Thursday, December 5, 2013

The UNIT: CECIL TAYLOR in 1978 – "Cecil Taylor Unit" (LP-1978), "3 Phasis" and "Live In The Black Forest", LPs-1979

Label: New World Records – NW 201
Format: Vinyl, LP, Album; Country: US - Released: 1978
Style: Free Jazz, Avantgarde, Free Improvisation
Recorded in April 1978 at Columbia Recording Studios, 30th Street, New York, NY.
Artwork [Cover] – David X. Young; Design [Cover] – Elaine Sherer Cox
Engineer [Recording, Editing, Mixing] – Don Puluse
Mastered By – Ted Jensen

A1 - Idut  14:40
A2 - Serdab  14:13
B - Holiday En Masque  29:41

Cecil Taylor (piano) Jimmy Lyons (alto saxophone) Raphe Malik (trumpet) Ramsey Ameen (violin) Sirone (bass) Ronald Shannon Jackson (drums)

The Cecil Taylor Unit (band and album) announces itself with “ Idut, ” a piece running just under 15 minutes. The first sound we hear is Ameen’s violin, bolstered by Sirone’s bowed bass. The two men attack the strings in sharp and jagged fashion, reminiscent of an Elliott Carter string quartet. After a few seconds, Malik’s trumpet enters, a fountain of rich, full notes like a fanfare announcing a king. Lyons, for his part, offers boppish phrases full of life and joy. This is an erupting music.

Behind everything else, Taylor is there, striking the keyboard with great force, rumbling at the low end of a ninety-six key Bösendorfer, similar to the instrument he plays on the solo albums Air Above Mountains and The Willisau Concert, from 1975 and 2000 respectively. This is an imposing instrument, the ideal vehicle for a player of Taylor’s intensity and rigor. But it’s best heard by itself; surrounded by other sounds, its strength is diminished slightly. At the 90- second mark, when all the other instruments drop away, leaving only the piano, the purpose of all that hurtling exposition becomes clear—the band was setting the stage for Taylor, whose high-speed runs and teeth-rattling rumbles are accented by thunderous rolls from Ronald Shannon Jackson. The piece shifts again and again in this manner, offering solo piano passages, duos between Taylor and various other bandmembers, duos and trios, and explosive sections involving the entire band.

The album’s second track, “ Serdab, ” is much quieter. There are still moments of thrilling fire and fury, but Taylor’s solo passages are longer and more frequent, with Jackson pitter-patting behind him, creating rhythm (he ’ s a totally unique jazz drummer in that he plays marching-band and militaristic rhythms as often as he swings or grooves) without imposing it. It’s an interlude of gentle beauty, a bridge between the opening fanfare and thunder of “ Idut ” and the cataclysm that is the album’s second half.

“ Holiday en Masque ” is a half-hour, album-side-long avalanche of sound. The liner notes to the album, written by Spencer Richards , describe it as a “ masterful achievement in ensemble playing, ” and it truly is that and more. The dominant voices are Taylor’s and Ameen’s, with Jackson rattling and crashing in the back. At times the horns and strings and piano are so loud the drums can barely be discerned, even though they’re being played with as much energy as any other instrument in the studio. At other times, Jackson’s rhythms are quite clearly audible, his kit sounding more like one belonging to a hard rock drummer than a jazz player. He’s got a massive kick drum sound going on, and his toms slam like heavy wooden doors battered by a hurricane. Unison passages, arising out of the overall storm of sound like rainbows arcing between thunderclouds, reveal the scored nature of this music and the intense, focused rehearsals Taylor called before the recording began. As Ameen, who also contributed liner notes to The Cecil Taylor Unit (and was the only member of the band to do so), points out, “ Because in fact he has continued to make music of overwhelming originality, Cecil Taylor has been increasingly successful in exercising his right to determine the working conditions such music requires—in particular, pianos of the best quality, and extensive practice and rehearsal…This record was prepared under Taylor’s artistic direction and is a document not only of his power of musical expression but also of the success of the comprehensive working methods and the fierce independence he has developed and maintained during the past quarter of a century. ”

Label: New World Records – NW 303
Format: Vinyl, LP, Album; Country: US - Released: 1979
Style: Free Jazz, Avantgarde, Free Improvisation
Recorded in April 1978 at Columbia Recording Studios, 30th Street, New York, NY.
Artwork [Cover] – Paul Jenkins; Design [Cover] – Michael Sonino
Engineer – Don Puluse
Mastered By – Ted Jensen

