The name Cecil Taylor is synonymous with the concept of avant-garde jazz piano. One of the few genuine living legends of the art form, Taylor has vigorously blazed a path of innovation for more than four decades by combining fist-over-fist intensity with virtuosic, lyrical urgency.
The pianist's influence on the shape of jazz and other forms of contemporary improvised music is inestimable. Every serious piano player from the '60s on has had to deal in one way or another with Taylor's heady tone world; all of today's younger-generation leaders on the 88 keys — including Matthew Shipp, Myra Melford, Satoko Fujii, and Jason Moran — owe something of their style to Taylor's enigmatic construction of rhythmic power and liquid harmony.
Of course, not everyone can handle the pianist's steamrolling live performances, which he has described in shamanistic terms as both “ceremonial celebration” and “conjugation of spirit.” That means mega-monster sound, even in the solo format, packing enough spirit-punch to blow you right out of your seat. (Understandably, certain posh concertgoers prefer to keep their tushes on the padded cushions of fancy venue perches, like those at this weekend's Herbst Theater gig sponsored by the S.F. Jazz Fest.)
Whether idolized as visionary or vilified as strident, Cecil Taylor's feverishly inspired, in-the-moment music cannot be politely ignored. The force with which he plays — the energy imbued into each and every note — commands an equally dynamic response from those within earshot. After all, rattling complacency is the avant-garde's calling.