Twenty years ago, people said that jazz pianist Cecil Taylor was ahead of his time. You think that time might have caught up to him by now, but last night at the Corcoran School of Art's auditorium, he showed that it still has a long way to go.

Taylor is a bona fide iconoclast and representative of the "free jazz" movement practiced by Ornette Coleman and Sam Rivers. Yet, compositionally, Taylor's music ranks as true 20th-century art -- in the same category as John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Last night, Taylor's compositions were often as interesting as his playing.

He performed with a muscular intensity that was almost spiritual in nature and at times he resembled one of those speeded-up characters you see in silent movies. His lightning-quick runs were sometimes obscured by saxophonist Jimmy Lyons and drummer Ken Tyler, and violinist Ramsey Amin and trumpeter Raphe Malik provided avant-garde counterpoint. Still, the set was astonishing in its sheer power.

The Cecil Taylor Unit returns to the Corcoran for two shows tonight. Last night, the ensemble was not always pleasant listening, but it should be seen by anyone interested in the development of modern artistic expression.