One look at this recording and anyone familiar with the work of Cecil Taylor will know that it isn't for the faint of heart or spirit. An unbroken, hurricane of an album that extends for more than 71 minutes, Live in Vienna begins with a multi-voice poetry performance that descends into glossolalia and clucks, reminding the listener of the heyday of the Four Horsemen. Perhaps it isn't a coincidence that while the rest of the album remains firmly perched on the edge of the avant-garde, like the Four Horsemen it also seems to come from a previous time when the outrageous, experimental, and cerebral were more likely to be found together. Taylor's music draws heavily on the zeitgeist of post-beat poets like the Horsemen and Anne Waldman, who deconstruct their art into waves of music, while still retaining the spirit of the message they intend to convey. True also for Taylor, whose poetry is but a gentle introduction to the almost abusively percussive style of piano playing and furious cyclones of sound that follow.
However, Taylor's aggressiveness and speed belie the incredible intricacy and precision of his compositions. Indeed, listeners of this performance might find themselves wishing to parse it out into a hundred or more sections (though doing so would be impossible) because the myriad themes throughout the piece explode like bubbles on a pot of boiling water, lingering just long enough for you to know that they were there before disappearing forever into the air. Listening to this recording (and most certainly attending the performance that gave birth to it) might best be viewed as a ritual of endurance and cerebral submission. This is not meant as criticism, but the listener who fails to completely surrender to the music on Live in Vienna will most certainly be beaten bloody by the force of Cecil Taylor's work.