Cecil Taylor’s Jazz Advance (1956) is one of the basic documents in the history of “the new thing” as it would come to be called… at least while it was new. That recording is second only, I think, to Ornette Coleman’s Shape of Jazz to Come (1959) in historical memory. CT is blessedly well-documented. I’ll have some recommendations at the end of this review.
Another blessing this way comes from drummer Andrew Cyrille, bassist William Parker, and “Italian jazz trumpeter” Enrico Rava. I have been enjoying the genius of Cyrille and Parker for almost as long as I have been collecting jazz recordings. I don’t know Rava so well, but I am going to fix that.
This is one of those rare cases where the liner notes are genuinely indispensable. Written by jazz researcher Ben Young, they turn the album’s concept into a mystery that might preclude solution. Here is the opening: “This record references pianist Cecil Taylor in several ways. There is no piano here, and no attempt to reanimate or imitate Cecil Taylor’s style of playing.” What, I wonder, does it mean to say that a recording references Cecil Taylor?
I won’t try to answer that question. An album by these three brilliant jazzmen in honor of Cecil Taylor needs no justification. Love and admiration are sufficient. There are ten cuts, ending with My Funny Valentine. No one could accuse the artists of “imitating” CT. The music is mostly soft and low burn. Drums, bass, and brass: two sides and an entrée. The piano and Taylor’s frenetic assaults on that instrument are conspicuous by their absence.
'Improvisation #1' opens with some raspy string work and in comes Rava’s steady, romantic voice. Parker and Cyrille dig ruts in the road over which rolls down, as if looking for something lost. Here, and throughout, the bass provides continuity and the drum structure. Inside that structure, Rava sings his little songs.
'Blues for Cecil N0. 1' begins almost as a classic hard bop number. Rava here reminds me of Miles Davis, particularly his work on the classic film noir Elevator to the Gallows.
'Top, Bottom, and What’s in the Middle' gives us a sampler of the three instruments, each displaying what it can do in the most restricted design-space. Cyrille rattles little hollow bones. Parker ties little knots. It took a couple listens, but I began to see how the pieces fit together. And then…
'Blues for Cecil N0. 2' cuts in without my noticing the gap. Bluesy swing it is. Grama Blanchard could tap her feet to this one. It is the kind of music that can cure a rainy day.
If you should wonder about who this Cecil Taylor guy was, here are some recordings you should look up. The Complete Nat Hentoff Sessions and 2 Ts for a lovely T both give you a lot of Avant Garde power to plug into. Nefertiti, the Beautiful One Has Come will curl the toes of free jazz fans.
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