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John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet at the Earshot Jazz Festival

Cecil Taylor at Lincoln Center

“The piano should imitate an orchestra,” said Jelly Roll Morton, and pianist Duke Ellington went a step further when he made an orchestra his instrument. The next step was to make an orchestra into a big piano, which is what Cecil Taylor did-he gathered 12 musicians who, each in his way, create like Taylor: they join composed and improvised elements as he does, and they improvise together in his way. Or so it seemed the week after Taylor’s 75th birthday, when his fiery ensemble shook the walls of Iridium, Broadway’s imaginatively booked jazz cellar.

As with most of Taylor’s work, this was hot jazz-brash, hard-hitting, dense, full of vital activity. This band has performed together off and on for three years and it has a number of precedents, including the university student big bands that Taylor began forming around 1970. And those big bands expanded on the original ideas of the small groups the pianist had begun to develop as long ago as the 1950s. His big bands have always sounded like nothing else in jazz except, in a way, the 1970s concert albums by the British/South African band Brotherhood Of Breath, led by pianist Chris McGregor.

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