Cecil Taylor / Tony Oxley
Being Astral & All Registers: Power of Two
Cecil Taylor left this dimension nearly three years ago now – he’s almost certainly swirling elsewhere, projecting, transmitting; at the very least his towering influence continues to sway jazzers to the freer side. It’s quite possible that Taylor invented free jazz. His late 50s shows – and Ornette Coleman’s too – were the blueprint across the following decade and from there were still the good glue for a whole new generation of musicians working in the 1980s and then again in the early 2000s.
And if Taylor was the one to liberate the piano then Tony Oxley did much the same for the drumkit. Oxley is still with us and so this archival performance comes from his recordings of the duo together; they enjoyed a 30+year performing relationship, challenging themselves and audiences (and usually in that order).
This particular performance is nearly 20 years old – capturing the two at the Ulrichsberg Festival, a famous free-jazz/improv German festival, in May of 2002.
The two lengthy instrumental pieces, first Being Astral & All Registers followed by Power of Two, show the exquisite relationship Oxley and Taylor had both together and individually with their instruments.
Oxley’s great gift to the drum-kit was using every component without so much as whispering in the direction of a groove. He is a percussionist of the trap-set. He reacts, he punctuates, he is a sound-designer, a conjurer that heightens the mood while summoning it. Taylor shifted piano playing away from the melodic/accompanist role it so often performs in jazz but he does not dispense with groove altogether – there’s a Dark Night of The Soul Groove that informs his work here, creeping, sometimes downright terrifying – he is all whispers in the dark, and to the dark and his is the sound that comes when you open that creaking wardrobe door or check under the bed.
Oxley might as well be battering a baking tray the way he clangs between cymbals and rims – but it’s also performed with a tap-dancer’s precision.
During the brief pause at the conclusion of the half-hour long opening piece, which moves slowly but surely from playful and intriguing to an all-out cataclysmic cacophony, there’s a moment where you can basically hear the audience thinking, catching up to what they’ve just heard. A respectful silence to drink in the magic and then the whoops and hollers of an elated group that has witnessed a happening. As that applause drops down Power of Two moves into place, first with some simple piano notes that Oxley punctuates with bells and cymbals. And then working up a lather of stick clicks and rolls and dynamic crashes as Taylor’s fingers dance faster and harder and stronger and clearer – and at one point it is almost a case of peering deep into a blur to decipher if the noise is from the drum kit or the piano key; of course the answer is that it’s from the painted combination.
Free jazz duos – particularly the piano and drum variety – are not at all uncommon. They are exciting and to many they are utterly and absolutely off-putting. But if you want to dip a tentative toe in then this is the very water to broach.
It’s wonderful to have Oxley opening the archives so we can access this.
How joyous to hear Taylor and Oxley opening wide their very souls.
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