FMP/FREE MUSIC PRODUCTION - An Edition of Improvised Music 1989-2004


Hans Rempel


We are familiar with the vast kind of arc this music describes - the relatively brief run-up, the way it then builds up and finds its own level, and the ensuing sometimes hour-long "Dance On The Vulcano" ("Tanz auf dem Vulkan") which intensifies the pianistics and the music to such an extent that they reach the very limit of their possibilities, or at least seem to, for Cecil Taylor knows how to further increase the intensity of this supposedly highly condensed form of music in a special, absolutely unbelievable way. This may not be the only method but it is the main one he uses when putting his pieces together, or rather by which his pieces develop" as it were. This is nothing new, he has been using this method for over a third of a century. This should be reason enough to place his music on a somewhat higher artistic level, in a sphere which lies beyond a mere day to day view of jazz music.

At the beginning of a fairly recent development in jazz - I mean the years around about 1960 - a serious break occurred which at first was brought about by a very few musicians. They broke with the past (and the present) in various ways, but this break was usually only partial and was confined to a few specific areas, whilst in others the old school of thought remained supreme (at least for the time being). This can even be said of Ornette Coleman, the epitome of change of that time. In this really epoch-making piece "Free Jazz" he does not really attack the traditional prominence which the beat enjoys, in fact he even upholds it, and what is more he retains the conventional rhythm and phrasing. In comparison Cecil Taylor proves to be the real innovator as he broke with the traditional jazz form to a large extent as far back as 1960. This comes across in his piece "E. B." which was released in October 1960 (about two months before Coleman's "Free Jazz"). In large sections of this piece he disregards all jazz conventions of the time, completely ignores the sound of the double-bass and percussion which are introduced parallel (and serve to form the beat), and thereby makes complete nonsense of it.

These are more than mere technical details - this particular way in which Taylor acts and performs reveals a new line of (musical) thought with which he replaces (jazz) convention - he can scarcely be said to have made a smooth transition from late Hard Bop to early Free Jazz. It was like a dam-burst, sudden and unexpected, with all the consequences possible for his colleagues and the audience. But although he breaks with almost all established elements of jazz music of the time, in many ways he still adheres to tradition, not in a directly audible, but in an abstract manner. Thus, his music never sounds like African drum music, African Parlando, never like Afro-American Blues or Afro-American Boogie Woogie: But nevertheless the general principles of African percussion, African Sprechgesang, the intense expression of the Blues, the pianistics of the Boogie Woogie are (alongside other elements not mentioned here) without question the roots and source from which his music springs.

The break which above ail Cecil Taylor made in jazz around about 1960 can be compared with that between Afro-American folk-music and consciously structured jazz, and that which occurred in the mid twenties with the emergence of a new improvisational and structural awareness - this lead away from the teamwork improvisation of classical jazz to the more solo orientated and compositional jazz of the following decades. What is more, Taylor raised (Free) Jazz to a level comparable with the musical art tradition which had developed in some Asian countries and in Europe hundreds or even thousands of years before. Until then jazz music had - even if only marginally and in certain points - stimulated and influenced the compositional avant-garde. Despite some traits which can more or less be considered as being avant-garde, jazz itself could not be called avant-garde music: Even though its fairly limited structures did not completely prevent musicians from breaking out on their own, they did not allow this on large scale. It was not until Taylor and his generation came onto the scene that jazz music itself became essentially avant-garde music, borne by a new musical ideology, a new intellectual self-awareness which did not bow to convention, but on the contrary developed its own rules, even as far as form and expression were concerned, breaking the set rules and patterns layed down by convention.

After a short experimental period in the second half of the fifties, Taylor had developed his own personal style as far as most, if not all, essentials were concerned, and had perfected it by the mid sixties. Since then he has kept his music at its peak, in an uncompromising balancing act - just like the "Dance On The Vulcano", the vast arc which his pieces describe; whereby we return to the beginning, and above all to the music in question.

Translation: Margaret Neuendorf

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