Davis noted that Taylor’s technique of composing fragments of notes in “cells” that he then would “develop, expand and turn upside down” at times appealed more to classical musicians than to jazz musicians, though today his influence is heard widely among improvising pianists. (She cited an expansive list, among them Marilyn Crispell, Jason Moran, Craig Taborn, Myra Melford, Alexander Hawkins, Angelica Sanchez and Vijay Iyer.)
But on the nightclub scene of the ’60s and ’70s, genius didn’t always mean drink sales, and being in the vanguard of a new approach meant it could be a challenge finding suitable collaborators. Oblivion, the label putting out this release, has called it “The Return Concert” because in ’73, Taylor, then 44, had been mostly absent from recording and being in the New York scene for five years as he pioneered another aspect of avant-garde jazz life: turning to academia. (He taught at Antioch College and the University of Wisconsin, not without controversy.)
The taping of the Town Hall concert was another feat of improvisation. Taylor had recorded significant LPs (“Conquistador!,” “Unit Structures”) for Blue Note in the late 1960s, but, at this point, was independent. Planning a release for Taylor’s nascent Unit Core label, his sort-of manager, David Laura, turned to an unlikely source: a Columbia student, Fred Seibert, who had recorded concerts for the university radio station and released several blues LPs on the independent Oblivion label with cohorts from a Long Island record store.
With borrowed equipment and much youthful confidence, Seibert took the gig — and faced a torrent of music. “I felt like I was under Niagara Falls with every sound coming at me from 360 degrees and fighting for space in my head,” said Seibert, who would go on to engineer and produce records for Muse Records before leaving the music industry at the dawn of the 1980s for Hollywood, where he became a storied producer of animated television. (Series launched under his aegis include “Dexter’s Laboratory,” “Powerpuff Girls” and “Adventure Time.”)
For Taylor, “free” also meant freedom from the restraints of the commercial music industry. Releasing the first set would have demanded making a double LP and fading down the music at the end of each side, which Seibert considered contrary to its spirit. A shorter second set proved a better fit: Split between a 16-minute solo Taylor piece and a side-length band workout, the encore performance had a limited 1974 release as “Spring of Two Blue J’s.” One of the 2,000 copies made it to the critic Gary Giddins at The Village Voice; he called it “probably my favorite album made in the last year.”