Cecil Taylor | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Cecil Taylor




The anointed jazz greats get older and fewer by the minute--we've lost Art Farmer, Milt Jackson, and Harry "Sweets" Edison, among others, in just the past year. Pianist Cecil Taylor will turn 72 in March, but he hardly ever gets mentioned in the same breath as those guys, even though he's had a greater influence on the music's development than most of them. He's remained committed to his vision in a way very few of his peers have, and he doesn't perform tricks to please crowds--so this local appearance as part of Symphony Center's tony, middle-of-the-road jazz series is all the more remarkable. (It's also only his third Chicago gig in well over a decade.) As a composer, Taylor is so distinctive that a listener has no choice but to accept him on his own terms. He created a prototype for free jazz, dispensing with both chord changes and fixed tempos, and ditched traditional structure in favor of a more intuitive approach, stringing together ideas of various shapes and sizes with a unique logic. As a pianist he's a technical dynamo, capable of dense clusters, immense waves of sound, or the fleetest, most baroque melodic filigree. He plays both percussively and orchestrally, using his left and right hands polymetrically and polymelodically. He stretches rhythm like taffy, commanding ebb and flow and acceleration and deceleration, and he's a master of dynamics, contrasting the most fragile lyrical passages with clouds of low-end thunder. He's continued to perform and record regularly over the years, but in particular last year's Momentum Space (Verve)--with saxophonist Dewey Redman and drummer Elvin Jones--finds him at the peak of his powers. Taylor brings his regular trio, with drummer Jackson Krall and bassist Dominic Duval, for this show; the adventurous if stylistically mismatched bill also features the Kenny Garrett Quartet. Friday, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114.

Peter Margasak

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