Cecil Taylor, Silent Tongues | The Vinyl Anachronist

This recent LP shipment I’ve received from ORG Music came at just the right time–we’re getting ready to put out the Spring Issue of The Occasional and I’ve included my tour of the new Furnace Records pressing plant. While I was walking past the assembly line, two women were working on the packaging materials for Cecil Taylor’s Silent Tongues (Amazon). Little did I know that Silent Tongues, a live recording of Taylor at Montreux ’74, would wind up at my doorstep several weeks later. This beautiful pressing comes from the Pallas Group in Germany, but as you’ll see in the upcoming article Pallas and Furnace are partners and divide up the labor. I might have been standing next to the copy that would eventually wind up on my front porch.

Cecil Taylor’s Silent Tongues is very similar to Roland Hanna‘s Perugia, which I reviewed in my blog last October. Both remasters are from ORG Music, both come from live performances at Montreux ’74, and both feature bold solo piano performances from two gentleman who were at the vanguard of jazz at the time. Even the sound quality is almost identical between the two albums. As I mentioned in the Hanna review, “On this recording, Hanna sounds like a very small pianist playing in a very large space, which might have been the case. The sound of his piano is distant, and the listener has the perspective of someone halfway back in the audience.” In Silent Tongues, it sounds like the same stage, which it was, recorded by the same guy with same equipment with all of the knobs on the mixer turned to the same exact position.

The similarities between Perugia and Silent Tongues end there, however. Cecil Taylor has a very different style from the quick and lyrical Hanna, who was originally taught to play classical music. Taylor is out there, digging up the crazy dissonance, traveling through uncharted scale progressions in an effort to find an elusive answer to his many questions. Silent Tongues is a monumental works, comprised of five distinct movements, and each movement is its own harried search for truth. It’s truly unusual music, even for the avant-garde factions of jazz that were in full force in the mid ’70s, and perhaps jazz reviewer Scott Yanow said it best: “…it can be said that Taylor essentially plays the piano like a drum set, creating percussive and thunderous sounds that are otherworldly and full of an impressive amount of energy and atonal ideas.”

Taken from that angle, the thunder starts to create its own logic. Silent Tongues was said to confound many at Montreux, even though you can hear the enthusiastic applause from the audience on this LP. Even the two encores included in this album are not meant to be a respite, since they are merely different takes on two of the movements, “Jitney” and “After All.” But those who look back at Cecil Taylor and what he did in Switzerland 45 years ago will find plenty to admire in this quiet, magnificent pressing. Those who were there and in the know consider this performance to be a lightning bolt, an exceptionally animated and “theatrical” performance that ranks among the greatest in jazz history.