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Jazz Reviews : Cecil Taylor Says It All At Keyboard

October 13, 1987|ZAN STEWART

Cecil Taylor speaks an uncommon, curious musical language.

Making his first local appearance in many years Saturday at the Variety Arts Center, the 58-year-old pianist communicated with his fellow players and his audience by banging out dense clusters and jack-rabbit fast lines, using clenched fists, open palms, elbows and fleeting fingers to do the job. The results were both ponderous and stimulating.

Taylor and his Unit--Thurman Barker, marimba; Leroy Jenkins, violin; William Parker, bass; and Freddie Waits, drums--offered a spontaneous affair that could have been viewed as musical din or as an example of how five men, without employing obvious guidelines, could vary the density of their sonic output.

The 90-minute exposition began with such sounds as faint clave claps, pizzicato bass and violin pluckings and murmured chants, all delivered from a dark stage to a dark hall. Activity increased as the lights went up and soon the fivesome was in full force, all playing simultaneously.

A typical moment found Jenkins rapidly see-sawing between two notes and Barker hitting whizzing passages while Parker played scores of bass notes, Waits either kept time or added bashing accents and Taylor swept over the keyboard, issuing thick clusters rather than individual notes. Even with all five players at a boil, Taylor dominated and his long-standing ability to play ferociously for long periods of time remained impressive.

The performance, which received a standing ovation, was mostly at a medium loud-to-loud level, with welcome now-and-then shifts to a quiet volume. Occasional solo or trio passages offered brief respites to the intensity of the group barrage. When Taylor closed with a brief solo encore that exhibited a soft, warm quality, it made one miss that softness all the more.

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