I have to confess to being a little apprehensive as I took my seat for this gig: John Taylor’s playing and writing never fails to thrill and move me in equal measure so that anticipation levels can be a bit high. Add to the mix a newly commissioned suite to be played by a newly assembled eight piece band and there was just the risk that it might not be quite as extraordinary as I anticipated – so much newness! The first of the six pieces, inspired by a Kurt Vonegut story Harrison Bergeron, allyed my fears. A stately chord progression in 7/4 with familiar ringing tones and harmonic shifts that catch the breath provided the accompaniment for a gorgeous melancholic melody. It was not to be the first time in the gig I thought either Henning Berg on trombone or Julian Arguelles on tenor were going to steal the show with gloriously paced inventive and singing improvisations. John Taylor’s playing is something to behold. He sometimes seem to float, stroking out spacey chords on the piano without any apparent pulse, but don’t be fooled – he may stretch the time or play across it but suddenly its there, locked with the bass or drums. The ear is drawn to the distinctive and bitter sweet harmonic shifts, but its often the deeply felt and artfully constructed rhythmic variation that makes me sit on the edge of my seat. Chris Laurence on bass is a great partner. I’ve mused in the past about a previous Cheltenham occasion where these two captivated me and this gig was no different. The freshly minted compositions gave plenty of different moods to explore. 2081 seemed liked a wonky post bop theme with a triplety feel over another odd time signature as the platform for soloing with the harmonised front line (completed by Chris Batchleor’s trumpet and Oren Marshall’s tuba) evocative of the sound of a Kenny Wheeler band. The flowing even feel of DMG produced soaring lyrical solos with Julian Arguelles threatening to make the afternoon his again. The device of a repeated descending ssequence of chords was used more than once and provided the backing for the vocal of son Alex Taylor on Empress. This premier wasn’t without wrinkles or challenges for the front line negotiating some complex writing – there were a few grins of relief and claps on the back exchanged at different moments, but the sense was of of gradually accumulating intensity as this genuinely beautiful set of compositions unfolded and finished with an anthemic reprise of the first tune Doosie. There’ll be chance to listen again. Jazz on 3 as commissioners will be broadcasting it next Monday (14th May). I’ll be there.
John Taylor, Cheltenham Jazz Festival, Sunday 6th May