Thursday, April 12, 2018

Cecil Taylor - 1966 - Unit Structures

Cecil Taylor 
Unit Structures

01. Steps
02. Enter Evening (Soft Line Structure)
03. Unit Structure / As Of A Now / Section
04. Tales (8 Whisps)

Alto Saxophone – Jimmy Lyons
Alto Saxophone, Oboe, Bass Clarinet – Ken McIntyre
Bass – Alan Silva, Henry Grimes
Drums – Andrew Cyrille
Piano – Cecil Taylor
Trumpet – Eddie Gale Stevens Jr.

Recorded on May 19, 1966. Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

More than three years after his last recording, Taylor formed a septet with trumpeter Eddie Gale Stevens, saxophonists Jimmy Lyons and Ken McIntyre, bassists Henry Grimes and Alan Silva and drummer Andrew Cyrille for the manic delirium of Unit Structures (1966). Free jazz had loosened the uniformity of pulse thereby altering the flow of information whilst longer structures had disintegrated into independent units. So, the boundaries of traditional jazz, and hence thematic development, collapsed and it was here that Taylor built his principles of organisation, based on the manipulation and interplay of pitch and dynamics. Composition centred on a structure of contrasting blocks - Anacrusis, Plain and Area. The Anacrusis began each piece by setting the mood but not introducing thematic material as the goal was an emotional centrepiece that all improvisation and elaboration was tied to. Plain was a permuted series of simple themes. With little extension, the focus became slight variations in rhythm and phrasing between the players as they moved from theme to theme, punctuating each with a moment's silence. Area was, in a sense, the solo region for the horns yet the bassists, drummer and Taylor remained throughout, creating a musical dialogue as they responded to the solo. Pieces returned to Plain for collective re-evaluation, giving way to new Areas, and solos. Taylor was the catalyst for the entirety, feeding soloists material across the entire range and lexicon of his piano. Single lines, intervallic dyads, and clusters, as well as silence intermixed in his phrasing, accentuating and juxtaposing the statements of the group and soloist. Taylor's pitch-class operations ranged from transposition to modular multiplication, utilising the polyphony of the piano to contrast various scales and patterns in a specific series of permutations. His works embodied the complexity and the beauty of a mathematical proof.

The opening composition, Steps set the group atop an active volcano, the heat and ash pervading into the mass of energy and themes. The dialogue between brass, rhythm and piano prevented linear pattern and relationship recognition. The listener was forced to be an active participant, tying the brass solos and group improvisations to the opening statement.
Pulsating fear infected the follow-up, Enter, Evening. Atonal phrases rained throughout, accentuating the subtlety and chaos of the slow pulse and harmonic mayhem. Taylor's approach was cold and logical yet the results were distinctly passionate and had the structural integrity of hot wax. The contrasting approaches of Lyons and McIntyre developed a yearning for reconciliation between conventional acrobatics and animalistic shrieks, squeals and growls.
An eighteen minute monolith, Unit Structure opened with a mechanistic microcosm, a world of maniacal horology and determinism wrought large. Taylor introduced the five note scale, providing the thematic material. Lyons and McIntyre instantly took the line, with slight syncopation of the phrase. The other instruments joined, integrating themselves into the developing structure. The saxophones introduced a new theme in disunity, the silences filled by Cyrille. Repeating the process accentuated both the group improvisation and thematic development as the septet searched for essence and meaning. Brass solos provided an element of individual interpretation as well as expanding the dynamic range and phrase vocabulary. Each return to the group improvisation was a further synthesis, integrating the new statements within their framework. A Taylor composition was closer to a philosophical dialectic than a jazz session.
Removing Stevens, Lyons and McIntyre, Tales ended the album with streams of abrasive isolation and horrifying silence. The simplicity of instrumental timbre highlighted the complexity of Taylor's pitch operations as he juxtaposed elaborated diatonic and octatonic material against chromatic phrases.