The Complete Recording of the ‘Legendary Live Return Concert’ of The Cecil Taylor Unit from NYC 1973 Unleashes Surreal Intensity (ALBUM REVIEW)

The riveting, beyond intense epic first piece, “Autumn/Parade,” of The Complete, Legendary, Live Return Concert of The Cecil Taylor Unit runs for a full 88-minutes, in this digital release.  That alone says something special about this project, a long-thought lost recording, that adds yet another fascinating chapter to the legacy of trail-blazing free music icon, pianist Cecil Taylor. 

Recorded at The Town Hall in NYC in November of 1973, it marked the return of Taylor to live performance after a self-imposed hiatus of five years (he was a visiting professor at Antioch College and University of Wisconsin-Madison) with only one solo recording in the interim. Joining Taylor in The Unit are Jimmy Lyons (alto saxophone), Andrew Cyrille (percussion), and Serone (bass) aka Norris Jones. Accompanying the digital release is a 24-page booklet featuring an essay by Alan Goodman. This release marks a revival for Oblivion as the label’s last announced release was in 1975. 

Taylor

To say this was a highly anticipated event is an understatement. but it came about quietly. Producer Fred Siebert, then a Columbia student and aspiring record producer, who worked at their renowned WKCR radio station were approached by a mysterious David Laura who proposed bringing the Cecil Taylor Unit to The Town Hall and having Seibert record it.  At an age when he really didn’t know better, the ambitious Seibert delivered a rather monumental event.  It reunited Taylor with his long-time collaborators who had recorded as The Cecil Taylor Unit in the late ‘60s as well as new member Sirone. Seibert recorded the whole concert, and, after mixing it with help from legendary engineer Tony May, a recording of the band’s second set, Spring of Two Blue-J’s was issued in 1974. 

Spring of Two Blue-J’s was critically acclaimed. Village Voice journalist Gary Giddins named the album “Record of the Year”, and years later commented that it “announced Taylor’s permanent reestablishment in the music world, an end to his marginalization, and the evidence of a maturity.” It was Giddins’ record of the year. But Blue J-s only represents a third of the concert that occurred that evening. Due to the limitations of the LP format, and the impact that would make on the realization of the group’s vision, the decision was made to not release the first 88-minute continuous set, which this release will mark as the indelible one. 

Taylor and his bandmates unleash their pent-up energy on the highly intrigued and ultimately mind-blown audience for almost ninety minutes. These folks endured the weather equivalent of a ferocious hurricane or a dam breaking. One can only imagine them trying to describe what they had just witnessed – a musical event unlike anything they had likely heard.  Its unbounded energy, unreal spontaneity, sheer stamina, and its fervent commitment to never letting up speaks to everything and more about Taylor’s legendary status as intense, unfettered by convention, and all-be-damned mission of embracing freedom.

Taylor launches the piece with a percussive, an even infectious melody that his bandmates pick up and later demolish in the continuous hour and half.  Lyons, a compatriot for over a decade, weaves in and out, squawking and squeaking like a young pet at play, but his lines stay rooted in his first calling, bebop. While Cyrille and Serone beat continuously, Taylor adjusts his performance to lay back somewhat during Lyons’s soloing. The interplay is remarkable for the first 70 minutes or so until Taylor just completely goes off with clusters of notes and crashing chords until The Unit rejoins for some brief-call and response around 79 minutes, Lyons flying high with staccato chirps to Taylor’s percussive vamping as they wrap up the exhilarating epic piece, building the intensity but bringing it to a decrescendo-like, steady ending that draws a roaring audience response.

The remainder is the two-part “Spring of Two Blue-J’s,” a sixteen-minute solo piano piece and a 22-minute quartet version, representing a third of the concert. Many listeners will be exhausted (in a good way) after trying to digest the opening epic, but more thrilling moments lie ahead in these pieces as well.  You owe yourself a listen to this entire performance. It will assuredly be unforgettable.

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