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Jimmy Lyons

Imagine what Sonny Stitt might have sounded like had he embraced free jazz after mastering bebop, and one can probably conjure a pretty good mental impression of Jimmy Lyons. Like Stitt, Lyons was enamoured of Charlie Parker's style, particularly in terms of phrasing. Lyons' slippery, bop-derived rhythms and melodic contours lent his improvisations a Charlie "Bird" Parker-like cast, even as his performance contexts were more harmonically free. Lyons made his reputation playing with pianist Cecil Taylor, with whom he became inextricably linked. He was a near-constant presence in Taylor's bands from 1960 until the saxophonist's death in 1986. Lyons always lent an explicitly swinging element to the pianist's music, helping remind the listener most emphatically that — regardless of how much Taylor may have been influenced by European art music — this was unquestionably jazz.

A teenaged Lyons was given an alto sax by the clarinetist Buster Bailey, an important member of Fletcher Henderson's band in the '20s and '30s. Lyons studied with veteran big band saxophonist Rudy Rutherford, and at a young age made friends with such jazz luminaries as Elmo Hope, Bud Powell, and Thelonious Monk. Lyons came into his own as a professional upon his association with Taylor in 1960. With Taylor, Lyons recorded a number of landmark albums, including Cecil Taylor Live at Café Montmartre (1962), in a trio with drummer Sunny Murray; and Unit Structures (1966), in a larger band who included, significantly, drummer Andrew Cyrille. Lyons took his own bands into the studio infrequently. In 1969, he led his first session, an album entitled Other Afternoons, which was issued on the now-defunct BYG label. Beginning in 1978, he began leading record dates more often. In the years to come he would release several albums on the Hat Hut and Black Saint labels.

Like many jazz musicians, Lyons was compelled by circumstance to augment his performance income by teaching. In 1970-1971 he taught music at Narcotic Addiction Control, a drug treatment center in New York City. From 1971-1973 he served — with Taylor and Cyrille — as the artist in residence at Antioch College, and in 1975 he directed the Black Music Ensemble at Bennington College. Perhaps Lyons' stature as a musician is best illustrated by the fact that Taylor essentially found him irreplaceable. After Lyons, Taylor never established a similar long-standing relationship with another musician. Jimmy Lyons' premature death at the age of 52 robbed Taylor — and avant-garde jazz in general — of a vital, swinging, eminently creative voice.

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Album Review

Albert Ayler: More Lost Performances Revisited

Read "More Lost Performances Revisited" reviewed by Chris May


A state-of-the-art sonic restoration of obscure but historically important Albert Ayler material by Switzerland's ezz-thetics label, which with its parent label, Hat Hut, has been creating an audiophile archive of Ayler recordings with the support of his estate since 1978. All too often, “more" in an album title means “Beware: barrel scraping in progress." Not in this case. More Lost Performances Revisited is primetime Ayler. The disc draws from three sources over a five-year timespan. The earliest ...

9
Album Review

Cecil Taylor: With (Exit) To Student Studies Revisited

Read "With (Exit) To Student Studies Revisited" reviewed by Mark Corroto


Documenting the evolution of Cecil Taylor is an undertaking that is way beyond the pay grade of most listeners. Just as in the study of homo sapiens (yes, us) where there is no critical moment (the missing link) that we can definitely pinpoint where our ancestors established language, art and importantly, abstract thought, Taylor's music can be thought of in similar terms. Obviously his approach didn't emerge fully formed. Or did it? No, that is an irrational thought, but a ...

10
Album Review

Cecil Taylor: The Complete, Legendary, Live Return Concert

Read "The Complete, Legendary, Live Return Concert" reviewed by Mike Jurkovic


If the title alone The Complete, Legendary, Live Return Concert doesn't blow out those flu-like post-holiday cobwebs in a big hurry, the full, near ninety minute assault on all that was and is holy damn well will. Couple the jittery anticipation of NYC's Town Hall audience pushing up against the cool onstage élan of alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons, percussionist Andrew Cyrille and bassist Sirone aka Norris Jones and the air in the hall is highly, nervously charged, all of them ...

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Album Review

Cecil Taylor: Mixed to Unit Structures Revisited

Read "Mixed to Unit Structures Revisited" reviewed by Chris May


This story has been revisited before, in the context of an Albert Ayler review, but good stories bear repeating, particularly when they are instructive ones. So here it is again... During a May 2021 interview with All About Jazz, the reed player Shabaka Hutchings was asked to name six albums which had made a more than usually deep impression on him. One of those Hutchings chose was Cecil Taylor's Silent Tongues: Live At Montreux '74 (Freedom, 1975). “This ...

Album Review

Cecil Taylor: Mixed to Unit Structures Revisited

Read "Mixed to Unit Structures Revisited" reviewed by Giuseppe Segala


La pubblicazione di Mixed To Unit Structures, nella meritevole collana Revisited Series della Ezz-thetics, sotto-etichetta della svizzera Hat Hut, riunisce due date di registrazione importanti nella vicenda di Cecil Taylor, distribuite tra l'ottobre 1961 e il maggio 1966. La prima, composta dai tre brani “Pots," “Bulbs" e “Mixed," era stata pubblicata dall'etichetta Impulse! nel disco Into the Hot, a nome di Gil Evans. I successivi quattro pezzi costituivano il disco Unit Structures, siglato originariamente da Blue Note. ...

3
Album Review

Cecil Taylor: Mixed To Unit Structures Revisited

Read "Mixed To Unit Structures Revisited" reviewed by Mark Corroto


A listener could make it their life's work to absorb and appreciate the music the music of Cecil Taylor. One could possibly approach it as a scholar and musician through notation and transcription—not the recommended approach. Such a task would be similar to the process of systematizing a DNA sequence. Taylor's music, and pardon this analogy, might be best grasped as one might attend to the oxymoronic genre noise music. If you are still reading, allow an explanation. ...

5
Album Review

Jimmy Lyons & Sunny Murray Trio: Jump Up

Read "Jump Up" reviewed by Glenn Astarita


Renowned Cecil Taylor trio alumni, alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons and drummer Sunny Murray reunited in Switzerland and summoned young bass wunderkind John Lindberg for a tour de force captured live at Jazz Festival Willisau in August, 1980. Reissued and remastered, this release highlights the band's unbridled energy and resounding clarity, abetted by the crystalline audio. It sounds like it's fresh out of the box, featuring Lyons operating in tenth gear with his radical free-bop stylizations, paving the way for future ...

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Jorge Sylvester
saxophone, alto
Ziv Taubenfeld
clarinet, bass
Sandro Azzolini
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Music

Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

More Lost...

Ezz-thetics
2023

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The Complete,...

Oblivion Records
2022

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With (Exit) To...

Ezz-thetics
2022

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Mixed to Unit...

Ezz-thetics
2021

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Jump Up

Hat Hut Records
2012

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Jimmy Lyons Box Set

Ayler Records
2003

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