I always look forward to large-ensemble Cecil Taylor recordings. 1988's Alms/Tiergarten (Spree) set the standard against which all his later large-group works are measured. So in a way, it's not particularly surprising that The Owner Of The River Bank falls short; what's surprising is how much it falls short. It never quite finds its focus, the musicians never cohere, they sound too deferential, and dammit, it's too long. The two hours of Alms/Tiergarten (Spree) fly by; the 70+ minutes of River Bank don't even threaten to unfold. By the end, it almost feels like it never really began in the first place. Cecil is his usual on-target self, but everyone else just gingerly ambles around him.
There's also the sense that the musicians are approaching the work idiomatically, only venturing into comfortably well-worn areas, albeit with some enthusiasm. In a way, it reminds me of the Black Crowes/Jimmy Page record, where the band sounds so happy about playing with one of their heroes that it never occurs to them to even attempt to challenge him or themselves. Sadly, this amounts to a Cecil Taylor Cover Band, with lots of technically proficient musicians obsequiously paying tribute to Taylor and his work by ignoring most of what makes it great. The overall effect is one of a highly skilled but uninvolving master class. What's ironic is that there actually is a Cecil Taylor master class on CD (Legba Crossing) which is far more focused than this disc.