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The Willisau Concert

by CECIL TAYLOR PIANO SOLO

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Intakt CD 072

CECIL TAYLOR
THE WILLISAU CONCERT
Liner notes by Meinrad Buholzer

I
At the beginning Cecil Taylor places one single note from which all the others flow. One could also speak of an atom in which ­ at the core ­ the entire work is contained. Everything following would only then be splitting the atom.

Practically from a standing start, the striking opening gains dynamics, tempo in a few tones. And already we are in the middle of Taylor¹s cosmos. With chords, clusters, cascades, with phrases, fragments, pieces, with approaches, hints, allusions, with splits, branches, citations; with the melodious and the abstract. Occasionally thrown out, occasionally cautiously modulated. Occasionally lightning fast, then slow again, leisurely. Occasionally loud and physical, then quiet and sensitive. Also with rhythmical changes, that, however, are all subject to a higher rhythm. Just as the diverging, fraying cosmos forms an entirety in the end, compact, sound in itself, not closed off, but rather open to further developments.

II
Cecil Taylor placed this original tone in the concert hall, the Willisauer Festhalle, while it was slowly filling after the intermission. Taylor did not want to wait until the intermission had ended. He could not be held back. For him the time had come to begin playing. One calls this type of time Kairos, which, in contrast to Chronos ­ the chronologically running, abstract time ­ is about finding the right point of time. The beginning of the concert was well chosen, in any case. This CD proves that. Taylor did not place this tone into a public hardened into devotion. And the public, not waiting but rather moving into the space, gave the concert its own dynamics. Movement ­ this is an essential element for Taylor.

III
Cecil Taylor¹s concert in Willisau took place on a Sunday afternoon. On Friday he flew from New York over the Atlantic to Switzerland. Hardly had he moved into his hotel room and freshened up than he demanded a piano. In the high school Sursee, a Steinway was found. «Good instrument,» Taylor said. For at least two hours, Taylor sat at the grand piano and played.

On Saturday morning, one found him again on the Steinway. Two and a half hours. In the afternoon, we were able to get him away from the keys. Taylor is passionately interested in architecture and we took a look at Jean Nouvel's new Culture and Congress Center in Lucerne, this succession of halls, foyers, terraces, echo chambers, stairwells, that again and again opened up new perspectives. Taylor remarked he had the impression that these French architects created space which drew people in, and that the building got its energy from this, as it were, was reloaded with energy. Taylor did the same in Willisau on Sunday.

Afterwards we went out to eat. A chic restaurant, also from Nouvel. Taylor enjoyed observing the public. «Interesting,» he said smiling, «those who have money and those who act as if they would have some Š» Although Taylor has nothing against extending the evening into the morning, he went back to his hotel early. He wanted to go to Willisau early, to practice and do the sound check.

Indeed, Taylor stood in front of the concert grand piano, a Bösendorfer Imperial, at 8:00 on Sunday morning. It did not merely have 88 keys, but rather an extended keyboard of 97 «drums» for his percussive style. He loved the instrument. Worked on it about three hours.

IV
James Carter¹s New Quintet performed before Taylor, who watched the concert from the stage, visibly charged up. He would have liked to play directly after Carter. An intermission was, however, announced. It lasted too long for him. In the end, he could not be stopped. He felt compelled, even drawn to the Bösendorfer. He wanted to get rid of what had built up within him, what had dammed up in him. Without a prologue, without recitation ­ this ritual that he had built up with the years and with which he often opened his concerts ­ he took hold of the keys. Placed that original tone.

Here music becomes existential.

When Taylor sits at the grand piano, there is no longer any distance, no mellow, cool interpretation. It is a direct fight. He wrests his sounds from the material, from the piano and practically melds them with himself. (He prefers the Bösendorfer to the Steinway, he once said, because the Steinway plays itself, whereas he himself has to play the Bösendorfer.)

«Music has saved my life,» he told me the previous evening while we were eating. When one hears him play, sees him play, then this is comprehensible. A game that is never playful. Game as Being.

Even in the movements. A Taylor concert is always also a choreographed event. The way his fingers whirl over the keys, this is dance. And dance also takes place when he gets up from the piano between the pieces and, half-intoxicated, in a trance, moves around the grand piano.

Some call him a shaman. Taylor does not contradict this. And insists on the concert as a ritual, the ritual as culture, the celebration of poesie, the beauty of life.

V
Now and then, writes the German journalist Bert Noglik, Taylor¹s playing resembles a natural event. He has survived the material battles of free jazz without damage, and out of this he has developed a wonderful style of playing. «There is no Taylor style. There is only Cecil Taylor.» (This too points to the lack of distance; it is not a question of interpretation, but rather of the expression of being.)

There are few musicians who are so uncompromising as Cecil Taylor. The hard haul that he made his way through was long and tiring. It has left injuries, illnesses, but also has strengthened him. His music has not become resentful. The richness of sounds he places in front of us is full of vitality or ­ to put it in his words ­ is «a celebration of life.»

