One Too Many Salty Swift and Not Goodbye
02. Side B 22:20
03. Side C 22:00
04. Side D 22:35
05. Side E 20:30
06. Side F 22:50
102. Ramsey Ameen / Sirone Duet 11:24
103. Ronald Shannon Jackson Solo 5:39
104. Cecil Taylor Unit Untitled 24:13
105. Cecil Taylor Unit Untitled 27:26
201. Cecil Taylor Unit Untitled 10:42
202. Cecil Taylor Unit Untitled 12:06
203. Cecil Taylor Unit Untitled 6:13
204. Cecil Taylor Unit Untitled 18:04
205. Cecil Taylor Unit Untitled 19:07
206. Cecil Taylor Unit Untitled 9:20
Recorded by Süddeutscher Rundfunk live at Liederhalle/Mozartsaal Stuttgart Germany on June 14 1978.
Alto Saxophone – Jimmy Lyons
Double Bass – Sirone
Drums – Ronald Shannon Jackson
Piano – Cecil Taylor
Trumpet – Raphé Malik
Violin – Ramsey Ameen
Eleven days after the recording of Live in the Black Forest, the Cecil Taylor Unit made its most expansive and passionate (and final) statement. On June 14, they performed at the Liederhalle/Mozartsaal in Stuttgart, Germany, an event which was recorded for the mammoth One Too Many Salty Swift and Not Goodbye. It was the final night of a six-week tour, and not all venues and not all presenters were as respectful of the musicians as they should have been. On this night, there was a well-tuned grand piano in the hall that was covered and locked up backstage; the people in charge said it was reserved for classical pianists, and provided Taylor with a less ideal instrument. Similar disrespect was afforded Ramsey Ameen, with the result that he played the show in his undershirt as a form of silent protest. Still, it’s an astonishing musical event, running nearly two and a half hours in total and originally broken up into three vinyl LPs, later reorganized into two 70-plus minute CDs.
Taylor is not even present onstage for the first twenty minutes of music. He allows the other members of the band to begin without him, in a series of duos and solos, steadily building tension and energy so that when he does finally sit at the keyboard, the resulting explosion will be that much greater. First up are Raphé Malik and Jimmy Lyons, offering a four-minute passage of rippling interplay more conventionally melodic than what they’d play as part of the full Unit, yet still exciting; they sound like yelping puppies, cavorting around the stage. Ameen and Sirone follow them, the violinist building from short, tentative tugs at his strings with the bow to longer, more haunted-house phrases. The bassist, meanwhile, plays with a bow as well, at first, though eventually he moves back to plucking the strings by the end of this over 11-minute passage. The last member of the group to make an individual statement is Jackson, whose solo is as crushing and explosive as anything he’d do eight years later with the jazz-metal improvising quartet Last Exit.
Once Taylor strikes the keys, the music becomes overwhelming. I mean that; One Too Many Salty Swift and Not Goodbye is almost too much to take. The performance is continuous; though the untitled piece, simply labeled “Cecil Taylor Unit” is divided into five sections (two on the first disc, following the duets and drum solo, and three on the second), the back cover makes it plain:
“The track points are provided for the listener’s convenience and do not indicate divisions of the work.”
If you can manage to stagger away to a safe distance and gain some perspective, it becomes apparent that Taylor’s methodology at this concert was the same as in the studio or on Live in the Black Forest. The group fractures into subsets again and again—trumpet/violin, violin/piano, a piano trio, piano trio plus Lyons, even an extended solo piano section to launch the concert’s final half hour. But the ultimate impression is of standing in the path of an avalanche. Every player involved is hitting so hard, emitting so much raw energy, that to listen to the entire performance in one sitting is the kind of thing that should earn a person a trophy or a plaque. One Too Many is a fitting capper to this band’s short life, because when it finally ends, you can be forgiven for believing you’ve heard all the music your brain will ever be able to store, by Cecil Taylor or anyone else, for the rest of your life.
Should you want more, though, there’s one more document of this band out there, and to my mind it’s maybe the most important one of all. On June 10, seven days after Live in the Black Forest and four days before One Too Many, the group performed in the Grosser Sendesaal (main hall) of the Funkhaus in Köln. This performance (an hour of it, at any rate) must have been recorded for German radio, because a pristine tape has been circulating in bootleg form for decades. Naturally, it’s readily available on the Internet.
The bootleg recording isn’t ideal. The sound quality is pristine, mind you—every instrument is clear and isolated in the mix, allowing as careful an analysis of each member’s contribution as is possible with the studio recordings. But the music cuts off after an hour, and it’s obvious from what was going on when it ends that there was much more heard that night. Also, the version I have splits the second of the two pieces performed (“Third Part of One” and “Third Worlds Making”) into two chunks, with nearly 10 seconds of silence in the middle. But once you get past those two flaws, the Funkhaus performance is genuinely revelatory, for one huge reason: Cecil Taylor plays the blues.
Not for the whole hour, of course. For the majority of the time, the ensemble conducts themselves as they do on each of their other recordings, thundering along together or splitting into factions. But about ten minutes into “Third Part of One,” right in the middle of a powerful burst of Jimmy Garrison-esque strumming from Sirone, Ronald Shannon Jackson begins to smash the hi-hat in a forceful, swinging pattern, and all of a sudden Taylor begins comping like he hasn’t (on record, anyway) since about 1960! Lyons and Malik come in, blowing the blues, and Ameen plucks his strings like a high-pitched guitar, as Sirone walks the whole thing forward and the drums clatter out an even more emphatic beat, one almost recalling Art Blakey. The whole band continues like this for an astonishingly long time, Taylor finally returning to his usual cascades of notes somewhere around the 14-minute mark. But Lyons continues to solo in a lyrical, even somewhat romantic manner, and Sirone and Jackson keep the groove going, until nearly 15 minutes into the piece. And when the drummer does abandon swing, it’s only so that he can take a jackhammering solo of his own. Of all the things this sextet did on record and in concert, this patch of (almost) straight-up hard bop may be the most shocking, and in some ways it puts everything else into an entirely different light.
The 1978 Cecil Taylor Unit was about connecting the dots—about joining blues and swing to modern classical and free jazz, about making it all sing as one. Where the studio albums could be bombastic and crisp at the same time, the live albums had a stark beauty born of subdividing the ensemble into its component parts, the better to reveal the power of the whole. This band’s short lifespan kept its music from stagnating; they never had time to develop rote bits of business, or clichés to endlessly re-work. They burned like a white-hot flame, and then they dissipated. Ameen remained with Taylor through 1979; Lyons through his death in 1986. The others went on to long, productive careers—Malik and Sirone are dead now, but Jackson’s still out there, hitting as hard as ever. And of course, Taylor continued to perform, taking listeners on epic journeys every time he sat down at the piano. I’ve seen him perform four times with ensembles of varying sizes, and own dozens of his albums. But for me, this band might be his ultimate achievement.