Cecil Taylor Quartet featuring Anthony Braxton, supported by Polar Bear, Royal Festival Hall, 8 July 2007

Oh dear!

We had enjoyed some real success fairly randomly booking jazz concerts and both felt that we wanted to broaden our jazz horizons yet further. We didn’t know what music from the “Free Jazz Movement” sounded like, but when paired with terms such as “avant-garde jazz” and “controversial”, we thought that the Cecil Taylor Quartet featuring acclaimed saxophonist Anthony Braxton might really be for us.

Better still, with my South Bank Centre membership and early booking, there were box seats to be had. Neither of us had ever tried the boxes at the Royal Festival Hall before.

Better yet, on the night itself, we really enjoyed the support band, Polar Bear, also billed as “experimental”. I remember the spokesperson between numbers introducing one piece they were working on, entitled “Lente”, because his Italian girlfriend would use the word “eccellente”, shortened to “lente”, all the time. I remember this, because Daisy and I to this day sometimes use this term to express a big yes. It all seemed well cool.

Great, we thought, this is our sort of Jazz. We were really excited during the interval. If the support band is that good, the main act must be unbelievable.

It was unbelievable, but not in the way we’d hoped.

What a noise. It really is hard for me to describe it. Frenzied. Lacking melody and tone for simple folk like us to engage with. Perhaps past its peak. Perhaps absolutely at its peak – can’t help you there – we really couldn’t tell. A Jazz Geek describes it here. A detailed piece from All About Jazz explains how historic and excellent (lente?) it all was. Possibly quite peaky, then.

There is an old adage about jazz that it is the only form of music where the musicians are enjoying themselves more than the audience. Perhaps that adage was especially written for the Free Jazz Movement.

At least we can say that we have seen Cecil Taylor and Anthony Braxton perform together, historically. Perhaps in our dotage this fact will enable us to come across as incredibly seasoned and sophisticated Jazz aficionados. Wide-eyed youngsters might gather round to hear us describe our experiences; “we suffered for our art back in the day, children, my how we suffered.”

Of course, this “free jazz” concert wasn’t free at all. £35 a ticket (for some reason I kept the tickets) – worth the price of admission for the more modern, experimental and accessible Polar Bear alone. Perhaps the old 1950s movement was known as Free Jazz because no-one in their right mind would pay to hear it.

Still, those box seats proved to be a boon for us. After enduring 40-45 minutes of the Cecil Taylor set (each number was quite long and we were determined to check this out properly), we concluded that we would get no more out of this experience. Those box seats enabled us to make a quick escape between numbers almost imperceptibly and without disturbing other patrons.

Free at last, free at last…

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