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Genre: Jazz Music
Media Format: Compact Disk
Release Date: 1-JAN-2002
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
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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!!!
The next song "Enter, Evening" is a ballad of sorts with MCIntyre playing oboe. This could have drifted into impressionistic muzak but Taylors edgy playing keeps everyone on their toes. I have always heard this song as a dialogue between Silva and the soloists. His playing really comes through on this number. I really like the trumpet solo on this one...
The title track is VERY complicated with at least 20 different, short motives being played in various instrument combinations before McIntyres bass clarinet solo begins and the madness starts!!! I don't like the trumpet solo on this one but otherwise it's perfect and as far away from meaningless noise as it gets.
The last song is a Taylor solo piece (with drums and bass) that is brilliantly constructed. Because of the many instruments, Taylors solos on the other songs are quite short and this album seems to focus more on group interactions than individual solos so this song gives Taylor an opportunity to stretch out.
This album is really Cecils big break from the jazz traditon. It was his first proper recording in three and a half years and he had tons of great ideas that he just wanted to get out of his system. Cecil Taylor recorded another album, "Conquistador" a bit later which is even better. That album has only two songs and only one saxophone which means that there are more opportunities for the players (especially Cecil) to stretch out. I's also MUCH more accessible than"Unit Structures" with less rapsodic and more melodic themes. Unfortunately, it's out of print. Blue Note should really reissue that album-it would probably cost them much less than a Norah "BORING" Jones marketing campaign...
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.