¡El Jefe!

S [side 2]
Cecil Taylor Unit
Nicaragua: No Pasaran
Nica : 1984

CT, piano; Jimmy Lyons, alto sax; William Parker, bass; Rashid Bakr, drums; André Martinez, percussion; Brenda Bakr, vocals.

Chilly Jay Chill: This is one of Cecil’s rarest records, a live date in Willisau from 1983. It sits between the wonderful solo joint Garden and the classic big band Winged Serpent on the official release list. An especially great period for Cecil. 1980s REPRESENT.

Drew LeDrew: That said, the recording itself isn’t exactly pristine and perhaps it’s not one of Cecil’s best? Still, plenty of enjoyment.

CJC: So what makes a great Cecil recording for you?

DLD: Tough question. It breaks down to some extent into solo vs. group performances.

CJC: It must be hard to capture the extreme detail and energy with his groups. His Blue Note and HatHut recordings really benefit from the studio environment and high production values. This record is definitely rawer, but maybe the intense ritualist vibe of the performance couldn’t be recreated as well in more pristine and airless conditions.

DLD: On the “good Cecil group” tip, I think in addition to recording conditions, there’s got to be a minimum of folks who get his concept and aren’t fighting against the flow. This doesn’t tend to be a big problem overall, and this is perhaps his best capital U unit: William Parker, Jimmy Lyons, Rashid Bakr. There is definitely a voodoo/ritualistic vibe happening — the poor fidelity only adds to the sense of things somewhat out of control. Cecil goes Santeria?

CJC: It also has the vibe of a bootleg, a super high quality one, but maybe that’s why this record isn’t so well known. I wonder if Cecil had anything to do with the name of the record and the unusually direct political slant to the song titles which spell out the Sandinista acronym?

DLD: Given the lack of any overt political statements within Cecil’s immense catalog, it seems highly likely that this was a release of dubious legality that had its politics superimposed from without. Which does raise the question: what, if anything, does his music say? Or mean? Or transmit? The closest analogy I’ve been able to come up with is that it combines particle physics — looking very intently at very small pieces of matter — with cosmology/astronomy — an effort to encompass the totality of everything. We always seem to end up a long way from the shore! Also: dancing. And sure, architecture.

CJC: It’s easy to imagine that Cecil might’ve been sympathetic to the Sandinista cause, but I agree his music can’t be pinned down the merely political. “The totality of everything” – that sounds right. And maybe one of the reasons his music generally requires so many notes? Or as the documentary about him says: All the Notes. His music — especially live — is so immersive and requires such total focus that afterwards I can’t tell if 30 minutes have passed – or two hours. Richard Foreman’s best plays also suspend my ability to accurately locate myself in time, perhaps suggesting another way to experience the flow of life and unlocking something in our perceptive abilities?

William Burroughs thought language was infected and words couldn’t transmit dissident ideas because they were immediately absorbed back into the corrupted system. So he used cut-ups to try and hack into the source code of language itself. Maybe that’s the same effect that Cecil’s music has – it hacks into your senses and demands you experience it in a different way. Perhaps, in the largest sense, that’s a political ploy? Not to deny his musicality either, of course….

DLD: Speaking of words, what do you make of the vocals? Not generally a part of the Unit, I don’t think, excepting Cecil’s own exhortations. Gotta be a tough gig, and I actually think the singer (drummer Bakr’s wife?) acquits herself quite well.

CJC: Apart from Jeanne Lee and some of the torch songs and chants injected into Sun Ra’s tunes, I’m not usually a fan of vocals in this context. But she’s nicely woven into the overall musical fabric and plays a big part in generating that ritualist vibe.

DLD: I’m not a native speaker, but “No Pasaran” means “no parasols,” right?

CJC: I see those Spanish lessons have been paying off.


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