Friday, December 5, 2014

Cecil Taylor - The Poetry of Sound

Cecil Taylor illustration by Naiel Ibarrola
I've always been fascinated by the idea of how Body and one's physique can play a major role in creating art. The movement of Jackson Pollack's body, his sway, and an almost choreographed movement over canvas had a direct impact on the finished work. In John Cassavetes films, too, there is always a great deal of physical tension: running, escaping, fighting, strolling and colliding. In these films, being scarred by any extreme emotion, such as love, is manifested in being hurt, falling down and standing up again. I find the same qualities in the music of Cecil Taylor that to me is the perfect marriage of painting and cinema, of a two-dimensional representation of an actual idea sent into a three-dimensional space. Once even I screened Marcel L'Herbier's L'Inhumaine while playing Taylor's music on the images. The result was stunning. Taylor is like an iris shot in a silent film, starting from one single note and from there opening in all directions. The result is something like a dome of sound.

This 1986 audio file that I've shared here features Cecil Taylor in conversation with Marian McPartland on her famous jazz piano show, where Taylor explains some of the ideas behind his music. Two pianists are sitting side by side in the studio, having conversations about a wide range of subjects and playing some wonderful music.

Here, McPartland, who has interviewed some of the greatest jazz pianists of the 20th century, is slightly less comfortable than usual (this "usual" always resembled an English lady serving the afternoon tea.) Her hosting skills – always warm, polite and supportive – are vaguely lost in search of proper words for describing Taylor’s music.

When she asks “who are you?”, the “controversial” yet “respected” Taylor simply replies: “I'm still trying to find out.” Then he continues talking about how he is still learning more about “the poetry of sound,” hoping that such investigation will help him “to become a better a human being”.

One of the first pieces Taylor plays is Pleasure, written for alto saxophone player Jimmy Lyons. In response to that, McPartland, awkwardly, compliments Taylor, or rather tries to find the right words for describing what she has heard, but before she concludes such attempt in good results, Taylor has already tackled on Mountain’s Eyes.

Then McPartland asks the question many Taylor listeners would have liked to try: “Is this total improvisation or there are some ideas to start with?,” but then she immediately changes the direction by asking how Taylor practices to get these various effects.

“Practice is everything,” says Taylor, “it is the preparation which leads to transcendence. It is a work that one has to learn enjoy doing. Artists are workers.”

When asked about Taylor's influences, names shed like a waterfall: “Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker.” Then he humbly adds that when he "grows up" he wants to be like Duke, Monk or Billie.

Later on, they create what Taylor calls a “joint musical universe” in playing a duet. Taylor plays four or five random notes and McPartland picks them up and builds a piece upon.

McPartland brings up the subject of studio work and asks about recording Taht, a tune from Winged Serpent LP, recorded in Italy in 1984. His explanation of the process is something like this: “you find the first note you like, then you find the second one. Then you build a linear passage on that. And on top of that you make the vertical structure.”

Taylor also mentions a “public appearance” with musicians as their warming up for a studio recording, where they work on the material to see how it can grow. “When you play you no longer think of the specifics of technique,” says Taylor, “you've already digested the material and now you are creating something based on that material.”

A building that probably Taylor likes. Designed by FĂ©lix Candela

After talking about Duke Ellington's organization of the sound, Taylor compares composing and playing a piece to constructing a building which also echoes his passion for architecture: “The enclosing of a particular spatial-time element in music is perhaps similar to an architect enclosing us in space -- walking, living, breathing.”

Then they play one last duet. The programme lasts 52 minutes. Listen to it for yourself:

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