Cecil Taylor - piano; Bill Barron - tenor sax; Jimmy Lyons - alto sax; Henry Grimes - bass; Andrew Cyrille - drums
Renegade pianist Cecil Taylor took the occasion of the 1965 Newport Jazz Festival (his second time at George Wein's annual clambake in Rhode Island, having previously performed at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival) to premiere material from his groundbreaking Unit Structure album on the Blue Note label. Accompanied by saxophonists Bill Barron and Jimmy Lyons, bassist Henry Grimes, and drummer Andrew Cyrille, the avant garde icon unleashed his brand of slashing, high-energy atonalism, and torrents of improvisational ferocity on the unsuspecting festival crowd.
They open their Friday afternoon set (as part of a program entitled "The New Thing in Jazz: A Study of the Avant Garde," which was MC'd by renowned jazz critic Leonard Feather) with "Steps," a whirlwind of spiky keyboard work and dense clusters that sustains over the course of 17-plus minutes. Tenor saxophonist Barron and altoist Lyons both stretch heroically on this frantic vehicle while Taylor's touch on the keys ranges from rhapsodic to turbulent throughout. Next up is "Unit Structures," a playful dance between piano and horns that is fueled by the kinetic undercurrent of Grimes' bass and Cyrille's drums. They close out the provocative Newport set with a volatile trio number "Tales (8 Whisps)," which showcases Cyrille's dynamic and highly interactive approach to the kit. This Newport performance came 10 years after his groundbreaking debut recording, Jazz Advance, which only hinted at the heady free jazz direction he would pursue with greater conviction on his 1996 landmarks Unit Structures and Conquistador!
Born on Long Island on March 25, 1925, Taylor began studying piano at age six and later attended the New York College of Music and the New England Conservatory. Citing Duke Ellington and Dave Brubeck as early influences, Taylor went on to develop his own original language on the piano that derived from his remarkable technique and seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy (at quality that is still very much in evidence today at age 85). He worked with alto saxophonist and bandleader Johnny Hodges before forming his own quartet in the mid 1950s with Steve Lacy on soprano, Buell Neidlinger on bass, and Dennis Charles on drums. By 1962, Taylor's group included his longtime associate Jimmy Lyons on alto and drummer Sunny Murray and by his pivotal year of 1966, he was working with a new rhythm tandem of bassist Henry Grimes and drummer Andrew Cyrille, sometimes performing with a second bassist, Alan Silva. The '70s saw important duets with the likes of fellow pianist Mary Lou Williams and drummer Max Roach.
By the '80s, he began incorporating his eccentric poetry into his performances, and by the '90s he was discovered by a new audience of young open-minded jazz fans who gravitated toward the elder pianist's indefatigable energy and unpredictable, volcanic style in concert. A winner of the MacArthur Fellowship (also known as a "genius grant") in 1991, Taylor has continued performing and recording at a prodigious clip in duet and trio settings with a Who's Who of European free improvisers, including Tony Oxley, Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, Han Bennink, Tristan Honsinger, Louis Moholo, Paul Lovens, and American expatriate Bill Dixon. His 1999 Verve recording with drummer Elvin Jones and tenor saxophonist Dewey Redman (Momentum Space) was a critical triumph. A documentary of Taylor (All the Notes by director Chris Felver) was released on DVD in 2006. His most recent recordings have been on the German FMP and Enja labels. (Milkowski)