Faith to oneself. Uncompromising ­ that is neither a rejection to openness, nor to change. Taylor is a musician who likes to listen (especially to other musicians). And life is not only a work in progress in a musical sense. An example: whenever he comes into a city foreign to him, he observes the people: how they dress, how they talk, how they move, how they go through life. This curiosity does not remain without influence on the music.

If his music comes across less resistance than it did in its beginnings, then this lies on two movements: on the one hand, Taylor has changed himself, his music has become milder, calmer, of course without being toady, without concessions, without adjustments; Taylor has never been obliging. On the other hand, the public has moved itself as well. Hearing habits have changed. Acoustic impositions of all kinds press themselves upon our ears. Speaking of this, Noglik says that «our cultural coordinating system, constantly exposed to new influences» has changed. Due to this, one can more easily access the beauty of Taylor¹s sounds.

VI
After the concert, Taylor rests behind the stage. He seems to be in a good mood, serene. His fingers continue the concert on an imaginary instrument. He sings to this: da di da ­ da da dum Š How does he feel? «Oh very, very Š» Instead of saying any further words, he throws his hands into the air. Winged.

«That¹s the good thing about music; it takes all the things away which are not so nice. So you are free ... till the next time.»

And once again he thanks Niklaus Troxler, the festival organizer: «Thanks again for this wonderful instrument.»



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REVIEWS

Best Jazz CDs of 2002. Village Voice, New York
A magnificent solo tour de force, and if I had to choose one, this would be album of the year. Everyone for whom I've played the opening passage is instantly seduced. Unfortunately, not everyone wants to follow a 50-minute movement. Think of it, then, as a short opera, its variations logical, broadly romantic, and often overwhelming. Perhaps his finest recital on records.
Gary Giddins, Village Voice, New York, USA, January 6th, 2003


Emphatically Recommended
It's been quite a few years since I've listened to pianist, Cecil Taylor's classic solo performance, Silent Tongues. However, with his latest solo endeavor, recorded live, September 3, 2000 at the «Jazzfestival Willisau,» in Switzerland - the pianist has added yet another astounding entry into his already rich recorded legacy. The thrust of this outing commences with the fifty-minute work, titled «Willisau Concert Part 1.» Here, we are treated to Taylor's exhaustive explorations and spider-like manipulations of his grand piano keyboard. With this release, the artist intertwines gigantic block chords with contrapuntal flurries amid his complex sense of rhythm, as Taylor's creative genius surfaces throughout. At times, it's almost like being fixated in a time warp, as Taylor dishes out subtle melodies in concert with multi-layered micro themes. (You'd swear there were two pianists performing.) We can also thank the audio engineers for their shrewd mic placement and exquisite recording processes. Thus, the listener gets to experience the live dynamic in multidimensional fashion! Taylor's improvisational techniques and thematic development could be akin to reading chapters in a book, where the various plots are divulged in sequential fashion. On the first piece and the thirteen-minute «Willisau Concert Part 2,» Taylor renders slanted discourses along with multidirectional frameworks via his muscular attack and acrobatic maneuvers. «Willisau Concert Parts 3 thru 5» clock in at less than two minutes each, although at this juncture, he may have depleted the audience's energy. Yet these short works appear to be minor extensions of the first part. Greatness can be an ongoing trait! And where others might fail, Taylor succeeds in often awe-inspiring fashion. Hence, a notion that becomes quite significant during this stunningly executed magnum opus! (Emphatically Recommended)
Glenn Astarita , April 2002, USA, All About Jazz


One of Cecil Taylor's finest recordings

Cecil Taylor had released numerous albums of solo recitals, and picking the best out of such a stellar crop is next to impossible. At the very least, it's safe to say that among his recordings after having reached the ripe age of 70, The Willisau Concert is among the very best and that it sits comfortably alongside discs like Indent, Silent Tongues, and Double Holy House. Since around 1970, in one sense Taylor, especially when playing solo, reiterates the same immensely deep composition time and time again. One hears almost the same motifs, usually subtly altered, a profound appreciation of the blues (if rarely directly stated), and an attack that, even if it had mellowed somewhat over the years, retained a hugely proud and rigorous character. Here, he battles a luxurious sounding Boesendorfer into submission, making rich use of its extra low notes; there's almost always a rumbling going on. His unyielding invention is at the forefront as he wrings variation upon sublime invention on his repository of melodic lines, never noodling about in search of inspiration, always somehow summoning it directly to his fingertips. The live performance is sliced into five sections. A lengthy main portion seemingly leaving no stone unturned is both beautiful and exhausting on it own. But then, as though Taylor realized there were things left unsaid, he launches into a stunning 13-minute postlude, breathtaking in its touch and level of emotion. In an embarrassment of riches, he adds three brief and exquisite addenda, achieving a delicacy and depth unmatched by any of his peers in the music. The Willisau Concert shows a grandmaster as yet unfazed by age, much less current fashion, and stands as one of Cecil Taylor's finest recordings. Very highly recommended. -- ( * * * * 1/2)
Brian Olewnick, All Music Guide, USA, 2002



