Week ending 21 January 2018: pianists past and present

Cosmic Jazz this week features tracks in which a pianist is either the leader of the group or is featured prominently. As always on CJ, there’s a wide variety of music – both contemporary and from the tradition.

Cecil Taylor.

We opened the show with a tribute to one of the greatest pianists jazz has produced. Cecil Taylor treated the piano like a percussion instrument, attacking the full range of the keyboard with pinpoint precision. Taylor was born in 1929 and died on 5 April 2018. The tune we featured was from his very first album, Jazz Advance. Released in 1956, it was selected by The Penguin Jazz Guide for inclusion in their 100 best albums to cover the history of jazz music. A quote from this guide on Jazz Advance sums things up perfectly – Taylor’s record remains one of the most extraordinary debuts in jazz and for 1956 it’s an incredible effort“. Indeed, there would be much incredible music to follow. [Neil writes] Taylor carved out a career as a solo performer and I was lucky enough to see him in the early 1980s at the time of one of his solo masterpieces, Garden, released in 1981. This 2LP set on HatHut Records is hard to come by now but captures Taylor at his solo best. Another album to look for is his 1974 appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival where he recorded an album called Silent Tongues. Listening to his music is not easy: better is to watch him performing – as here in an extract from a 1981 performance. This is free jazz but it is not random – Taylor heard and planned all this music before playing it. His keyboard control here is unparalleled – and it continued to be so until his last performances. Listen to this piece a few times and marvel at the precision and the structure. Apologies for the breaks in sound quality towards the end of the performance.

Unique is an easy adjective to use but it was never more true about anyone in jazz than Cecil Taylor. In an interview, he acknowledged that he felt the same about music as one of his heroes, Duke Ellington, who said It’s American music that never existed in the world until we did it. That just about sums up his contribution to jazz. No one has inherited his mantle because it is simply not possible to do so.

Interestingly, the next artist is described by Brian Priestley in Jazz: the Essential Companion as one of a strong line of pianist/composers who, like Theolonius Monk or Cecil Taylor,  are impossible to categorise except as individualists. Andrew Hill was a pianist who recorded on Blue Note during the label’s classic years but whose music is far from typical of most Blue Note recordings. I had intended to make Andrew Hill a featured artist for the month of April but as it was not possible to play any of his tunes last week there were two this week – one each from the Black Fire and Point of Departure albums. Both records include impressive support musicians with one of our favourite tenor players, Joe Henderson, common to both.

After these retrospectives it was time to go contemporary. One of the new artists whose music is now available through Steve’s Jazz Sounds is the young Polish pianist Kasia Pietrzko. She leads a trio on her first album Forthright StoriesForthright is an appropriate word both to describe the music and the emotions it evokes. After starting with some delicate drumming touches the tune Intimacy develops into a tune of fast, forthright intensity. There was a short excerpt from another of her tunes to end the show.

UK pianist Jessica Lauren has just released one track from an upcoming album. It’s already been remixed by drummer Nick Woodmansey through his alter ego Emanative and we gave you his take on Kofi Nomad. It provided a link to our show last week which raised the question Jazz or not? We think it is, but you may disagree. New York pianist Cat Toren leads a band called Human Kind – you can check out the album here on Bandcamp. Toren demonstrates that jazz can continue to be political with compositions inspired by both the free form jazz of the 1960s and a personal expression of the resurgent civil rights movement that is upon us. Jazz has always been a music of personal expression and political views are often a part of that. The tune Sanctuary City represents a very strong EP that anyone interested in contemporary jazz should buy and listen to.

The Third Generation Ensemble refers to the latest musician descendants of Chico O’Farrill and Bebo Valdes. The album Familia is a tribute to Bebo and Chico from their sons Arturo and Chucho, but the third generation is also represented – Gonki Gonki features Leyanis Valdes on piano.

  1. Cecil Taylor – Bemsha Swing from Jazz Advance
  2. Andrew Hill – Black Fire from Black Fire
  3. Andrew Hill – New Monastery from Point of Departure
  4. Kasia Pietrzko Trio – Intimacy from Forthright Stories
  5. Jessica Lauren – Kofi Nomad (Emanative remix) from Kofi Nomad
  6. Cat Toren’s Human Kind – Sanctuary City from Cat Toren’s Human Kind
  7. The Third Generation Ensemble – Gonki Gonki from Familia: Tribute to Bebo & Chico
  8. Kasia Pietrzko Trio – Zielone Oczy Grafitowe from Forthright Stories

Derek is listening to: 

Neil is listening to:

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