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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.»