|Those who have witnessed a Cecil Taylor concert will no doubt look back on the experience as a form of ritual. At times violent, while at others embracing and reassuring. Taylor's Unit, as it stood back in 1981, was a solid fortress. Along with percussionist Rashid Bakr, it featured unmistakable talents of bassist William Parker and Taylor's long-standing musical partner, the ever-brilliant Jimmy Lyons. To some, Lyons may be an off-setting factor. Some say his hard-bop artistry is over the top or that it's too concise to fit into Taylor's music. I say garbage! Lyons' call and response but most of all his agility are what makes this record a gem. If you've heard other Taylor records that feature Lyons (and there are quite a few great ones to choose from), you won't be disappointed with this one. His mature hard-bop adaptability to the rest of the Unit and the Unit's adaptability to his playing make this worth the price of admission alone. When Lyons plays, there's melody, there's fire and most of all, there's this discernable intensity that shows he's playing with his gut as well as his heart. Add to all of this a killer rhythm section and the heat turns from hot to sweltering.
This is one of William Parker's first appearances with Taylor but he's not a shy school boy. In fact, there are plenty of moments when he's pounding away on the strings, almost as if guessing this will turn out to be a race with great rewards at its end. Rashid Bakr is a much more subtle drummer than Ronald Shannon Jackson was on One Too Many Salty Swift and Not Goodbye from three years previous. His greatest moments come when he's duelling with Taylor. Duelling percussion extravaganza continues in a number of passages as Bakr tries to outdo Taylor's hard-hitting keystrokes on the piano. When we come to Taylor, we hear a monstrous castle. As ever, he's a solid block, directing his comrades with stern force, though still allowing for some breathing space. The piano clusters come fast and heavy. When he slows down to play a melodic passage (which is evident on occasion), it's then that he gives the audience permission to take a break and breath for a few seconds. Otherwise, this is speed-demon Taylor the almighty at his peak. For obvious reasons, this is not a record for everyone (you either love Taylor or you despise his direction in music). For those brave enough to take the journey, it's best if you simply allow the Unit's music to wash all over you and properly soak you. Prepare yourself for take off, the seas are rough.
Tom Sekowski December 06