Dance is a crucial factor, both in this music and in Cecil Taylor’s life at large. His mother was a dancer, and he often described his technique as a way to reproduce choreography’s leaps and movements on the keyboard. Moreover, bassist Dominic Duval refers to these improvisations — recorded at 2003’s San Francisco Jazz Fest — as “a truly integrated dance in which there are two dancers, dancing and singing together in harmony and with love and respect for each other”. This relationship dates back to 1995, this double CD marking the first time in which the artists’ output as a bass/piano duo is released.
Given the players’ discerning adroitness and the kind of passionate feeling that some of the exchanges generates — particularly highlighted in “Bridge Works” on the second disc, a mixture of elegy and omniscient rationality — it is actually a shame that we must deal with a not immaculate recording quality. The somewhat muffled character of the tapes, which sound like if a lone stage microphone had captured the musicians, causes — for example — the near-disappearance of Duval from the mix whenever Taylor launches himself in those customary hard-punching eruptions on the piano’s lower regions. While the latter instrument’s inherent acoustic mass obviously remains at the forefront in spite of everything, the bass — even in less extreme sections — tends to lose muscle, poor equalization depriving it of the energy, but also of the delicate imagery that Duval is able to evoke, completely visible when he masterfully underlines Taylor’s vocal recitation around forty minutes into the concert. These flashes of fury and articulated expressiveness, these ever-lucid outbursts where impressive call-and-responses and lightning-bolt indomitability are fused into a single powerful statement, would have deserved a more systematic detailing that only a closer miking of the instruments and a careful mixing process could warrant. Instead, at times Duval appears to be desperately trying to find niches to sell something of his own amidst Taylor’s business. It’s just a deceiving impression.
The music is magnificent, though, and that’s what really counts at the end of the day. If we go with the flow and treat The Last Dance as a useful testimony of the final collaboration of two greats, warts and all, this becomes an important historic file. But I’d be lying if I told someone who has never listened to these artists (a Martian, maybe?) that this is the record to start with. Another paradigmatic case where one wonders if the document was better left in the archives, or worthy of publication. The depth of the involved parties and the essence of what’s heard ultimately furnish us with a positive answer to the second conclusion.