Welcome reissue for a 1978 classic live recording from the great pianists's sextet.
Martin Longley 2005
This sprawling set was once a weighty three lumps of vinyl. Since its 1991 CD debut, it's been remastered, boasting a vivid sound for a June 1978 concert recording. The six-piece Unit was playing at the Liederhalle in Stuttgart, where Cecil Taylor was apparently forbidden to use the venue's immaculate 'classical' piano. Perhaps the manager had heard one of his records...
Taylor's piece approaches two-and-a-half hours in length, composed but opened up by extended improvisatory stretches. Cecil must have drilled the Unit on exactly where their soloing parts were to be placed, as the music's development sounds at once unfettered and controlled, the overall structure very tightly formed.
Taylor opens with his trusty tactic of picking duo and solo permutations to set the scene before he and the full Unit take flight. Alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons and trumpeter Raphe Malik tussle in tandem, engaging in a dialogue of ripped-out scribbles. Their tattered streamers soon subside for violinist Ramsey Ameen and bassist Sirone to slide their strings in wayward fashion, leading into Ronald Shannon Jackson's drum technique demonstration. These short sections seem disconnected when set beside the Unit's main body.
Taylor sees this as a single extended work, with track demarcations designed as a listener courtesy. It's all about steady escalation towards a democratic miasma. The piano probes delicately, as the horns enter with pointillist chatter. It doesn't take long for an unrelenting barrage to develop, as the core rhythm trio sets up a rolling blur.
Ameen makes glistening glycerine strokes across Jackson's muted clusters. The drummer rolls out tiny, clenched tattoos, while Taylor is shaping giant tidal walls. The rapport between composer and sticksman is uncanny, with Jackson underlining and anticipating the rhythmic twists and turns of Taylor's pianistic flow, emphasising the dynamics of his outpourings. The pair develop rapid percussive patterns that are almost funk-derived, with Jackson decaying into scattered attacks, Taylor rejoicing in pugilist abandon.
The second disc maintains the Unit's power, as Taylor's dense gush dominates what has become a piano trio interlude. The horns and violin have waited a long time, but now they surge forward once more. Malik offers a volcanic solo, spitting, flickering and speckling, repeatedly hitting the top of his range. Lyons has a hard act to follow, but the altoist's own solo eventually scales a high-bleating, fast-fingered peak.
As each Unit member is spotlighted, these solos are always set against a continually volatile background. In fact it's probably best to think of them as accentuated parts rather than solos in the old-fashioned sense.
Taylor hews great granite blocks, resonantly sustaining his bass end, then running off spidery right-hand figures at phenomenally high speed. The structure of re-entry repeats itself as the trio is joined by violin, but the horns never do reappear in the final thirty minute climax.
This is an epic work that has great strength at its heart, broken up by the odd contemplative moment. The first three duo and solo tracks tend to sound like the product of a too-tidy mind, but when the Unit is firing in full, dense textures and thrilling interplay make for hurtling music that is multi-layered in its single-mindedness.