Thursday, April 29, 2004

Cecil Taylor – Owner of the River Bank (Enja, 2004)

Owner of the River Bank is a collaboration between the renowned avant-garde composer and pianist Cecil Taylor and the Italian Instable Orchestra, recorded in 2000. It’s interesting to hear Taylor, who can often summon orchestral music just playing solo to meet with this large group. It’s a very successful meeting. The music is in one continuous suite with track numbers inserted into the disc.

Part One starts off slowly, almost like the musicians are tuning up, the orchestra and the star are feeling each other out – probing, looking for their bearings and direction. Things start to come together with Part Two where the music slowly builds in intensity as the horns square off against Taylor’s dark chords. Things build to hurricane force intensity led by a trumpet solo over full orchestra. The music drops back down to a simmer (the dynamics constantly shift over the course of the suite) as Taylor lays out and allows the horns to speak. Thunderheads build again late in the section, as the horns testify over Taylor’s piano onslaught.

Part Three ushers in a quieter, almost symphonic section. Horns begin to up the ante behind Taylor’s cascading piano. The music becomes faster paced and takes on a nervous feel… a roller coaster thrill ride, with the thunderous drums really rolling. At this point the music really does seem to take on the personification of a river – rolling along in an unending stream where the same face is never presented to you twice. Part Four is a shimmering piano solo, where Taylor gradually builds momentum. This builds into Part Five where Taylor continues to pick out notes to improvise on and the band kicks in following his lead. Chanted voices chime in during what almost seems like an incantation with the voices, horns and piano all reaching. The music waxes and wanes through loud and soft passages. Voices return adding a spooky sound to the proceedings. This part ends with a round of intense collective improvisation, led by Taylor’s fleet fingered chords.

Part Six begins with a milder Taylor solo, accompanied by trumpet. A somewhat ominous and quiet section follows almost like seeing a storm brewing in the distance. Things start to pick up in intensity and drums thunder and horns flash as Taylor supports and encourages it all. The Seventh and final section is by far the quietest of them all coming like peace following a great tumult. The record isn’t all over the top playing; in fact much of the music is admirable in its restraint. This is an excellent meeting of the minds.

Rating: 8.5

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