A - 3 Phasis, Side One  28:22
B - 3 Phasis, Side Two  28:50

Cecil Taylor (piano) Jimmy Lyons (alto saxophone) Raphe Malik (trumpet) Ramsey Ameen (violin) Sirone (bass) Ronald Shannon Jackson (drums)

The second album by this group, 3 Phasis, was recorded on the final day of the sessions, and the issued take is the final one (of six), a performance that ran beyond the scheduled time and into overtime. According to the album notes by jazz critic Gary Giddins , the earlier versions all ran in the 20-30 minute range. The issued performance is a marathon, even an endurance test, at 57:17, but not a moment of that is wasted on vamping, casting about for inspiration, or anything but the most intense playing of which the group members are capable.

The piece begins with solo piano, but again the strings are the first instruments to join the fray. Ameen and Sirone come in bowing, with Lyons ’ alto saxophone keening romantic ballad melodies, Malik ’ s trumpet squalling in a less florid, more sardonic way than on the previous album…and Jackson announcing his arrival with tremendous, rolling-thunder assertiveness.

The horns keep dropping out, though, and the piece becomes chamber music with drums. Passages of violin and piano, or violin and bass, Ameen jabbing sharply into the airspace between himself and Taylor with shrieks of the bow not unlike Bernard Herrmann ’ s famous score for Alfred Hitchcock ’ s movie Psycho. Ameen adds more than classical filigree to this music, though. He ’ s also prepared to be a hillbilly fiddler when the occasion calls for it, conjuring the spirit of African-American string bands (violin, banjo, upright bass) with a single raucous phrase behind the horns.

Giddins was present at the recording, and wrote the liner notes to the album. He describes the recording engineer’s panic as the take that was eventually released runs longer and longer, finally coming to a halt just shy of the one-hour mark (and consequently nudging the limits of 33 1/3 rpm vinyl’s storage capacity).

“ Previous takes had averaged twenty to thirty minutes and seemed to get tighter each time,” Giddins writes. “ The fifth take produced a splendid array of dynamics and a rollicking dance exuberance, but saxophonist Jimmy Lyons was dissatisfied with his solo, and there was a general feeling that an earlier take had been more successful. Taylor decided to work on some of the other pieces, and it wasn’t until midnight that they returned to the suite. From the first notes, there was an excitement in the studio, an electricity, and after about twenty minutes producer Sam Parkins said, ‘ This is the best yet by far. If Jimmy Lyons holds up in the shuffle, I don’t care how long it goes. ’ Later Parkins noted, ‘ This is more of a piano concerto than the others.’ A significant difference between this and earlier versions was that Sirone, the bassist, who had previously played mostly against the rhythm, now fell into a steady 4/4 shuffle meter (heard in the second half). Taylor conducted the music from the piano without eye contact, as the others stood poised. Lyons, awaiting his entrance, lit a cigarette. Then the shuffle started: Taylor instigated a rocking stomp with chords in both hands; Sirone bore down on the time; drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson alternated between mallets and sticks; Lyons steamed through like a train. After about forty minutes, Parkins exulted, ‘ We’ve got a record now! ’ —but ten minutes later he was worried about whether Taylor would stop in time: ‘ I hope he stops pretty soon, because I’d hate to cut this. I ’ ve never been to anything like this before, have you? ’ Taylor punched out a riff, his hands leaping as fast and deft as a cheetah, his arms almost akimbo. Everyone was eyeing the clock nervously and with giddy excitement. And then, nearing fifty-seven minutes, just short of the maximum playing time for a long-playing album, Taylor began to wind down for a dramatic finish. Observers burst into the studio with excited praise, and the laconic Taylor was heard to say, ‘ Well, you know we knew it was good, too. ’”

Taylor didn’t typically go on the road with the same bands he recorded with. Throughout his career, studio sessions have been relatively rare; live recordings make up the bulk of his discography. But in 1978, he took this Unit on the road for several weeks of shows in Europe, at least three of which were documented, two of them on albums that are among his greatest work.