4 1/2-Star Review. Downbeat 

Taylor begins this September 2000 concert with a single, well-placed note. The 50-minute improvisations that follows finds him in an energetic mood, weaving thorny phrases into a piece that is more higly charged than many of his recent solo recitals. As the liner notes state, Taylor couldn't get enough of the 97-key Bösendorfer he was assigned, and the recording engineer certainly does it justice, giving it an especially rich and textured bottom and an crystalline clarty up top. A second, shorter piece is dominated by relatively languid movements that beg choreography, although midway through Taylor begins to thicken his attack with swirling clusters and dramatic flourishes. Three encore miniatures alternate between furiously hammered runs and sustained chords.
James Hale, Downbeat, February 2003


What, after all these years, is there left to say about a new Cecil Taylor session? That it's excellent? That at 73, after a recording career stretching back to 1956, the pianist still has the execution, stamina and font of ideas of someone half his age -- if that isn't being ageist? (As an aside it will be interesting -- but most likely disappointing -- to audit the wares of some of today's more vaulted young lions when they reach their forties or fifties, let alone their seventies.) Probably the clearest understanding of what went on that day comes from the booklet note writer. He explains that Taylor was so eager to create on the 97-key Bösendorfer piano procured for him at this Swiss festival that he sat down and started playing before the intermission separating his set from the proceeding one had officially ended. Long time Taylor adherents will also note what is missing during the course of his almost 711/2 minute and groans and, as a matter of fact, many silences. Also, after pummeling the "tuned drums" for a little more than 50 minutes in the first section, then pouring his all into a 13 minute plus encore, the audience forces Taylor to play three additional encores, which he limits to slightly more than one minute each. Obviously it's the longest piece that's most distinctive; combing as it does the mixture of violence and delicacy that characterizes Taylor's work. The point about his creation, which has always offended jazz dilettantes such as filmmaker Ken Burns -- and dare one say the Marsalis brothers -- is that he brooks no compromise. Listening to Taylor, the audience must agree to enter into his sound world. Listeners must lose themselves in his singular perception and consecrate the sort of attention to it that many people feel is only appropriate for a thorough examination of their stock portfolio. These folks want entertainment value and simple, jocular melodies and don't want to accept mere improvised music that way. Why, of course, seriousness must be reserved for Beethoven, Brahms, Stravinsky or other designated official art is a subject for sociological examination, not a musical one. Even for a so-called jazz musician, Taylor's often measureless tales are difficult, with their closest parallel the late music of John Coltrane, who incidentally once recorded with the pianist. Again, people with little knowledge of his work, imagine that his conception is more forbidding than it is. Audiences now know what to expect and sometimes at a concert, a non-believer will be converted right on the spot. Like Coltrane, Derek Bailey, Lester Young or other instrumental prototypes, Taylor's style is instantaneously recognizable as soon as he plays a few notes. Most of his sounds slide from medium to accelerated tempo, with repeated patterns, distinctive splashes of arpeggios and knife sharp torque part of the equation. Patterns include particular shadings of notes, reoccurring treble soundings, low, low left-handed asides and vigorous, full forearm smashed note clusters. Trying to fully analyze his style, though, is like enumeration the paint samples in a Jackson Pollock creation: self-defeating. Instead most allow themselves to be swept along like the undertow in an ocean. With his endless energy and constant flow of ideas, what is produced is exclusively Cecil Taylor music. That's why over the years in jazz there have been many little Teddy Wilsons and little Oscar Petersons and little Bud Powells and little Bill Evans, but never a pretender to the Taylor throne. Like Duke Ellington, another early influence, the pianist is beyond category. Those who put younger keyboard explorers like Marilyn Crispell or Matthew Shipp into a supposed Taylor school have obviously never listened carefully to any of the pianists. Surprisingly, considering the strength that was exhibited in the longest improvisation here, the second is quieter, more restrained and filled with lyrical repeated patterns. Aurally Taylor appears to be barely touching the keys, while accelerated arpeggios are often succeeded by unexpected glissandos. The three final tracks are merely decorations, as amusing as they are short. Again, what more can be said about THE WILLISAU CONCERT except that it's another exceptional Taylor performance and proof that his talents are as potent as ever in the 21st century and his eighth decade of life.
Ken Waxman, April 2002, Jazzweekly

credits

released January 1, 2002

Cecil Taylor: Piano


Recorded live by Martin Pearson on September 3, 2000, at the Jazzfestival Willisau by Schweizer Radio DRS. Cover Art: Niklaus Troxler, DRS-recording producer: Peter Bürli, Liner Notes: Meinrad Buholzer, Foto: Fancesca Pfeffer. Produced, published and copyright by Intakt Records. Executive Production: Patrik Landolt

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