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Certified genius and radical percussive-pianist Cecil Taylor at the S.F. Jazz Fest

Wednesday, Oct 29 2003
Whether directing propulsive big bands or evoking a similar sound-mass in his extraordinary solo recitals, radical pianist Cecil Taylor has led the charge for a full-throttle approach to jazz improvisation for nearly half a century. At 74, this granddaddy of the avant-garde and recipient of the MacArthur "Genius" Award stacks countless tones upon each other in multidimensional patterns that actually aim to change the way we hear. But active audience participation is required for this transformation to take place, which of course poses a challenge for the average concertgoer.

Not unlike a lightning-paced film sequence (think of the wild chase scenes in 28 Days Later), the sensory stimuli of Taylor's music can be thrilling, disorienting, and not a little overwhelming, particularly for the uninitiated. But there is a way to fully engage the ear at a Taylor show and really hear the structural beauty of his improvs: Simply shut the eyes. Cutting out the visual distraction of seeing the pianist two-fisted and tentacle-fingered banging away on a grand Bösendorfer enables one to intimately experience the artist's tsunami of polytonal percussion, which is capable of sweeping the listener far, far away. This tidal wave of organic musicmaking is Taylor's signature achievement and why most mainstream jazzheads scramble for their raincoats at the mere mention of his name.

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Sam Prestianni


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