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Unit Structures

4.1 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews

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Audio CD, September 21, 1987
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Product Description

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Genre: Jazz Music
Media Format: Compact Disk
Rating:
Release Date: 1-JAN-2002

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Uncompromising and endlessly controversial, Cecil Taylor's percussive, intellectual approach to jazz composition, improvisation and piano remain largely outside the mainstream after more than 40 years. A classically trained pianist prior to discovering the music of Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, and Horace Silver, Taylor soon developed a percussive, clustered, impressionistic style that, while taking Monk as a harmonic starting point, charts a course straight for the stratosphere. Indeed, Taylor frequently seems to have dispensed with both melody and form, yet he's brilliant at conveying a broad complex of emotions, from introspection to tenderness to rage.

Unit Structures, through its use of two bassists (Henry Grimes and Alan Silva) and the two-reed front of Ken McIntyre and Taylor-mainstay Jimmy Lyons, suggests a "double band." Yet such structures become almost meaningless in Taylor's world: it is all about energy and exploration. Punctuated by percussive bursts and melodic eruptions, Unit Structures is, despite its title, impressionistic and whimsical, although devoid of all standard structures and romance. Instead, Taylor pushes his band to explore the limits of improvisation where nothing--neither form, nor melody, nor structure--is a given. Still challenging listening after nearly four decades. --Fred Goodman


Product Details

  • Audio CD (September 21, 1987)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Blue Note
  • ASIN: B000005HD4
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #26,689 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Format: Audio CD
It's hard to understand why anyone would be proud not to understand something and the listener from Seattle's remark that this music has no form proves he doesn't. What established Unit Structures as a classic is that Taylor paved the way for composition within the sphere of so-called free jazz. Most of this music is tightly ordered (Taylor gets remarkable sonorities from the two reeds especially) and the solos elaborate on the "unit structures." Maybe the trick for a new listener is not to listen too hard, but rather let the music wash over you until you can hear it with some familiarity. I've been listening to Taylor for more about 15 years and for me this album remains one of his most refreshing, enigmatic, and joyful works. Unfortunately, Taylor's liner notes aren't too helpful; for a better understanding of his music, check out Gary Giddins's Visions of Jazz and Ekkehard Jost's Free Jazz.
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Format: Audio CD
This album, along with Taylor's other Blue Note Album Conquistador, mark the first moves by Taylor into his fully mature group style. Most of his work since these two ground-breaking recordings, has mined the veins he discovered in this period. Of the two albums, Unit Structures is the more tightly organized, all appearences to the contrary.
Unit Structures really has to be understood as a series of compositions. Unlike much of the New York avant-garde music of the 60's, this really isn't "free" jazz. Taylor's music is always highly controlled...just listen to how his piano "directs" the soloists and the rhythm section. His is not a cacophonous art, despite it's surface. Many of the works are based on predetermined modal scales, improvisations based on precomposed motives and themes, and obssessive development of tiny rhythmic cells. In many ways, Taylor shows influences of the European avant-garde (or influence on the European avant-garde) and yet the music always has a sense of it's jazz, blues and African roots. As such, I think Taylor may have been the most influential jazz composer of the 60's...paving the way for the experiements of Roscoe Mitchell, Henry Threadgill and other structuralists of the late 20th century avant-garde in jazz.
I think many others have hit on the way to listen to this music. Don't try to figure it out right away. Let the waves of sound wash over you first. As you listen more and more, the sense and structure of this music becomes more clear. This is music that can engage the head, but engages the heart first. It is almost shamanic music.
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Format: Audio CD
Before going into the review I would like to say that the people who claim that this is just noise does not know what they are talking about. I have listened to free- (which this record really isn't) and avantgarde jazz extensively for the last ten years and there are undoubtedly some records that can be described as noise but this isn't one of them. Just because the music puts more emphasis on textures and improvisation than on conventional melodies and "swing" doesn't make it noise. You guys have a lot to learn!!!
About the music, this features one of the best groups Taylor ever led. Drummer Andrew Cyrille, bassists Henry Grimes and Alan Silva
and altoist Jimmy Lyons were "regular" (if that can be said about guys who rarely had the chance to perform in public)band members of taylors various groups over the years. Added to this nucleus was multi-reedist McIntyre and trumpeter Eddie Gale Stevens. Especially the former is crucial to the overall sound of the album. The basses were used in a very cool way:Grimes kept the pulse going, functioning as a "traditonal" bass while Silva was "freer" and played with a bow, often in a very high register, commenting on the soloists various movements.
The first song "Steps" features McIntyre on alto (Stevens does not play on this song). It starts with a very complicated stop-start theme before an almost boogie-woogieish piano line introduces a screaming, intense McIntyre solo. The energy level is VERY high with Taylor variously playing/changing patterns and improvising along with the soloists. The greatest part of the song is Taylors solo which starts as a piano-drums duet before kicking into overdrive with the basses joining in. Awesome!!!
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Format: Audio CD
Cecil Taylor's "Unit Structures" is an avant-garde classic that documents his creativity in 1966, showing him continuing to push the boundaries of creative music. The sonic intensity and tendency toward collective group improvisation is in full force here. To some extent, this is in contrast to the recordings he did for Candid just a few years earlier, which, although radical, were still largely based around "tunes." The musicians in Taylor's group are legendary in their own right: Jimmy Lyons is on alto; Alan Silva is on bass; and Andrew Cyrille is on drums, to name just a few of the masters who take Taylor's unit structures to incredible heights.
I have only given the recording four stars because this session is definitely in dire need of remastering. For such classic and incredibly executed music, it is unfortunate that the sound of this Blue Note CD is fairly muddy and lacking in color. It is almost maddening to hear Taylor's piano sound as though it is underwater. The drums sound dull and Silva's incredible bass playing lacks clarity on this CD. Try to find an original LP copy of this session, because it will sound much better than this CD, which is a poor representation of the session.
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