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Cecil Taylor - Almeda

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Artist: Cecil Taylor

Album: Almeda

Label: FMP

Review date: Apr. 23, 2006

“… so the guy leads me over to the bar and says ‘Give this young man any kind of soda he wants.’ I was only 14, you remember and …”

Cecil Taylor pauses then, voice dropping to almost a whisper, “Then the vision came out, slowly, I don’t know why but her glove was up past her elbow, which was bent, and her knee was bent, just slightly …”

Hearing each word, and between the words, as Taylor describes seeing Billie Holiday in an early 1940s nightclub is as revelatory as riding the waves of his music. Taylor tells quasi-stories, jumping from place to place, through time and back again, and yet there’s an often tangible, if fleeting, unity to the narrative, very similar to the way any number of his pieces are constructed. That such a compositional and virtuosic force remains active after some 50 years of recording is comforting, and this newly released concert from 1996 speaks again, as if it were necessary, to the breadth of his achievements.

I have usually preferred Taylor’s solo efforts to those of the Unit, but Almeda is an entirely different animal. Similar to the recently released Owner of the Riverbank or the orchestral discs from 1988 in the now legendary FMP box set, this 76-minute piece focuses on timbral exploration, which is apparent from the first hushed moments. Groans, ululations, sharp exclamations, a faint drone and occasional shamanic drums fade in, as if arising from the earth. Small fragments of history gradually encroach – slides, squeaks and shrills reminiscent of what Taylor calls “that fictitious term ‘jazz.’”

Players include Tristan Honsinger on cello, Dominic Duval on double bass and Jackson Krall on drums, the latter two longtime Taylor associates that can anchor the multifarious proceedings above. As with Riverbank, pointillism jousts and rebounds, with Taylor spending much of the disc’s early portion inside the piano, thumping, strumming and plucking as he did to such stunning effect with Derek Bailey in 1988.

There are motives, recognizable pitch patterns that I can hear most prevalently around the 40-minute mark when Cecil plays more conventionally, but the texture is so fluid that any blow-by-blow description simply evades the non-linear point.

Essentially, Almeda is a huge circle, ending where it began as the sounds slowly submerge. This is a work of lightning-fast whip-crack transformation, glacial ebb and flow and static grandeur all in one, huge slab of sound. This one might even be tough going initially for longtime Taylor enthusiasts, but I can promise, top-notch playing from all, rewards a-plenty and hours of transcendental fun.

By Marc Medwin

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