Tuesday, November 18, 2008


While the Barbican hosted live sessions which united Laurel & Hardy and Buster Keaton with the Millennial Territory Orchestra and Bill Frissell, over in East London, at the RIch Mix complex, Edge 08 hosted a radical freestyle session that celebrated the European premiere of Yasuhiko Shirai's '4 Hands' - an elegant and immensely engaging film that documents the musical meeting of Japan's premier jazz pianist, Yosuke Yamashita and his "master" Cecil Taylor.

Cecil Taylor ranks alongside John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman as one the most influential forces of the US jazz avant garde that revolutionised and globalised the music in the Sixties. In this film, we are immediately confronted, on the one hand, with the respectful, reverential vibe of Yamashita, who is poised to live out his dream and, on the other hand, an impish, feisty and intellectually rigorous Taylor, who wastes little time in demolishing the interview process while dismissing "jazz" as derogatory and restrictive.

Effortlessly stylish, in a Yohji Yamamoto kind of way, 78 years old Cecil Taylor sports an array of headwear (I'm not sure about the jail-style nylon stocking skull cap) and chunky colourful leggings. He moves like a dancer attuned to his own internal rhythm and as we are immersed in the rehearsals it's clear that there is a deep and respectful bond between him and his "colleague", Yamashita.

Hearing Cecil Taylor's music completely changed Yamshita's attitude to playing. As far as he is concerned Taylor's approach to music is totally unique and equally liberating. As they play together there is a sense that they are sparring and here we're talking the grace, speed and explosive power of Sugar Ray Leonard.

The footage of the actual concert, which took place in Tokyo in 2007, is astonishing. As viewers we are given access to the musicians in a way that one could never have in a concert hall setting. We are drawn the facial contact across pianos, given glimpses of a notation system that is totally unique and get an opportunity to watch the hands dance over the ivories or pound them relentlessly. To see their finger at work, filiing the whole cinema screen, is amazing.

As a teenager, I was introduced to the music of Cecil Taylor by my father, he was a fan, but to me it just seemed like noise. However, upon seeing and hearing him play live in Ronnie Scott's some years later (I was sat at the the front, adjacent to the piano) it all fell into place and made sense.

This film is like that. You can connect with the physical process and with both musicians' free flowing mental agility. You are drawn into the pulsating energy of the performance and the sounds and left surpisingly open and receptive, to their individual interpetations of each others' music.

The elegant, relaxed pace of the film adopted by it's director,Yasuhiko Shirai, allows the music to breathe. It also allows the audience the opportunity and the space to take in the spectacle and reflect while negotiating the shifting tides of sound that oscillates between a shimmering calm and a firece storm. '$ Hand@ is a film both it's director and it paricipants can be proud of.

Paul Bradshaw (straight no chaser)
4 hands flyer page 1

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