Cecil Taylor Quartet “Looking Ahead!” (1958)

Track Selection:  “Excursion on a Wobbly Rail” >
Earl Griffith (vib -1,2,4/6) Cecil Taylor (p) Buell Neidlinger (b) Dennis Charles (d)

NYC, June 9, 1958
US Contemporary pressings are renowned for their audiophile quality, and this one is no exception. Though having a preference for mono, the stereo mastering here is superb, full dynamic range with firm placement of the four musicians across the soundstage. And near-silent vinyl more characteristic of Japanese than US pressings. A double-check on the run out confirms its’ original status: just a machine stamp catalogue number, and no handwritten job codes as found on numerous modern digital-to-vinyl transfers.

Stereo in this case is an asset in following the music, which is a harbinger of Cecil Taylor’s later more exploratory and rhythmically free collaborative playing . In this early work (in contrast to the 1958 milieu of Bop) the combination of Taylor’s piano straining against an early avant-garde leash, paired with Earl Griffith’s cool  “behind the curve” vibraharp, creates a fresh unpredictable sound palette, with bass and drums maintaining rhythmic coherence. As spoof Jazz Club’s Louis Balfour would say, “Nice!”

Taylor’s two Blue Notes – BLP 4237 “Unit Structures” (1966,  New York labels, no “ear” Liberty/ Blue Note transition)  and BLP4260 “Conquistador” (1966 Liberty) continued his avant garde direction, which eventually falls over the edge into creative cacophony (to my ear) on the three volumes of  “Nuits de la Fondation Maeght” (recorded live in 1969 at a modern art gallery outside St Paul-de-Vence, France)

Looking Ahead! is not a record of very high value to jazz collectors: Popsike top price $130, mean $55, 16 sold, so a bargain for jazz listeners. Unsurprisingly most copies listed are near mint, suggesting it was rarely taken to the kinds of parties where dancing shook the record player arm. But great introspective and thoughtful late night listening.

Vinyl: released as M3562 (mono, yellow label, 1959) this first stereo pressing S7562 (green/gold label, deep groove) was released a few years after, around 1963 if the inner sleeve is anything to go by.

9 thoughts on “Cecil Taylor Quartet “Looking Ahead!” (1958)

  1. Hallo LJC. Thank you for your fantastic (and essentialy helpful) blog. Can you tell me please which (black and gold or green and gold) stereo pressing is the first? Or are they just two variants from the same era? I saw one with advertised black label at collectorsfrenzy pages (unfortunately without photograph of this label). Thank you.

    • I believe the black/gold text is earlier then the green/gold text, a presumption based on scarcity. In my experience you come across the green much more frequently than the black. The way the world works, things start small, they get bigger. Its very rare that it works the other way around. Not much in the way of proof, but a working hypothesis. Happy to yield to anyone who knows better.

      • Today I bought release of this record, which resemble the release presented here. The cover, label (DG) and dead wax machine stamp is identical. On the other side of inner sleeve is list of allready published releases, my list of modern jazz series ends by S7624 Shelly Mane: Outside which was recorded in 1969 and possibly released in 1970. It looks this kind of label lasted untill seventies.

  2. You missed one: Taylor published two records on Blue Note.
    Conquistador, 84260, I’m not sure it exists in mono.
    Piano is maybe the worst instrument to play free, no melody and no harmony, rhythm only.
    I’ve Looking ahead but I gave the two Blue Note away. I like Jazz advance on Transition, The world of Cecil Taylor on Candid, Indent on Unit Core/Arista; Montmartre and Nefertiti on Debut.
    Taylor seems more interesting to me when he plays solo.
    I’ve never liked his saxophonist, Jimmy Lyons, who played many years with him, usually as a solo horn.
    S. Paul de Vence concert is indigestible.
    Try, even knowing your soft interest for Free Jazz, Solo on japanese Trio PA 7067.
    You could love it.

    • Ok Dottor, as always you signpost the way, thank you. Put on my list to look out for.
      You are right about the second Blue Note, 4260 “Conquistador”. I checked and embarrassingly I do have it (stereo on Division of Liberty labels, cover address the east/west coast schitzo Liberty: 1776 Broadway NY/ 6920 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood LA). Embarassing because I think I played once and put it away for another day.
      Of piano, I like Bud Powell, a little Monk, Horace Silver, Duke Pearson, and Andrew Hill. Perhaps there is something not quite right with my ears?
      The Taylor on Candid recording I saw in a London store yesterday, but only mid 1980’s re-issues, which usually sound horrid. Candid originals are going to be pretty rare.
      But the recommendation is welcome. Ebay search here we go.

      • Glad to be useful with suggestions.
        If absent in your collection, you should run for the following piano trio records:
        Phineas Newborn: Here’s Phineas Atlantic 1235
        Eddie Costa: The house of blue lights Dot 3206
        Bill Evans: Everybody digs Bill Evans Riverside 12-291
        no free music inside, only great music you can’t live without.
        Phineas, pronounced fine-us, is a real monster of the piano, a sort of Bud in a more modern way.
        Try this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MUVbg-ONh0

        • I have recently sought out a copy of Eddie Costa’s ‘House of Blue Lights’ and absolutely love it. Thank you for recommending what is an outstanding piano trio album by any standards..I think it’s only available from Japan these days on VIM 5577, and I have been lucky enough to buy on Ebay a near mint – almost mint in fact – copy for just over £13 including postage. However I see the seller (Vinyl Garage) has now put up the price of his remaining copies to slightly over £23!

          Regarding Bill Evans, if you only have one of his recordings it simply has to be ‘Portrait in Jazz’. Never mind what anyone tells you about ‘Sunday at the VV’ – ‘Portait in Jazz’ is the one to have!

      • This is an awesome record, truly outstanding. One of my all time favourites. The piano and vibraphone duets remind me of Ornette Coleman’s partnership with Don Cherry. I have a UK mono pressing and it is one of my best sounding records

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