The Unit”, the musicians developed often volcanic new forms of conversational interplay.
From the early 1970s onwards, Taylor began to perform solo concerts, some of which were released as the Indent and Silent Tongues albums. He began to garner critical, if not popular, acclaim, playing for Jimmy Carter on the White House Lawn, lecturing as an in-residence artist at universities, and eventually being awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1973 and then a MacArthur Fellowship in 1991.
Following Lyons’s death, Taylor has played in a variety of settings ranging from solo (e.g. For Olim, Garden, Erzulie Maketh Scent, The Tree of Life, and In Willisau), the “Feel Trio” formed in the early 1990s with William Parker (bass) and Tony Oxley (drums) (Celebrated Blazons, Looking (The Feel Trio), and the 10-CD set 2 T’s for a Lovely T) as well as larger ensembles and big-band projects. His extended residence in Berlin in 1988 was extensively documented by the German label FMP, resulting in a massive boxed set of performances in duet and trio with a who’s who of European free improvisors, including Oxley, Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, Han Bennink, Tristan Honsinger, Louis Moholo, Paul Lovens, and others. Most of his recordings for the past several decades have been put out on European labels, with the exception of the unexpected release of Momentum Space (a meeting with Dewey Redman and Elvin Jones) on Verve/Gitanes. The classical label Bridge recently released his 1998 Library of Congress performance Algonquin, a duet with violinist Mat Maneri. Few recordings from 2000 have yet been published, though Taylor, now in his seventies, continues to captivate audiences around the world with live concerts, usually played on his favored instrument, the Bösendorfer piano that features 9 extra lower register keys. A documentary spotlighting the enigmatic musician, All the Notes, was released on DVD in 2006 by director Chris Felver.
In addition to piano, Taylor has always been interested in ballet and dance. His mother, who died while he was still young, was a dancer and also played the piano and violin. Taylor once said: “I try to imitate on the piano the leaps in space a dancer makes”. He collaborated with dancer Dianne McIntyre in 1977 and 1979. In 1979 he also composed and played the music for a twelve-minute ballet “Tetra Stomp: Eatin’ Rain in Space”, featuring Mikhail Baryshnikov and Heather Watts.
Taylor is also an accomplished poet, citing Robert Duncan, Charles Olson and Amiri Baraka as major influences. He often integrates his poems into his musical performances, and they frequently appear in the liner notes of his albums. The CD Chinampas, released by Leo Records in 1987, is a recording of Taylor reciting several of his poems unaccompanied.
Taylor is featured in the 1981 documentary film Imagine the Sound, in which he discusses and performs his music, poetry and dance.