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In concert: Cecil Taylor at La Maison Francaise

By John Murph

cecil taylorCecil Taylor showcased a motherlode of techniques Wednesday at the French Embassy. (All photos by Mark Gail/TWP)

"Chaotic" is a poor word choice to sum up Cecil Taylor's Wednesday night solo piano concert at the French Embassy. Perhaps "choreographed cacophony" makes for a more apt description for the 81-year-old avant-garde jazz pioneer who places high premiums on concussive aggression and atonality, because of his superlative control and idiosyncratic sense of musical narrative.

Oftentimes, notes seemingly danced off the ivory keys, either in manic fusillade or pointillist poise. Taylor's restive performances initially sounded purely improvised. Nevertheless as the four etudes unraveled, an elaborate sense of composition set in.

cecil taylor

He unloaded a motherlode of techniques into his prismatic pieces, showing great mastery at sonic dynamics, spatial awareness, unerring timing and rhythmic agility. If he seemed allergic to discernible melody and feet-friendly grooves, strong concoctions of tonal clusters; short repetitive, antiphonal cadences; and skittering phrases were his chosen elixir.

Instead of relying upon standard song structures, Taylor constructed sonic collages as if was snatching snippets of various other compositions, ranging from ragtime and bebop to boogie-woogie and European classical music, then stitching them thematically, cubist style. Oddly, the compositions faintly recalled maverick hip-hop producer, Madlib's disorienting, sample-based Beat Konducta discs.

While a mostly mordant-appearing Taylor barely acknowledged the audience, he did address it with a jabberwocky-like poem that was as provocative as fascinating as his music. Alternating between gibberish and bewildering prose that touched upon motion, metaphysics and spirituality, his spoken-word performance was the stuff that fuels snarky, high art-themed movies such as Jonathan Parker's 2009 "Untitled."

cecil taylor

cecil taylor

By John Murph  | November 11, 2010; 12:10 PM ET
Categories:  In concert  | Tags:  Cecil Taylor  
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Comments

Thanks for this review. I was there and totally enjoyed his performance. At 81, he is still full of music, energy, and passion. A wonderful concert.

Posted by: omark | November 11, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

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