July 13, 2024

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CD review: Cecil Taylor Unit – Live At Fat Tuesdays: February 9, 1980 First Visit – 2024: Video, CD cover

When, in this music, he succeeds in fusing the emotional (translated into its lyrical and dramatic qualities) passage of ritual with the complex architecture of his ensemble’s infrastructural procedures, we have a bridge into Cecil Taylor’s creative spirit, and far beyond.

Alfred Lion on Blue Note. Orrin Keepnews on Riverside. Bernard Stollman on ESP. Manfred Eicher on ECM. Bob Weinstock on Prestige. There are so many more record label founders who are associated with the ups and downs of their labels but some truly rise to the top, each with their own curious, sometimes mind-boggling stories of working with some of the best jazz musicians in the world (and all with curious tales of their own, such as Weinstock’s cheapness or Stollman’s eccentric confrontationalism). One name that should be on that list for anyone is Werner X Uehlinger, founder of Hat Hut Records (aka HatArt and hatOLOGY).

Uehlinger formed the label via a chance encounter with a show by the musician Joe McPhee. Uelinger was so taken with this then barely recorded musician that he formed a label just for him, similar to what Tom Albach would do for Horace Tapscott some years later. But while Albach stuck almost entirely to Tapscott and his musicians, Uehlinger quickly got ambitious. A massive fan of avant-garde/free jazz in the sixties, he began to hunt for his favorites.

He began recording their concerts and releasing their albums, first on LP, then in jewel cases, and finally, in the late 90s, their legendary orange cardboard sleeves (or white with an orange line for classical, which Uehlinger continues releasing in ever increasing numbers). Onto these came some of the best ever releases from many artists with an emphasis on names like Anthony Braxton and Steve Lacy. Another of these favorites was Cecil Taylor, for whom Uehlinger released a great number of recordings, especially at the end of the seventies and into the eighties, including one of the all-time Taylor masterworks, “One Too Many Salty Swift and Not Goodbye”.

That’s significant to the album at hand, as the recordings from Fat Tuesday’s from February 8-10, with Uehlinger recording in a van on the street in front of the venue, were the first for Taylor after “Salty Swift” and a few other albums featuring the legendary 1978 Unit. From that band comes Jimmy Lyons, of course, and Ramsey Ameen on violin. Also present for the first time in a long time is Sunny Murray, who helped Taylor define his band sound on a European tour in the early sixties, and Alan Silva, who played on “Unit Structures” and “Conquistador!”, among other Taylor recordings. They are joined by the always unbelievable Jerome Cooper, and if this line-up and date is reminding any of “It is In the Brewing Luminous”, it should. That album comes from a set recorded late on the 8th and into the 9th, and it was released contemporaneously. This is the show from the next set on the night of the ninth, and it is another must for Taylor collectors.

Right off, like “Luminous”, this album is toying with the famous motif that Taylor would employ in both band and solo shows. It was already introduced as far back as 1976, but it evolved until reaching its full form on “Fly! Fly! Fly! Fly! Fly!”, the next recordings after this show. The motif eventually became the hinge upon which the iconic Berlin 88 shows turned. Here, it opens the untitled piece with a classical flair. It is serene, with the other instruments occasionally tapping in the background. After a few minutes, Lyons comes in with some lovely alto.

This is roughly the same beginning as “Luminous” but wait – here it is more subtle, if that word can be used for a full-on Cecil Taylor concert. As the band inevitably flies off into the stratosphere, propelled by Cooper’s aggressive drums and Murray, always sitting just behind Cooper and Taylor. The combination of the unique drums styles was always a highlight of “Luminous”, and it remains such here.

There’s also some truly excellent playing by the band members. Ameen, who somehow stood his own against the massive wallop of Ronald Shannon Jackson’s drums in the 78 Unit, here finds new pathways to go down, leading to applause, and making one wish for more between the pianist and the violinist. Lyons is almost stately throughout, pulling back often just as he begins to attack the saxophone, keeping that dynamic going throughout the show. Most of all, check out Taylor.

On the beginning of the second marker (as usual, it’s just one show split into three tracks), Taylor goes into one of the finest solos I can think of by him during this time. He’s soft at times, leaning in to the still-forming motif. Even here, though, he keeps a suspense in the solo, making classical moves that inevitably lead into thrusts of note clusters, then back into the stately. Around the eight minute mark, he’s making some of the loveliest sounds of his career. Of course that ebbs and flows as what sounds like Murray brushes the cymbals. Finally, that pure sound of Lyons is back and the track builds again. After the fieriest playing on the record, the third marker comes back to Taylor, this time joined by Ameen at first and then Lyons.

It’s an extraordinary passage, as good as the ending pieces on “Salty Swift”, and that tension continues. That’s what keeps this album so good so continuously; it is a journey filled with peril, nothing ever as soft and sweet or hard and difficult as it may sound. To that regard, I have to notch this a hair over “It is In the Brewing Luminous”, though I want to qualify that by quality, both are equal. On this, there is even more evolution of the sound, and it should be listened to on headphones in solitude to fully get the heft of it.

A classic to add to the many before it, not in the least due to what may be the best Taylor vocalisms against band instruments ever recorded. Someone blows a bird call, and the balaphone is finally pulled out, as Taylor seems to work his utterings into the sound of the instruments as opposed to against them. Still, it’s the continued mind meld of the band, coming in and out around Taylor’s impassioned playing, that makes this one of the best.

About a decade ago, Uehlinger retired, selling his beloved archives to a “new” Hat Hut. This new company reissued a few critical albums and promptly went out of business. Thankfully, Uehlinger was able to get some financial help to get the company up and going again. Between 2019 and today, it’s best known for its ezzthetics series, which combined mostly well known albums by some of the sixties free jazz musicians that Uehlinger loved best.

The sound is great on all of them, but sometimes the CDs leave off tracks or pair albums from vastly different periods of an artist’s discography. Those continue but now Uehlinger created First Visit, and this is its first release, returning to the concert archives that clearly, certainly based on this, hold many more treasures. Seek this out and keep a watch. And who knows, maybe the missing two sets from this series will form later releases to complete the three night stand at Fat Tuesday’s. One can only dream.

Art Lange, liner notes

1. February 9, 1980 I 24:06
2. February 9, 1980 II 20:43
3. February 9, 1980 III 21:17

Jimmy Lyons – alto saxophone
Ramsey Ameen – violin
Cecil Taylor – piano
Alan Silva double – bass & cello
Jerome Cooper – drums & african balaphone
Sunny Murray – drums

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