Label: MPS Records – 0068.220
Format: Vinyl, LP, Album; Country: Germany - Released: 1979
Style: Free Improvisation, Free Jazz
Recorded live on 3 June 1978 in SWF-Radio JazzConcert in Kirchzarten, Black Forest, West Germany.
Artwork – Müller & von Frankenberg
Engineer – Norbert Klövekorn; Producer – Joachim E. Berendt

A - The Eel Pot   24:57
B - Sperichill On Calling   25:08

Cecil Taylor (piano) Jimmy Lyons (alto saxophone) Raphe Malik (trumpet) Ramsey Ameen (violin) Sirone (bass) Ronald Shannon Jackson (drums)

Live in the Black Forest was the first to appear, on the unjustly obscure MPS label. Featuring two 25-minute pieces recorded on June 3 for broadcast on German radio, it’s a somewhat more “ crowd-pleasing ” and less abstruse set of music than the Unit ’ s self-titled debut or the crushing 3 Phasis. The first piece, “ The Eel Pot, ” begins with solo piano, followed quickly by the entry of Malik and Lyons (playing unison phrases) and then Ameen. Jackson hits huge thunderous tom rolls, and the band has become fully present. Then things can truly get started. Piano and trumpet exchanges, violin and alto saxophone tinkering at the margins. Martial drumming. There’s bass work, but it’s not particularly high in the mix at first; only later does Sirone’s forceful plucking assert itself, when the group becomes, of all things, a piano trio, albeit the most aggressive one I’ve ever heard. Jackson is playing something close to a death metal blast beat, as Taylor dances across the keyboard like a maniac and Sirone throbs between them. The next player to re-enter after this thunderous passage is Ameen, offering almost Bela Bartók -like stabs as though to pay tribute to the concert’s central European location. He and Taylor duet passionately, with Sirone still lingering in the background. Eventually, the full ensemble returns to roaring life, and the piece comes to a raucous close, celebrated by wild applause from what sounds like a large audience.

The disc’s second half, “ Sperichill On Calling, ” is more or less in the same spirit as its predecessor, but it’s less aggressive, a midtempo marathon with occasional eruptions. Around the 11-minute mark, Jackson bursts into a particularly aggressive drum solo, smashing the cymbals and battering the snare, as Malik’s trumpet unleashes a repeated, fanfare-like figure. Malik gets a lot of solo space during “ Sperichill, ” his rippling upper-register lines extraordinarily full and vibrant. When Taylor takes the lead, his playing is often quite delicate; during one quiet passage, he and Ameen duet totally unaccompanied, and it’s possibly the album’s high point. Again and again throughout this group’s discography, it becomes unmistakable that the violin is the most important instrument, besides the piano, to the whole project. Two decades later, on Algonquin (recorded 1999, released 2004), Taylor would explore this combination of sounds again, in a live duet with violinist Mat Maneri at the Library of Congress.


The fourth part see:

Links in Comments!


  1. The UNIT - CECIL TAYLOR in 1978 (3LPs)
    „Cecil Taylor Unit“ (LP-1978)
    „3 Phasis“ (LP-1979)
    „Live In The Black Forest“ (LP-1979)

    Vinyl Rip - MP3@320+Cover



  2. Thanks!
    Gran blog, amigo
    Saludos from Spain

  3. This is my debt from last month, thus it was planned, but I had trouble with ripping, I hope that everything is well now... (I removed the noise). Enjoy.

  4. well now that u paid ur debt u r owed a debt... This is really awesome, filling in a big hole i had not even noticed though I know all these album well and owned them all at one time or another.
    my first Taylor listen was Silent Tongues and still I dont get why other people dont think it may be his best solo, it epitomizes why Taylor's concept was so singularly needed in the development of jazz's role in art and society... (and then there is Jimmy Lyons... omg)

  5. Just fantastic Vitko. Black Forest leaves me speechless (well almost...). Many Thanks.

    P.S. Sad news - Stan Tracey passed away yesterday. Another great one gone.

    1. Oh, I have not heard. Too bad, but it seems to me that you're relatively recently was at his concert, or the time passes quickly?

      Tracey's 1965 album (its full title is Jazz Suite inspired by Dylan Thomas' "Under Milk Wood") is one of the most celebrated jazz recordings made in the United Kingdom.

    2. Yes, that was back in June (it's age make time go quicker Vitko...). He had to cancel at the last minute because of illness.

  6. Many Thanks for this. Just discovered your blog yesterday and I've hit a C.T. mother load. Wonderful. And yes RIP Stan Tracey, will be greatly missed.

  7. Thankyou. BTW the self titled album and 3 Phasis are available from New World and sound great on CD. For the "less discerning", they are also on iTunes .
    "3 Phasis" -
    "Cecil Taylor Unit" -

  8. WOW! 3 Phasis was the first Taylor album I bought on CD long time ago... Black forest is new to me. Thanks for sharing this great music Vitko. Thank you!