Thursday, April 19, 2012
The past month or so, I've revisited some of my fave avant-jazz platters of yore, mainly top boppers from the '90s (I mean, records I discovered in the '90s). Maybe it's just me wanting a musical flashback, or perhaps it's a needed dose of high-energy splat in my musical diet, but whatever the reason, this kick I'm on has put a skip in my step. My forays into jazz (say it: it's a four-letter word) the past decade has seen me really getting inside the hard-bop (bordering-on-free) sounds of Jackie McLean, Charles Mingus, Lennie Tristano, Max Roach and Andrew Hill, the cool grace of Bill Evans and Ran Blake, West Coast groove from Shelly Manne and Jimmy Giuffre, primo early Louis Armstrong and spiritual jazz obscurities reissued on boffin crate-digger labels. The hard-arsed blast of Alexander Von Schlippenbach, Cecil Taylor, David S. Ware, William Parker, Albert Ayler, Sunny Murray, Anthony Braxton, Frank Lowe, Evan Parker, Charles Tyler, Charles Gayle, Paul Flaherty, etc. was always there in the mix, but exploring new sounds you're not used to and constantly finding out more and more and more about all the things you don't know so well... isn't that what getting older and wiser is supposed to be about? Is this fascinating to you? Thought so. And in the spirit of this awe-inspiring story, I present to you this rather fantastic documentary from 2006, All The Notes, centred on the life of one of the absolute all-time greats, Cecil Taylor. From around 1996-2001, there was probably no other hard-hitting jazz noisemaker on earth I liked more than Cecil. Because he hung around longer than his contemporaries such as Ayler and Coltrane, because he didn't get old and boring like Archie Shepp, because he still recorded heavily in the '80s/'90s (unlike Ornette), his discography is massive, and that means you've got a lot to choose from. And a lot of it is good. I can take or leave his solo piano records - his style is so cluttered and abrasive that it needs other instruments in the mix to give it a sense of light and shade - but elsewhere you'll find one of the best jazz discographies of the past 50 years. You want a few recommendations? OK, how about you start w/ the two most obvious and widely-available titles on Blue Note from the mid '60s, Conquistador and Unit Structures, featuring the likes of Alan Silva, Jimmy Lyons, Andrew Cyrille and Bill Dixon; then there's some killers on FMP such as 1996's Always A Pleasure, which is a concert recording from Berlin ca. 1993 (a record of such awesome power, I once listed it as one of my top-10 desert island discs at Perfect Sound Forever) and the double-CD set, Alms/Tiergarten (Spree), a "jazz orchestra" marathon featuring players such as ECM folk like Enrico Rava, Tomasz Stanko and Louis Sclavis, as well as Peter Brotzmann, Evan Parker, Peter Kowald, Han Bennink and his bass partner for much of the '80s/'90s, the great William Parker; there's also 1985's Winged Serpent and 1986's Olu Iwa, both on the Italian Soul Note label (and featuring killer players of great esteem such as Frank Wright and John Tchicai); and how about The Great Paris Concert from 1966, released on Black Lion?; the live quartet recording of Taylor/Parker/Lyons/Bakr from 1981, The Eighth, on Hat Art, anyone?; the now-deleted(?) 2CD released on the Revenant label by the name of Nefertiti: The Beautiful One Has Come, which puts together two rare early '60s performances by his trios of the time... Let me get some breath. See what I mean? I'm only halfway there, but that'll keep you busy. Because Taylor is a pianist, his music as a leader possesses a density which no others in the jazz field have matched. It can be exhausting (you can't listen to two discs of one of his jazz orchestra sets all in one sitting), but his smaller band settings possess the two most important ingredients: space and energy. He's also a pretty eccentric dude, to say the very least. One viewing of this documentary will confirm that. He was set to play here a couple of years back at the jazz festival in Melbourne, though he pulled out at the last moment due to illness. I was bummed, but you've got to understand this: the guy is 83 years old and his music hasn't softened one goddamn iota. Once again, it's taken over 7 years and 600 entries to finally spill the beans on an all-time fave raver, and now all you gotta do is press "play" on that clip above.