Cecil Taylor at the French Embassy Wednesday, November 10

Some describe free jazz as “apocalyptic”: Well, what is fall if not the apocalypse? The decaying corpses of leaves pile up in the streets! Naked, gnarled tree limbs writhe in the cold, stiff wind! The grass browns and withers away! Now is the obvious time for chaos and madness in our music! Melodramatic? God, yes. But so is the end-of-the-world-aesthetically-speaking mentality that frequently greets avant-garde music in this buttoned-up town—or, more to the point, keeps avant-garde music out of it. Still, D.C. has a small but dedicated clutch of promoters and producers who’ve been working hard to bring it back here anyway, and this year especially they’ve had some major success. Indeed, in October and November there are some spectacular free-jazz bookings, and at least one major coup. The coup? Why, that would be Cecil Taylor, as iconic and influential a figure as the avant-garde can boast. The 81-year-old pianist is one of the claimants to the title of “inventor of free jazz,” internationally honored and respected for his exhaustingly intense yet mesmerizing keyboard percussion. Simply put, it’s like listening to a piano that’s been left outside during a hurricane. Taylor performs in Washington approximately as often as the city has a winning baseball season (the last time this writer can verify was a White House concert for Jimmy Carter), meaning that his Nov. 10 solo concert at the French Embassy in Georgetown may literally be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Though nothing quite as monumental as Taylor, the agenda that the usual suspects at Transparent Productions is offering this fall is impressive and ambitious. The program kicks off October with the three-day Transparent Improvised Music Event, which takes place Oct. 1-3 at Joe’s Movement Emporium in Mount Rainier, Md. Oct. 1 features a duet performance by pianist Yuko Fujiyama and vocalist Lisa Sokolov, performing original work; Oct. 2 is Trio X, led by legendary multireedist Joe McPhee; and on Oct. 3 is a 10th-anniversary performance by trumpeter Roy Campbell, Jr.’s great quartet, The NU Band. It’s a mini-festival, in essence. Still, for Transparent, that’s not sufficient to fill out October. The group has a solo pianist of its own to bring to the French Embassy: Matthew Shipp, a piano adventurer whose tangled style can obscure the richness of his palette; both style and palette, however, are sometimes obscured by Shipp’s outspoken criticisms of other jazz styles and practitioners. Offended jazz-mag readers need not worry, though: Shipp leaves his commentary on the printed page. Finally, the Library of Congress injects some experimental sounds into its 2010-2011 season of free concerts with Wadada Leo Smith, a trumpeter/composer and longtime member of Chicago avant-garde collective The AACM. Smith performs with his renowned Golden Quartet, featuring pianist Vijay Iyer, arguably the most talked-about pianist in contemporary jazz; bass innovator John Lindberg; and edgy and eclectic drummer Pheeroan akLaff at the library’s Coolidge Auditorium on Nov. 20. Though it’s the last of the autumn’s avant-garde showcases, it’s also the one with the highest number of talented persons onstage—enough, perhaps, to make you forget that they’re playing the soundtrack to Judgment Day.

Our Readers Say

sounds like a child set loose on a piano.
An hour of that kind of playing and I would be ready for an asylum.
Homeboy is a snappy dresser too.
Cecil is a Godsend, saw Him at Blues Alley many years ago with Tony Oxley and William Parker. It changed my life for the better. If you can muster up the courage see him, you will never regret it. He indeed made time standstill.
Details? When? $?
Saw Cecil last night at the French Embassy and he was fantastic. People who don't like that "kind of playing" should just go somewhere else and spare us their comments because we really don't care and you're not adding anything to the discussion. At 81, Cecil is a poster boy for senior vitality. I thought his playing was inventive, creative, impassioned, focused, unpredictable, and complex. One of my best expenditures of $45 in the past couple of years.
Cecil Taylor performed at the Library of Congress in February 1999. There's a cd from that show.

http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/album.jsp?album_id=86949
Wow. Thanks, SteveK. I had no idea. Ordered!

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