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Lifting The Bandstand

by Cecil Taylor Quintet

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    By the time of his first substantive engagement with European improvisors, Cecil Taylor was 59. He had consolidated his approach into the most radical piano concept of the twentieth century, music so personal that it was sometimes hermetic, so disciplined it felt like a principle, so wild it proposed quantum potential. When he worked in a group – or as he preferred to call it, a unit – he was an uncompromising collaborator; anyone playing with him had to put up or shut up or just get left in the wake. Work with CT was not taken lightly.
    In 1988, FMP’s Jost Gebers organized a month-long Berlin residency for Taylor, a summit with leading figures of improvisation in Europe, among them Paul Lovens and Tristan Honsinger. Two years later, during informal morning rehearsals with subsets of a large workshop band, saxophonist Harri Sjöström imagined a smaller unit. “Warming up in the mornings it was very free, no one was under any pressure and there was no leader. I thought perhaps it could be possible to put together a group with Cecil Taylor and have this freedom, just like in a European free improvising group.” Sjöström mustered the courage to propose this to Cecil, who was immediately receptive. After several versions, one lineup congealed into a working band: Taylor, Sjöström, Lovens, Honsinger, and Finnish bassist and composer Teppo Hauta-aho. Sjöström, Hauta-aho, and Lovens worked together in Quintet Moderne, and all had played extensively with Honsinger. “I remember very well Cecil saying that this is the best band he ever had,” says Sjöström. “Then he said: No this is our band.”
    I was fortunate to catch this group in October 1997 in Stockholm. The crux of it was the unified force of Taylor and Lovens – magnificently combustible, of course, but among cresting and crashing waves so much color and detail. Hauta-aho, whose music I only knew from a few records, was impressive – he could add to the rhythmic dialogue without muddying it, no mean feat. Against this momentum, Tristan Honsinger was able, sometimes quite abruptly, to divert things. Tristan has a dada streak. Along with his inimitable cello, he’ll often mumble and sing nonsense – improvised concrete poetry – a fascinating combination with Taylor’s sinewy vocalizations. Sjöström’s soprano saxophone penetrated the densest thicket – tonal strata, whirligig whorls, or staccato honking, Harri’s judicious, thoughtful, economical.
    Hearing this recording from a festival appearance a year later, almost to the day, I am brought back to what made the band so singular. The playing grows concentrated and then thins out, biomorphically, like fluid moving between cells, hitting a membrane, finding it permeable, squeezing through, turgid, bursting, flowing again. Taylor’s concept was an inspiration for several generations of free improvisors in Europe. He created a vocabulary unique to him, an individual language. Cecil’s gauntlet: no matter what instrument, make your own mother tongue. This path was chosen by many European improvisors – premium was on personal voice and its deployment in collective contexts. Here was a band with four such players, devoted to his music yet knowing that to be a Cecil apostle means being devoted to themselves, to their own personal languages.
    Everyone listens, instigates, and responds – five individuals working together to build a group sound. A unit in the complete meaning: its parts are united; its diversity reflects a unity. Our band.

    John Corbett, Chicago, June 2020


    When the Cecil Taylor quintet was ready to play at the Tampere Jazz Happening on October 30, 1998, all the musical world knew the virulent compactness of Taylor's groups, especially after the American pianist had established an on-going link with Berlin and the European public. That day in Tampere, a superlative performance of free improvisation (Harri Sjöström on soprano sax, Tristan Honsinger on cello, Paul Lovens on drums and Teppo Hauta-aho on double bass) was able to represent Taylor's enormous creative potential. It is a concert discovered in the archives of Finnish Radio YLE, never documented on a recording medium, which allows us to enter that absolutely unique world of Taylor’s groups: art and sound density, expressive universes that leave you speechless even after their conclusion. That day the sound power produced by the group was even able to impress Steve Lacy who, at the end of the concert, went to find the musicians backstage, saying:"...You guys really lifted the bandstand...", a statement that has been carved into the memory of that evening and also provides the title of this live recording. In Lifting the Bandstand the structure is typical: Cecil enters the stage, poetizes on his verses and enters into a free dance; then some deep clusters on the piano; the string musicians offer themselves in an abstract design and the development of a sort of propitiatory ritual outlined in all its excitement and fullness when the clusters start to become cutting and the musical set becomes explosive. In this concert Taylor and the four European musician-personalities continue their enthusiastically celebrated non-hierarchical style of play that they started from the very beginning of this constellation. They sow the seeds for a free and choral relationship that favors the shattering, the physical prowess of the musicians and a phenomenology of music. The first half hour of Lifting the Bandstand is an uncontrolled expansion of the sound mass, with the instruments continuously expanding so that one cannot believe that musicians can play with that intensity for so long: an instinctive, chemical experiment consumes itself, in which all "music" is demolished and re-presented according to a project of apparent intangibility, not a sterile but a constructive fury, which upsets for the speed undertaken and the extended techniques; only after an hour the shockwave fades into a cubic phase, less thunderous, more oriented towards a melodic quality and a timbre line, where onomatopoeia intervenes; there are some attempts to replicate operatic singing and we find reminiscences of classicism camouflaged in areas of interaction. Even when the music calms down in the end, there are still electric shocks of music, small refluxes of the instruments, which the musicians cannot completely dominate in this new situation of relaxation. When the ritual ends, the sensation is to have experienced the equivalent of a virtuous myth, a regenerating force that leaves the listener astonished, breathless and enriched not really knowing to where he had been taken.
    Ettore Garzia

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Desperados A 28:25
Desperados B 47:08


First time ever on CD, never before published Cecil Taylor Quintet feat. Harri Sjostrom - sax, Tristan Honsinger - cello, Teppo Hauta-aho - bass, and Paul Lovens - drums. The legendary band recorded live at Tampere Jazz Happening 1998


released January 20, 2021

Cecil Taylor, piano
Harri Sjöström, soprano sax
Tristan Honsinger, cello
Teppo Hauta-Aho, double bass
Paul Lovens, drumset, cymbals and gongs

Recorded October 30.1998 at Tampere Jazz Happening by the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE at Tampere Jazz Happening. Originally produced for YLE by Veli- Pekka Heinonen

Final mix by Patrick Römer and Harri Sjöström + Paul Lovens
Mastering by Patrick Römer of Unisono Records

Photo by: Luciano Rossetti
Graphic design: SEMAFOR
Executive Producer: Maciej Karłowski


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