Cecil Taylor / Cecil Taylor Quartet

Looking Ahead

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One of Cecil Taylor's earliest recordings, Looking Ahead! does just that while still keeping several toes in the tradition. It's an amazing document of a talent fairly straining at the reins, a meteor about to burst onto the jazz scene and render it forever changed. With Earl Griffith on vibes, Taylor uses an instrumentation he would return to occasionally much later on, one that lends an extra percussive layer to the session, emphasizing the new rhythmic attacks he was experimenting with. Griffith sounds as though he might have been a conceptual step or two behind the other three but, in the context of the time, this may have served to make the music a shade more palatable to contemporary tastes. But the seeds are clearly planted and one can hear direct hints of Taylor's music to come, all the way to 1962 at least (the Nefertiti trio with Sunny Murray). Pieces like "Luyah! The Glorious Step" and "Of What" are so fragmented (in a traditional sense) and so bristlingly alive that one can understand Whitney Baillett's observation of crowds at a Taylor concert fidgeting "as if the ground beneath had suddenly become unbearably hot." The contributions of bassist Buell Neidlinger and drummer Dennis Charles cannot be understated; they breathe with Taylor as one unit and appear to be utterly in sync with his ideas. When the pianist edges into his solo on "Excursion on a Wobbly Rail," it's as though he's meeting the tradition head on, shaking hands and then rocketing off into the future. Looking Ahead! is a vital recording from the nascence of one of the towering geniuses of modern music and belongs in any jazz fan's collection.

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