Today, I began in earnest my year-long re-examination of the music of Cecil Taylor, starting with the 1956 recording, Jazz Advance.
As with last year's exploration of Anthony Braxton, the challenge is to try to forget what you already know of the artist's work, the arc of his career, etc., and approach this music with fresh ears. At the same time, you want to consider the historical context of the work at hand, which often leads to the fullest appreciation of just what is being achieved and to what extent the artist is bringing new vision to the art form.
I'm not an academic, so my predominant approach to the music parallels what Nat Hentoff recommends in the liner notes to the reissue of Jazz Advance: to ignore the intellectual to concentrate on the emotional. This is not a problem with pieces like Taylor's interpretation of Monk's "Bemsha Swing." Even 53 years after the recording it is impossible to overlook the joy in Taylor's approach to the composition, the dancer's feigns and double-steps, the way he moves around the notes. For example, the way he reinvents the melody as he "re-states" it as an outro – giving just the barest hint of it, yet expanding on Monk's original line.
Even without the knowledge of everything that has come since (ah, the anticipation of so many pleasures to re-discover!) it is obvious that this Cecil Percival Taylor is a dancer, a poet, a man whose imagination can only be hinted at through what he does at the keyboard.
A wonderful thing to consider on a beautiful spring day.