Cecil Taylor
Unit Structures


4.5
superb

Review

by Tristan Jones EMERITUS
April 6th, 2018 | 25 replies


Release Date: 1966 | Tracklist

Review Summary: ultimate silent arena senses ride naked in souls

When offering a retrospective of someone so controversial in their mystique as Cecil Taylor, I don’t know to whom I speak. Newcomers, occasional dabblers, and long-time disciples alike could bear witness, but every gesture towards Taylor feels like an introduction. The famous liner notes for Unit Structures were idealistic in their poetry, and seemed to ramble. By contrast, Taylor’s creations were erudite, all the more destructive - and constructive; will explain - as the pianist never fell prey to the clout of his own passion. You could listen to Ornette Coleman and, despite the psychological complexity of his work, still come to know him, as his emotions often flared up and branded his music in flashes. Taylor is tougher to peg.

It’s not for lack of personality: he was a bit notorious for his outspokenness within his purview. He offered a cutting critique of composer John Cage for his lack of consideration for jazz, while propping up his own learnedness of European music: “I’ve spent years in school learning about European music and its traditions, but these cats don’t know a thing about Harlem except that it’s there.” Blunt, certainly, but elsewhere he would write more ambiguously and almost with interdisciplinary artistry, musical and scientific. When introducing you to Cecil Taylor, I’m doing double, triple, and quadruple takes, as his persona seems limitless: at times, earnest and methodical, at other times, radical and even sardonic. But, it would be a tragic mistake to call him, and this particular album, random.

Those newly acquainted with Unit Structures may be tempted to call it aimless, while being a bit more forgiving to the masterworks of Taylor’s peers, who played with more (perceivable!) emotion and chutzpah (Bill Dixon, Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman). Taylor had conflicting modes, presenting split personalities, but with complete control over their respective behaviours. The music itself is often described as atonal, but not without purpose. Taylor was a self-described constructivist: “The emphasis in each piece is on building a whole, totally integrated structure.” You can hear it in the paired saxophones (altoists Ken McIntyre and Jimmy Lyons) , who seem intrinsically bound as they alter and syncopate the titular “Unit Structure”. Drummer Andrew Cyrille was a new recruit, better serving as a backdrop for the other players’ controlled insanity. Taylor’s blueprint consists of: anacrusis, plain, and area. Basically, songs begin with a moody precedent, then develop themes, then spotlight soloists, and some variation from then on. There is method to the madness.

The underlying method is, and probably always was, advancing what jazz was capable of, drawing from European styles in the process and developing an identity both individually highlighted and collectively composed. He is sometimes mentioned in the same breath as Béla Bartók, while he personally cites Duke Ellington as inspiration (an American, but one who also drew from European composers). An example would be Taylor’s use of ‘clusters’, differing from traditional chords in their rapid, percussive nature. Prior to the onset of free jazz, relatively conventional forms of jazz were seen treated as mainstream entertainment; many prominent NY clubs stopped welcoming Taylor, as his sound was so European and steeped in avant-garde, despite him often insisting that his sound was a natural progression of black artists in the States.

I’ll admit, I’m not sure how to end this thing. I have a strong aversion to “goodbyes”, especially final ones. There’s a Cecil quote that seems applicable, though: “if you take the creation of music and the creation of your own life values as your overall goal, then living becomes a musical process.” Cecil Taylor was adamant in this development, and his tenacity - his "rhythm-sound energy” - permeates all corners of his music.

March 25, 1929 - April 5, 2018



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user ratings (72)
4
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
JohnnyOnTheSpot
Emeritus
April 6th 2018


6913 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

it's something. hope it suffices

rip



Papa Universe
April 6th 2018


22505 Comments


I'd POS, but I can't. R.I.P.

Relinquished
April 6th 2018


44979 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

RIP hard

butcherboy
April 6th 2018


9464 Comments


lovely stuff, Tristan..

Frippertronics
Staff Reviewer
April 7th 2018


19407 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

wonderful

Winesburgohio
Staff Reviewer
April 7th 2018


2955 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

ahh fucking R.I.P. great review beloved, i think i still find his music more cold than his contemporaries but i'll give this another shot

Digging: Pogrom - Multicultural Degeneration

Frippertronics
Staff Reviewer
April 7th 2018


19407 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

If you find this cold, I highly recommend Jazz Advance, which is a lot more conventional.

brainmelter
April 7th 2018


7084 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

yes

Digging: Akron/Family - Akron/Family

JohnnyOnTheSpot
Emeritus
April 7th 2018


6913 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

or Dark to Themselves

ianblxdsoe
April 7th 2018


1916 Comments


lovely and fitting review for an absolute legend RIP

RadicalEd
April 7th 2018


9546 Comments


Class Review. Gotta Check.

Zig
April 7th 2018


2136 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

One of the best jazz albums with piano as main focus.

RIP.

Digging: Koenji Hyakkei - Dhorimviskha

DadKungFu
April 7th 2018


818 Comments


Thought it was cool as hell this review was being featured then I saw the news. RIP

AnimalsAsSummit
April 7th 2018


4948 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

hell yeah man nice review!

Digging: Aaron-Carl - Detrevolution

JohnnyOnTheSpot
Emeritus
April 7th 2018


6913 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

thx babes

SandwichBubble
April 7th 2018


11990 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Can't believe I didn't see this posted yesterday! good review.

JohnnyOnTheSpot
Emeritus
April 7th 2018


6913 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

it’s about half-review, half-in-memoriam

Gwyn.
April 8th 2018


17221 Comments


stay legend...

GhandhiLion
April 8th 2018


9261 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

wonderful review

Digging: Joe Volk and Naiare - Primitive Energetics

sonictheplumber
April 8th 2018


11051 Comments


nice, guess now that dudes croaked its as good a time as any to listen to it



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