Always a Pleasure

Cecil Taylor

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Always a Pleasure Review

by Thom Jurek

Recorded in 1993 during the Free Music Workshop in Berlin, this date features Cecil Taylor playing in a septet setting with a group of musicians who both point back toward some of the Cecil Taylor units of old and look ahead at the possibilities for a future ensemble employing numerous instruments, not only for color and variance, but also as force creators in Taylor's wave field. Old Taylor stalwarts like bassist Sirone and drummer Rashid Baker are tossed into a mix that includes tenor titan Charles Gayle, cellist Tristan Honsiger, and soprano saxophonist Harri Sjöström, as well as French trumpet master Longineu Parsons. The effect is an ensemble that plays so intrinsically "together" that it feels like the band Taylor has been trying to assemble since the death of his altoist, Jimmy Lyons. During that time, the Taylor band had Lyons and trumpeter Raphe Malik, as well as a pair of bassists that included Alan Silva and Sirone or William Parker. The figures Taylor tots out are wide open, spare but active, with heavy staccato moves in the bass register of the piano. Sirone is the first to answer and pulls in Baker, who flanks the pianist. Wonderfully articulated gestures and elongated chords are companions to the percussive edge Taylor puts forth, creating an interval call-and-response motion that signals the entrance of the two saxophonists and Parsons. Cellist Honsiger tucks his strings under the mix, creating a wider color base for the rhythm section by being its sonic foundation. As Taylor very gradually increases the tempo and complexity of the improvisation, you can feel (by his trills and tonal clusters of 32nd notes) his surprise that they are already there, waiting for him to broaden his strokes and take them on, one by one, in a pulsating cacophony of aural images that are as full of delight as they are of overwhelming passion. And this is how it plays out, movement to movement. Of particular note is how well the two saxophonists play together and complement each other. While it's true that Gayle is a virtual force of nature in his aggressive take-no-prisoners approach, Sjöström balances the scale by playing through and around him -- because he could never play over him -- and gives Taylor some flight of fancy he can hear, singing itself to the tuneful nature that this particular maelstrom is. And it is tuneful. This is easily the best large-unit Taylor record of the '90s. Fans and curiosity seekers would be well-advised to seek it out and prepare themselves to be blown away by the depth and dimension Taylor's musical soul reveals when it is challenged and upheld by such a phenomenal group of talent.

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