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John Taylor Rosslyn Review

Album. Released 2003.  

BBC Review

Strangely, it's been 10 years since Mr Taylor's last solo effort, but now he's back...

Ian Latham 2003

I first heard John Taylor more than ten years ago at London's Jazz Café (in those days you used to be able to hear jazz there). After an incredible solo, a musician friend sitting next to me asked me to name a better pianist. Here was a British player with a highly developed individual style, an astonishing harmonic sense, a frightening mastery of rhythm and a highly sophisticated composer.

The great jazz musicians have in some way pushed the boundaries of the music, some technically, others emotionally. This man was really taking many things forward. With his modernist style and distinctive harmonic language, John Taylor stands alongside players like Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans and McCoy Tyner as one of the major jazz keyboard stylists.

Long gone are the days when British musicians could only be pale imitations of the American jazz deities. For a man that has recorded over seventy albums with an impressive array of contemporary jazz luminaries, it is remarkable that Rosslyn is Taylor's first recording under his own name for over ten years. Perhaps too, it is an indictment on the UK's shocking neglect of this living national treasure. This latest recording picks up on the legacy of his four trio albums with ex-Weather Report drummer Peter Erskine, further refining his artfully thoughtful and delicate piano trio music. For this session he chooses the American company of Marc Johnson, Bill Evans' last bass player, and drummer Joey Baron. There is a distinct sense of telepathy between these musicians, and more so than in the Erskine band.

The title track Rosslyn is typical of a Taylor composition. It opens with a deceptively simple chant that repeats meditatively over a static pedal bass note. On closer examination, the chant reveals itself to be a two bar phrase in 15/8. The bass and drums soon enter, enhancing the hypnotic mood. Gradually, Taylor weaves a melodic and harmonic counterpoint through the chant as the track builds in intensity. Too much jazz these days suffers from being technical for the sake of being technical, and at the expense of many more important ingredients. With Taylor, the sophistication is that he conceals the technique and allows the music to shine through.

Field Day is a real masterpiece. The track opens with a mysterious out-of-time Messaien bird-song like introduction. The mood changes for the main theme that is constructed from a falling sequence of a minor third and semitone one of Messaien's modes of limited transposition. Taylor's harmonies transform this symmetrical geometric line into beautiful singing melody. The piece moves through several sections of improvisation and composition before returning to the peaceful birdsong.

These days, the jazz world is increasingly dominated by individuals who are more skilled in the art of self-promotion than in musicianship. Players like John Taylor, more interested in their art than being rich or famous, largely escape the notice of the mainstream audience. But deeper things take longer to spread their roots before coming into bloom. In time, John Taylor will be remembered as one of the greatest musicians this country has ever produced. I hope that this album helps speed up that process.

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