Cecil Taylor: The World Of Cecil Taylor

With the pianist on the cusp between swing time and free this 1960 session contains perhaps his most colourful and engaging work


The World Of Cecil Taylor was recorded for Candid label in October 1960. It sees the pianist in a transitional phase, in a groove-based trio with Buell Neidlinger and Denis Charles; Archie Shepp appears on two tracks. Alternative takes from these sessions were first released in 1987, but this is the first time I’ve heard them. Here, an extra song and two alternate takes have been added. Some tracks were done in a single take, while the opening Air required 29 takes before being approved by Taylor. I wonder why there are only two alternative takes here, and how many others survive (if any).

The album was recorded in Nola’s Penthouse Sound Studios, New York City. All compositions are by Taylor except for two standards, This Nearly Was Mine and Lazy Afternoon. As Brian Olewnick comments, one can only imagine how the jazz fan of the time would have reacted: “Taylor . . . was midway between modernist approaches to standard material and his own radical experiments that would come to full fruition a few years hence.” Olewnick rightly comments on the session’s entrenched blues feel and pulse, one foot in traditional jazz forms and another in future possibilities.

When I discussed the album with pianist Adam Fairhall, he recalled one critic’s view that Taylor’s time seems cramped by the swing groove. The received wisdom is that Taylor’s work came into its own once freed from conventional jazz time, but as Fairhall comments, that time “is broad enough to accommodate Taylor, and vice versa”. He says: “I love the texture of single-note lines or flurries and chordal stabs coming out of Bud Powell. Taylor is bringing out jazz possibilities which disappear later with Conquistador or Unit Structures.”

I’ve agreed with this view since I fell in love with the explosive, driving Port Of Call many years ago – indeed, at that time, I wasn’t a fan of the mature Taylor. It’s great to hear an alternative take, even more violent and compelling. Possibly it was rejected because it speeds up, with a few resulting fluffs, towards the end. The World Of… is surely in my top 20 jazz albums.

Air [take 28]; This Nearly Was Mine; Port Of Call [take 2]; E.B. [take 2]; Lazy Afternoon; Number One; Air [take 29]; Port Of Call [take 3] (72.37)
Taylor (p); Buell Neidlinger (b); Denis Charles (d); Archie Shepp (ts, tracks 1 and 5). NYC, 12-13 October 1960.
Essential Jazz Classics EJC55762