Thursday, February 24, 2005
Cecil Taylor: The Willisau Concert.
The Black History Month music celebration continues at HurdAudio with ears wide open for the vast sonic ideas of Cecil Taylor on The Willisau Concert from the year 2000.
I have a long standing obsession with epic solo piano compositions and at well over an hour of intense improvisation on an exquisite 97-key Bosendorfer piano Cecil Taylor delivers exactly the kind of prolonged focus that I crave. The microphones are well placed and capture the full range of reverberations and waves of sound pouring out of the instrument just beyond the flurry of notes being played.
This particular performance finds Cecil Taylor in great form. The opening movement (which proportionally dwarfs the other four movements combined) is a stunningly transparent display of thematic development over the full duration. The piece opens with a single note, a single gesture, then builds outward while referencing a consistent set of themes and interval structures. The degree of focused concentration involved in this atonal improvisation feat is astonishing. Especially from a performer/composer in an unaccompanied setting (who is evidently in peak form at age 72). Lurking within the splashes of sound I notice several alluring melodic fragments that fit and grow organically from the overall thematic material of this work. With the headphones on and eyes closed the energy of this first movement draws me in and holds my attention from start to finish. This is free improvisation guided by something profound. The rich closing harmonies are especially satisfying.
The second movement picks up some of the energy of the first movement as many of the same gestures return in a temporally slower manner. In this recapitulation Taylor seems to dwell longer on specific sounds and harmonic territories. This movement is less about development and more about lingering echoes of material from the previous movement. It marks a transition from the intensity of the prolonged material into the three short encores that follow.
The encores are light sketches using Taylor's extensive sonic vocabulary. They are two-minute explorations of the instrument's range. They are also an effective coda and dessert course to the rich substance of the first two movements.
This really is a wonderful piano with the extended bass notes reaching all the way down to a low C below "normal" piano range with what must be coils of piano wire thick enough to hold suspension bridges. The quality of the sound and craftsmanship of this instrument seems to inspire Cecil Taylor to really explore the full range of this instrument both in register and dynamics. This must have been an amazing experience for the audience present for this fortuitous meeting of Taylor and Bosendorfer.