If you had to pick three architects of modern jazz piano, you could just about cover everything with Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner and Cecil Taylor. Despite his phenomenal talent, Taylor may have seemed like the lesser influence at first, as most of his followers were relegated to the avant-garde end of things, but over the years his influence has grown and these days you are liable to hear Taylor type assaults on the piano from guys like Craig Taborn, Jason Moran or others, while they perform with modern fusion and post bop groups.
If you are not familiar with the piano playing of Cecil Taylor, he is one of the most intense musical performers ever, jazz or otherwise. His music is relentlessly energetic, full of jarring dissonances and unbelievable flurries of atonal notes unleashed at super human speed. Although his music may seem like noise to some, to the fan of avant-garde composition, there is an incredible logic and flow to Taylor’s music. I use the term “composition” on purpose, because although there is much improvisation in his music, the overall effect is more similar to an avant-garde concert hall piece, rather than a ‘free jazz’ workout. Taylor’s music does tend to get grouped with the free jazz crowd, and he has performed in free settings with others, but on his own, Cecil’s ability to logically assemble ideas comes through just as much as the force and volume.
“Silent Tongues” is a live recording that captures Taylor at his best, playing solo. Along with the constant antonality, you can sometimes hear bits of familiar music, blues riffs chopped to pieces or flowery classical romanticism gone berserk. It seems Taylor’s tries to avoid the ‘modernisms’ of the Evans/Tyner sound and draws more from early jazz piano players from Jelly Roll and Eubie Blake up to Art Tatum. Sometimes I feel like I’m listening to ragtime run through a blender. Some might try to draw comparisons between Taylor and the piano work of Sun Ra, but I’m sure those two were well aware of each other and managed to stay somewhat polar opposites within the avant-garde realm, ha. The one thing that is hard to describe though, is these certain moments where Taylor draws so much thunder and lightning out of the piano, you find it hard to believe one human can do this.
If you are fan of modern music, you will want to pick up “Silent Tongues”. Cecil Taylor’s piano playing is a miracle.