Writing in The New York Times in September of 1973, under the reductive heading “Pop,” famed music critic Robert Palmer drew a parallel between the great Cecil Taylor’s return to the stage after a five-year absence and novelist William Burroughs. Both utilized “reiterative motifs,” explained Palmer. In Taylor’s concert recording, we can hear these ideas presented and developed over the course of two powerfully stirring hours.
“Burroughs … describes his own objectives as ‘direct recording of certain areas of psychic process,’ wrote Palmer. “This description is applicable to Taylor, who would doubtless agree with Burroughs’s insistence that he is not an entertainer. But while Burroughs’s writing often concerns itself with processes of stagnation and entropy, Taylor’s music deals with the creation of energy and with motion.”
Energy is a word often associated with Taylor’s work, for obvious reasons. As an artist, he was a force of nature. Not alone in his insistent envelope pushing, but certainly his work places him in a very small group of genuine innovators. Palmer’s reference to “motion” is equally important though. Because his work always progressed, it always took listeners on a journey,. Even if most of the stops along the way existed above the heads of a great majority of us.
This recording marked Taylor’s return to the stage after a five-year break. He’s joined at The Town Hall in New York City by Cecil Taylor Unit players Jimmy Lyons on alto saxophone and Andrew Cyrille on percussion, along with bassist Sirone. Its second half – “Spring of Two Blue-J’s” – was warmly received at the time. released on Taylor’s Unit Core label. The Village Voice rated it “Record of the Year.” This was more than just a return to the stage, wrote the paper’s Gary Giddins. It marked “an end to [Taylor’s] marginalization, and the evidence of a maturity.”
Its opener – “Autumn/Parade” – will be available for the first time in this new digital package next month, from Oblivion Records. It is an 88-minute treasure, an essential Taylor recording not to be dismissed as a post-mortem vault release. Taylor pushes his instrument with complete authority, as does the band around him. Lyons and Cyrille both deliver inspired performances, illustrating how great artists can raise an accompanist’s game.
Finally presented in full, The Live Return Concert is an instant classic, half a century in the making.