All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Live Reviews

746

Historic Quartet: Cecil Taylor and Anthony Braxton at Royal Festival Hall, London

John Sharpe By

Sign in to view read count
Mutual respect was evidenced by how the MO of each of the two main protagonists was loosened to accommodate the other in a collective discourse that cohered better than we had any right to expect
Cecil Taylor with William Parker, Tony Oxley and special guest Anthony Braxton
Royal Festival Hall
London, England
July 8, 2007

Given that both Cecil Taylor and Anthony Braxton have both lasted the course and been almost promiscuous in their wide-ranging associations, it was something of a surprise that they had never played together before Sunday's historic engagement at London's Royal Festival Hall. Neither man should need any introduction to AAJ readers: their groundbreaking achievements and voluminous discographies speak for themselves. In spite of his 360 plus compositions, Braxton regularly takes time out in freely improvised settings. Nonetheless, it was unclear how he would fit into Taylor's soundworld. The quartet was completed by William Parker on bass and Tony Oxley on percussion and electronics, reuniting Taylor's 1990's "Feel Trio." Braxton had also played with both before: with Oxley on his Seven Compositions (Trio) 1989 (HatHut, 1990) recording, and more recently with Parker in a series of free jazz trios in various Italian venues.

After a short but lively opening set by the young British group Polar Bear, the darkened stage rustled with unseen percussion and, at first wordless, vocalizations. Soon, Tony Oxley appeared and stationed himself behind his customized drum kit to commence a gentle tattoo. After further poetic declamations, Cecil Taylor entered theatrically from stage left and zig-zagged to his place at the piano.

The ritual opening developed with balletic grace into a delicately fractured melody accompanied by Oxley's patented off-kilter clatterings, pausing, then restarting in a leisurely flow. Oxley's textural gestures were pitched to match the piano's rippling tracery, as well as the occasional squalls when all thoughts of the pianist's 78 years vanished as his hands literally blurred while sweeping up and down the keyboard. Yet there was a restrained, almost meditative feel to the duet, with ample space for both players.

Curiously, Taylor twice paused during the duet to select sheets from the scores atop the piano, leading to natural breaks in the proceedings, which became increasingly more energetic. Any compositional signposts must have been suitably oblique as there was no discernible effect upon the ensuing structures that evolved through an incremental layering of ideas.

As the intensity increased, Oxley upped the ante, sweeping round his kit in a circular motion. The percussionist was intently responsive, adjusting his dynamics to complement Taylor's lead. The pianist juxtaposed passages of the utmost delicacy with storming monolithic blocks of sound, becoming increasingly insistent, indeed tumultuous, in places, pounding and crashing like an avalanche—and then suddenly quietening, as if it had never happened, for a delicate finish. I found the whole 39-minute duet entrancing, one of the most moving performances on Taylor's part and worth the price of admission alone.

But that was by no means all that the cost of admission offered. As the applause faded after Oxley and Taylor left the stage, William Parker strolled on stage for a solo bass extravaganza. Parker has recorded several solo bass records, and it was a treat to hear him in full experimental mode. His bowed harmonics, while bending the strings and simultaneously plucking the bass string with his thumb, formed a recurring motif as he developed and explored a stream of ideas. A series of quiet pizzicato notes signalled the close after some 13 minutes of fertile exploration.

We had heard a lot of music, but not a note from Anthony Braxton. If I hadn't seen him bring his saxophones on stage earlier, I would have been panicking by now, even concluding he wasn't going to appear at all. Then finally there they all were: the full quartet came onstage and without any introduction launched into the construction of a ruminative improv soundscape. Oxley set up an electronic burbling while Braxton alternated resonant growls with altissimo squeals on contralto clarinet. Parker contributed koto-like plucks and arco slashes as Taylor manipulated the piano's strings for an intriguing opening section. More familiar territory prevailed after some six minutes, when Braxton switched to sopranino saxophone and Taylor moved onto the keyboard. The saxophonist released some of his pent up energy with a fearsome passage of circular breathing, unfurling sinuous lines over the muscular accompaniment, with Taylor darting at the keys and Parker's bass promptings particularly forceful.

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

Shop Music & Tickets

Click any of the store links below and you'll support All About Jazz in the process. Learn how.

Related Articles

Read 48th Annual Pitt Jazz Seminar Live Reviews
48th Annual Pitt Jazz Seminar
by Mackenzie Horne
Published: November 18, 2018
Read Martin Lesch Band  at The Jazz Corner Live Reviews
Martin Lesch Band at The Jazz Corner
by Martin McFie
Published: November 18, 2018
Read The Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra at Greer Cabaret Theater Live Reviews
The Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra at Greer Cabaret Theater
by Mackenzie Horne
Published: November 15, 2018
Read Enjoy Jazz 2018 Live Reviews
Enjoy Jazz 2018
by Henning Bolte
Published: November 14, 2018
Read Jazz for all Ages Live Reviews
Jazz for all Ages
by Martin McFie
Published: November 14, 2018
Read Baku Jazz Festival 2018 Live Reviews
Baku Jazz Festival 2018
by Ian Patterson
Published: November 13, 2018
Read "The Magpie Salute At The Grand Point North Festival 2018" Live Reviews The Magpie Salute At The Grand Point North Festival 2018
by Doug Collette
Published: September 23, 2018
Read "Boston Roundup: Larry Carlton, Brit Floyd, and Doyle Bramhall" Live Reviews Boston Roundup: Larry Carlton, Brit Floyd, and Doyle...
by Dave Dorkin
Published: December 20, 2017
Read "Binker & Moses At London's Jazz Cafe" Live Reviews Binker & Moses At London's Jazz Cafe
by Chris May
Published: September 15, 2018
Read "Gilmore Keyboard Festival" Live Reviews Gilmore Keyboard Festival
by John Ephland
Published: June 3, 2018
Read "The Brian McCarthy Quartet At FlynnSpace" Live Reviews The Brian McCarthy Quartet At FlynnSpace
by Doug Collette
Published: December 10, 2017
Read "Pat Martino Quintet at Chris’ Jazz Café" Live Reviews Pat Martino Quintet at Chris’ Jazz Café
by Victor L. Schermer
Published: April 5, 2018