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Cecil Taylor: Return Concert (Oblivion)

A review of the late jazz pianist's full performance at New York Town Hall in 1973

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Cecil Taylor: Return Concert
The cover of Return Concert by Cecil Taylor

Are you kidding? Spring of Two Blue-J’s, one of the great concert triumphs of free-jazz pianist Cecil Taylor’s career, is just the shorter second set from a two-set night? Perhaps it’s not the world-reshaping news that the recent spate of new Coltrane releases has been, but it’s big, and the newly released full concert (given at New York’s Town Hall on November 4, 1973, his first public performance after nearly five years in academia—thus the “Return” of the title) deserves your attention.

Much of the focus rightly belongs on “Autumn/Parade,” the 88-minute, never-released single piece (necessitating the album’s digital-only format) that the first set comprises. The piece is one of Taylor’s most motivic, with short phrases that he introduces at the moment he starts playing and that his quartet (alto saxophonist Jimmy Lyons, bassist Sirone, drummer Andrew Cyrille) promptly begin developing. As Lyons quickly moves into hiccup-y atonal shrieks, the pianist holds firm with repetitions and variations on those phrases, adding a few new ones as well. More subtly, Sirone keeps pace (often note-for-note) with Taylor, while Cyrille skitters alongside them and shows his uncanny ear for smart accent placement. Long and melodic though “Autumn/Parade” is, it retains Taylor’s trademark percussive ferocity; even in solo breaks throughout the piece’s second half, it never flags.

Also noteworthy, however, is the first legitimate release of the oft-bootlegged “Spring of Two Blue-J’s” since its initial 2,000-copy run in 1974. As on that rare original album, the composition is played twice—first as a solo piano performance, then with the quartet. Both takes begin as lushly chorded fantasias and whip themselves into frenzies, with the band version highlighted by a pointillistic Cyrille-Sirone dialogue near its conclusion. It’s as good as its exalted reputation suggests.

Yet high-caliber as these two hours of intensity may be, they are also exhausting. Treat them as two separate albums and they’re still exhausting. Add in a beautiful, full-color PDF booklet (a damn shame it’s not in physical print), and let the very long and painstaking digestion commence.

Learn more about the Return Concert on Amazon & Apple Music!

“All at Full Fullness”: Remembering Cecil Taylor

Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.