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Live Reviews

Umbria Jazz: Days 7-10, July 16-19, 2009

By Published: July 27, 2009
In the end, perhaps the kitsch is part of Bacharach's appeal, alongside the harmonies and flugelhorn. One thing is certain: When the concert ended at midnight, this writer came back to the hotel and spent an hour re-listening to favorite Bacharach songs.

July 17—Cecil Taylor

Cecil Taylor's years-old remark that audiences should prepare for his concerts just as he did stirred some controversy; odd, because it's a moot point. There is nothing, including a back-to-back listen of all his recordings, that can prepare the uninitiated for the protean onslaught of a live Taylor performance. It's a mesmerizing, experience unlike anything else on planet Earth.

After three days of the Great Black Music Ensemble's Afro-centric decor on the Teatro Morlacchi stage, it was striking to see it adorned with only a single, luxurious Fazioli grand piano—and speakers, out of which boomed a recording of Taylor reciting a self-written poem with guttural mouth sounds much like those of the GBME's vocal ensemble. Then Taylor walked on, wearing a black tunic, black parachute pants, black-and-white sneakers, and a fat white tie; responding to the audience's ovation, he curtsied.

Then came six long pieces of Taylor's unique piano music, performed over 90 minutes. They had no form, per se—at least not one discernable to anyone but Taylor—though there were motifs recurring within pieces and sometimes throughout all of them. Taylor is particularly partial to dainty staccato figures at the very top of the keyboard (cf. Silent Tongues), which he used here as well. But by no means could it be said that he overall favored any part of the keyboard. Taylor used each of the 88 keys on a roughly equal level, the very definition of atonality, and in doing so spontaneously changed direction at any given moment. He would play a high, delicate lick, for example, that would then erupt in an all-encompassing hailstorm of notes, clusters, and thick chords; immediately following it would be a percussive figure on the keyboard's bottom.

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