English pianist John Taylor, who's now in his mid-60s, has worked with a variety of partners on the ECM label. For a while there, he seemed to have nestled comfortably into a particular vibe, generally sounding quiet and lyrical, soft and elastic, not ever really crossing the line. He was quite reliable for that sort of thing, actually. But listening to this new trio release, recorded in late 2004, it's pretty clear that the pigeon has popped out of its hole. When did this happen?
Angel of the Presence is not all that big a surprise in the end, given that Taylor has always had a good ear for trios, especially as regards respect for space among players. The eight pieces on the record (half by Taylor, half by Steve Swallow and Kenny Wheeler) seem to flow together in a stream of passing consciousness, tending toward the lyrical and melancholy. One could probably play this disc at a cocktail party and half the people might not even notice. (They would be the ones listening to each other, not the music.) A note on the back of the box from John Surman actually recommends picking up a "drink of your choice" before listening.
In Swedish bassist Palle Danielsson (another ECM standby), Taylor has found a like-minded spirit with an economical and spontaneous approach. British drummer Martin France sounds a lot like Paul Motian to me, especially the way he colors passing time with figures and detailed accents. They both play enough with time that the pianist gets to assume an important and dynamic role in determining the rhythmic underpinnings of the group.
And more than anything else, that makes this music really exciting to listen towhen you're not having cocktail conversations, anywaybecause despite all the space and openness, there's a lot of interesting twists going on all the time in this music, especially with respect to time. The pianist plays like a horn player would when he stretches out into single lines, running ahead or behind the beat but always connecting with it in an intuitive way. When he comps, he provides a rhythmic anchor to allow the other players to fly free, grooving along (as it were) with bunchy chords that vary the harmonic aspect widely.
The music on Angel of the Presence may fall within a pretty narrow emotional range, but the players' spontaneous, dynamic motion within that space sets it apart and makes listening to these eight pieces a mellow and enlightening process of shared discovery. Cheers!
Personnel: John Taylor: piano; Palle Danielsson: bass; Martin France: drums.