Last month New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art celebrated brilliant and singular pianist Cecil Taylor with a series of performances, film and video screenings, listening sessions, and poetry readings, plus an exhibition of “archival videos, audio, notational scores, photographs, poetry, and other ephemera,” all under the name Open Plan: Cecil Taylor. The whole thing was bookended by rare performances from Taylor himself. The pianist has worked with loads of fantastic musician throughout his long career—many of whom participated in the exhibition, including bassist William Parker, drummers Tony Oxley and Andrew Cyrille, and cellist Tristan Honsinger—but few players have inhabited Taylor’s aesthetic and work with the devotion, clarity, and commitment of Jimmy Lyons, a powerful alto saxophonist who performed with Taylor between 1961 and his own death in 1986. In some ways he was to Taylor what John Gilmore was to Sun Ra—a brilliant improviser whose dedication to the vision of a charismatic composer and bandleader trumped his own solo career.

Lyons did perform and make recordings under his own name, but they always felt secondary to his work with Taylor. Those Lyons albums are in no way minor, though—they’re dynamic accomplishments fueled by a rhythmic dexterity rooted in bebop but liberated from that style’s harmonic demands. Time hasn’t been kind to Lyons’s catalog: most of his recordings are out of print and hard to find, which makes last month’s reissue of the 1979 triple album Push Pull by the local Corbett vs. Dempsey imprint all the more valuable. The music—now on a pair of CDs—captures an epic 1978 performance in New York featuring the saxophonist’s sublimely talented wife (and long-term collaborator) Karen Borca on bassoon, Hayes Burnett on bass, Munner Bernard Fennell on cello, and Roger Blank on drums.

Lyons had a sharp, spry tone, but what set him apart was his ability to channel the rhythmic innovations of Charlie Parker within Taylor’s distinctive, architectural musical system—he injected a continuity from traditional jazz into a radical setting, and he understood the pianist’s music like no one else, riding its furious waves of energy and motion like they were custom-made for him. On his own, Lyons was able to take more space for his improvisations, allowing his lines to glisten free of Taylor’s thick harmonic swells. Push Pull, which has never previously been released on CD and has long been out of print on vinyl too, captures Lyons at his best, displaying his bobbing-and-weaving flow with deft support from a highly empathetic, agile band. Below you can check out the title track of the set, which is packaged in a gatefold jacket designed by Sonnenzimmer that retains the gorgeous original artwork by Klaus Baumgärtner.


Today’s playlist:

Matt Mitchell, Vista Accumulation (Pi)
Oddjob, Folk (Caprice)
Chris Dingman, The Subliminal and the Sublime (Inner Arts Initiative)
Nate Wooley Quintet, (Dance to) the Early Music (Clean Feed)
Christian Lillinger, Grund (Pirouet)