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From cacophony to clarity: Cecil Taylor's 1973 return concert is a fresh revelation

Cecil Taylor at the 1976 Montreux Jazz Festival.
Andrew Putler
Redferns / Getty Images
Cecil Taylor at the 1976 Montreux Jazz Festival.

Cecil Taylor's intensity at the piano conjured a musical sorcery stretching far beyond himself or his collaborators. In a 1975 interview with Boston Public Television, he said: "The purpose of the music is to achieve a levitation or a trance which is the existence beyond the normal existence."

As polarizing as it continues to be, Taylor's music demands a courageousness and engagement from listeners that can be amazingly rewarding. His dynamism comes across as a full spectrum on Cecil Taylor - The Complete, Legendary, Live Return Concert, due out on Oblivion Records on Feb. 15.

This performance, made at at the Town Hall on Nov. 4, 1973, served as Taylor's first appearance in the New York area in five years. In the interim, his tenure as visiting professor at Antioch College and University of Wisconsin-Madison did nothing to diminish his power. If anything, the newly unearthed, 88-minute piece "Autumn/Parade" shows Taylor in unbridled form, with an endurance and energy flow that outpaces even his formidable band members: saxophonist Jimmy Lyons, bassist Sirone and drummer Andrew Cyrille.

In this episode of Jazz United, we dive into this concert, discuss Taylor's impact on our listening — and welcome an expert witness, WBGO's John Newcott, who was in attendance at the Town Hall that evening. What Newcott saw left an impression that confirms Taylor's ability to transport active listeners into a completely different space.

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Jazz United is produced for WBGO Studios by Trevor Smith.

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Greg Bryant has been a longtime curator of improvisational music. At the age of 3 in his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, he was borrowing his father’s records and spinning them on his Fisher Price turntable. Taking in diverse sounds of artistry from Miles Davis, Les McCann, James Brown, Weather Report and Jimi Hendrix gave shape to Greg's musical foundation and started him on a path of nonstop exploration.
A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, and a regular contributor to NPR Music.