No exploration of Cecil Taylor can be complete without mention of his longtime cohort, partner in crime, and foil, Jersey City-born alto saxophonist, Jimmy Lyons, who played with Cecil from 1961 until his death in 1986. It's hard to overestimate the impact that Lyons had on Cecil's music. He offered a stylistic alternative (where Cecil's approach was often rushed and all right angles, Lyons's was lyrical and clean, though just as quick). How valuable it must have been to Cecil to have a trusted musical companion who wholeheartedly bought into the mission, threw down on any occasion, knew Cecil's playing well enough to goose it along, and offered a sense of balance to the musical ideas and fabric of sound. The best comparison I can think of is John Gilmore's relationship to Sun Ra. Both Gilmore and Lyons deserved to be jazz titans on their own accord, but instead contented themselves to tag along for the ride.
Lyons supported Cecil with vigor and equanimity for decades, but his success as a sideman undervalues his work as a solo artist. Let's face it, in any occasion Cecil's the biggest personality in the room. It's interesting to hear Lyons's playing unfettered by the flashier Cecil. He brings an old school jazz sensibility that is sometimes buried in the hypermodern scenarios of Cecil's music. Most obviously one can hear Charlie Parker in Lyons's lightspeed ability, tone and improvisational organization, but it's a pleasant surprise to be reminded of Chu Berry, Lester Young or any of the best saxophone players of the swing-era with which Jimmy shares a smooth fluidity, a flair for beauty, and a topographic sort of approach. Hearing him solo is like watching a mountain range rush by from the window of an airplane.
As good an improvisor as ever was, Lyons's BYG/Actuel album Other Afternoons is the pinnacle of his solo output, though Ayler Records put out a remarkable box set a few years ago: five discs of live recordings spanning 1972-1985 that adds a crucial angle to his career. Here are a few tracks from two lesser known recordings, the Hat Hut releases Push Pull, and Riffs (both with wife/jazz bassoonist(!), Karen Borca). Enjoy!