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Andrew Cyrille/William Parker/Enrico Rava - 2 Blues For Cecil (TUM)

21 January 2022

There’s free improvisation, and then there’s Cecil Taylor. Few outpaced the late pianist when it came to spontaneous composition. Taylor threw every atom in his body into the moment, letting his fingers do the walking, running, jumping, kicking, punching, caressing, and everything else – seemingly of their own volition, but in truth simply channeling the musical stream emanating from his soul. Though well known for his solo performances, Taylor also led his longtime Unit for decades, and it took a very special kind of musician to keep up with him. 2 Blues For Cecil gathers a trio of those distinctive players for both a tribute to the boss and an exploration of their chemistry as an entity.

Drummer Andrew Cyrille and bassist William Parker each served decade-plus tenures with the Unit, albeit separately, while flugelhornist Enrico Rava performed with Taylor’s larger ensembles. As such, each player knows that emulating Taylor’s style is not the way to pay proper tribute to his spirit. Taylor’s art encouraged others to channel their own unfiltered vision, rather than attempt to copy him, and it’s a notion embraced by his former bandmates. That’s not to say that Cyrille, Parker and Rava don’t indulge in free improv – of course they do. But there’s nothing here that sounds like Unit Structures or Nefertiti, The Beautiful One Has Come. (Note the lack of piano.) The four collective improvisations, two entitled “Blues For Cecil” and two simply named “Improvisation,” aren’t Taylor-style blowouts so much as inquisitive wanderings, as the trio pulls threads from the ether and follows them in their own distinctive styles. Cyrille spirals around the pulse, exploring the spaces between the beats, Parker alternates between thrumming bass grooves and arco solos, and Rava floats above it all, lifting the songs into space. “Improvisation No. 2” makes a special impression, as it brings the tempo and volume down to wind through inner space more than the outer galaxies, while “Blues For Cecil 2” really digs into the rhythm of its title.

Each musician also brings their own compositions to the party. Rava contributes the shimmering “Ballerina” and the free-range, much-recorded “Overboard,” both older tunes given fresh, exciting readings here. Parker shares “Machu Picchu,” a song originally recorded as a solo bass track, but given vibrant and tweaked new life with Rava’s soaring horn lines and Cyrille’s surging rhythms. The drummer brings a couple of pieces written specifically for the album, including the skittering, unrestricted “Top, Bottom and What’s in the Middle” and “Enrava Melody,” a rhythmically demanding romp Cyrille wrote especially for Rava’s boisterous horn. The trio ends the record by bringing their envelope-pushing improv skills to bear on a standard: Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s “My Funny Valentine,” given the kind of moody reading fans might expect after Chet Baker’s career-defining take, while staying true to the players’ own personalities.

Taylor celebrated the creative impulse by eschewing any barriers on how it could be expressed. While not nearly as boundary-obliterating as Taylor himself – who could be, after all? – Cyrille, Parker and Rava nonetheless stay true to that ideal, letting their own instincts guide the music to an uncommon sphere all their own.