Andrew Cyrille, William Parker, Enrico Rava Pay Tribute To Cecil Taylor In ‘2 Blues for Cecil’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

You’ll notice that this trio of jazz elders is paying tribute to the pioneering pianist Cecil Taylor without a piano player. Yet, each of these legendary players spent separate time recording and performing with Taylor. Drummer Andrew Cyrille and bassist William Parker spent the longest “continuous” stretch of time in the Cecil Taylor Unit and related groups, but flugelhornist Enrico Rava played with Taylor in his later years, including some engagements that included Parker. Remarkably though, this is the first time this trio has recorded together. They did perform in tribute to Taylor, with Taylor present at the Whitney Museum in April 2016 as part of an exhibit/program under the heading “Open Plan: Cecil Taylor.” This album, 2 Blues For Cecil, was recorded in Paris in February 2021 following the trio’s concert on New Year’s Eve 2020 as part of the Sons d’hiver Festival in Paris.

Using the principles of space and the notion of “Sing”- not focusing directly on pitch, dynamics, or rhythm but fusing these dimensions, along with tone, texture, and spirit into an energy flow is the essence of this trio’s approach. It’s what they learned from Taylor. Within lies some awe-inspiring performances but some beautiful moments too. You can easily focus on the singular talents of these three in the opening “Improvisation No. 1,” exemplifying the use of space and shifting, driving rhythms as the trio maneuvers around Rava’s alternating beautiful and fiery toned themes. “Ballerina” follows, composed by Rava in 1991 for Quattre, and was also included on the quartet’s 1991 Eatncako. Inspired by the pirouette of a classical dancer, the interplay between Rava’s bouncing lines and especially Cyrille’s skittering kit work is fascinating as is the decrescendo at the end.

The tribute piece to Taylor comes in two improvised versions, “Blues for Cecil No. 1” and “Blues for Cecil No. 2.” Obviously, they both invoke the most ancient of forms and following Parker’s intro, Rava’s opening lines in the first version will remind of the blues-oriented trumpeter Miles Davis although there are segments where he delivers more angst too. This makes way for an invigorating dialogue between Parker and Cyrille before Rava rejoins, engaging in rapid fire call and response with his rhythm mates, spanning the full register of his horn with deep growls and high-pitched squeals. The second version is slightly shorter, again with deeply emotive Rava lines framed by the inventive patterns of Parker and Cyrille, the latter (excuse the overuse of the term) literally singing through the kit as few drummers can, especially finessing the snare and cymbals. Parker steps forth with two lively, lyrical turns, mid-piece and outro.

In between the two tribute pieces we have “Improvisation No. 2” and “Top, Bottom, and What’s in the Middle,” the latter composed by Cyrille specifically for this trio. The former is without drums, a stunning meditative, echoing piece that astutely uses space and elongated notes from Parker and Rava as if one is set in the quietest of forests, listening to the sounds of creatures stirring unseen. The Cyrille piece segues beautifully, retaining the slow tempo, with Rava opening, followed by brief solos from Parker on the bowed or plucked bass and the composer’s pattering beats in three different sequences. Rava coaxes otherworldly sounds from his horn are in the third sequence followed by rather haunting percussion effects from Cyrille, closing it out.

Cyrille also composed “Enrava Melody” with the flugelhornist in mind and is rendered is spirited fashion between the two as Parker sits out. “Overboard,” by Rava was originally composed as a duo piece with a pianist and was inspired by another forward-thinking trailblazer, Ornette Coleman. This one unfolds much like the sequenced Cyrille piece, except with both individual solos and interplay sequences with Rava soaring to great heights in some of his passages. “Machu Picchu,” from Parker as a composition is essentially a bass line in E. Rava’s lines and Cyrille’s response are improvised and energetic. Parker’s vision comes from the ancient Peruvian city built by the Incas. Each performance has a different flavor. Parker previously recorded “Machu Picchu” on his solo bass album Lifting The Sanctions in 1997. The closer, “My Funny Valentine,” the standard, may be the shortest recording of this oft-covered piece at just three minutes plus. Yet, as expected, Rava plays it gorgeously.

Some fans of avant-garde or free jazz even find Cecil Taylor’s music a bit inaccessible, let alone the mainstream crowd. Don’t let that be a deterrent here. Cyrille, Parker, and Rava deliver beautifully executed music that is enthralling throughout.

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