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Cecil Taylor Trio and Anthony Braxton: Historic Concert in London

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Cecil Taylor Trio and Anthony Braxton
Royal Festival Hall
London, England
July 8, 2007

Sunday 8th July saw an historic concert performance at the Royal Festival Hall in London by the Cecil Taylor trio, composed of drummer Tony Oxley and bassist William Parker, and featuring multi-saxophonist Anthony Braxton. According to the publicity, this was the first time ever these two giants of modern American jazz have performed together on stage together. As expected, the feeling of anticipation in the concert hall was exceptionally high.

After a brief set by the band serving as opening act, followed by the usual intermission, the lights went down and silence spread through the air. A strange percussive noise—a sound akin to sea shells being shaken about on a piece of rope—filled the acoustic space. Drummer Tony Oxley, a quiet, white-haired gentleman dressed in sober dark pants and buttoned-up shirt, tread lightly onto the stage, moving carefully to his kit. Soon a man's voice was heard over the speakers reciting some bizarre, pantheistic poetry. It was Cecil Taylor, eventually himself appearing on stage—though still in the dark—shaking those dangling shell-like objects and dancing about in a seemingly random fashion towards the piano. A brilliant, attention-getting and mood-setting piece of stage performance!

Finally, the music began, quickly evolving into typically Taylor-like high energy and manic sound. In fact it sounded very much like a direct continuation of the poetry, shell-shaking and dancing that the pianist had just performed. It moved with the force, strength, freedom, chaos and beauty of nature itself—not just pretty sky-reaching trees or lovely flowers but massive glaciers melting, dark mountains rumbling, valleys groaning and then a majestic bird, maybe an eagle, soaring above it all untouched by nature's fury— oblivious, even, to its shocking beauty.

Taylor and Oxley played like this for nearly 50 minutes—a giant effort of concentration and emotion—all the more remarkable upon consideration of their age. Or perhaps their years should more rightly be seen as experience and wisdom, individually and collectively—their wisdom and their freedom. As this first segment finished, with Taylor having occasionally recited from his notebook of writing (his own poetry perhaps), the two gentlemen left the stage, giving place to the force of nature that is William Parker.

The bassist's solo was the direct emotional equal of what had just preceded him. The man's technique, his imagination, his creativity and the staggering intellect of his music practically brought the house down. It was virtually a spirtual experience listening to the man play. What must it have been like for Parker himself?

Finally Anthony Braxton came on stage—joined by Oxley and Taylor—and the quartet headed off into the unknown together. While Taylor was very much the wellspring of creativity in the first segment, he now fell into a more supportive role as Braxton's own creativity poured forth. You could see the reverence on Taylor's face and in his body language. Here was another musical titan on stage to whom respect was due.

When the concert eventually ended—nearly 2 hours after Taylor's poetry first filled the air of the concert hall—the entire audience was on its feet with thunderous and sustained applause. The feeling of emotional freedom along with the total acceptance of both the disturbance and beauty that music can create was an overwhelming one.

The event struck this reviewer as a remarkable, singular jazz concert and, paradoxically, as the most memorably powerful of all musical concerts since it went so far beyond what music normally achieves. It was a spiritual awakening.


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