The performances by legendary free jazz pianist, Cecil Taylor are a sight to marvel. At his prime he could strike each key with a level of power, intensity and speed that, in this writer’s eyes, resembles a sort of physicality that I can only compare to the great jazz drummers Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich (if you haven’t seen their epic drum battles, YouTube it ASAP). And while I am far from a piano expert (aside from a few key Journey melodies I can rip on the synth), the comparison is in tune with a philosophy that has been used to describe Taylor’s pioneering style — the piano is really just 88 tuned bongos, with each key bearing the tune of a different drum. Taylor’s percussive style paved the way to new ways of thinking about how to play the piano, breaking down tradition and essentially ushering in the era of experimental jazz.
In order for music to evolve, the unconventional needed space to flourish. Over 40 years ago, Vancouver’s Western Front Society emerged as a space for the exploration and creation of new art forms. Today, it operates as an artist-run-center for contemporary art and new music. And, in a wink to the great Cecil Taylor, it is currently running a series titled, 88 Tuned Bongos — a performance series highlighting the latest innovations in experimental piano and keyboard projects.
I visited the Western Front on a cold and rainy Vancouver evening. Drenched from head to toe after a regrettable bike-ride, I stumbled upon a rehearsal between composer, Doug Blackley and pianist, Andrew Czink. I was immediately astounded by the whale-like noises emanating from what, at first glance, looked like a regular grand piano.