Having suffered the passing of longtime musical partner Jimmy Lyons just a year prior, pianist Cecil Taylor enlisted alto saxophonist and flute player Carlos Ward as a replacement for a series of European dates in 1987. Filling out the group were percussionist Thurman Barker and violinist Leroy Jenkins (both veterans of Chicago's trailblazing AACM free jazz collective), as well as bassist William Parker. The new group members proved to be up to Taylor's capricious and galvanizing ways on this Bologna concert recording, not only providing sympathetic support for the pianist's expansive explorations, but also creating uniquely improvised statements of their own. They maintain a high standard throughout the 90-minute concert (the CD version has been edited down for time limitations), shifting from frenetic, full-ensemble runs to slow, primordial stretches of music-making. Barker particularly stands out, adding a multitude of textures and colors on marimba and a variety of other percussion instruments, while Jenkins also impresses with violin work that matches Taylor's own protean playing. For his part, Ward might not be up to the incisive work Lyons produced during his 20-year tenure with Taylor, but he turns in enough engaging statements to blend in nicely with the others. Although this is a great Taylor release, certainly essential for fans, Live in Bologna might not be the best disc for newcomers. Curious listeners should start with either of Taylor's mid-'60s Blue Note discs (Unit Structures and Conquistador), or check out later titles like 1986's live solo piano recording For Olim and his A&M trio date In Floresence.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Cook